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Maria Emmerich: Chaminade Julienne Volunteer

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Chaminade-Julienne High School Senior Volunteers with her Mother at Food for the Journey.

Volunteers are like gold to a nonprofit agency. When they find one willing to take on the work that needs to be done, they’ve found a treasure.

That would describe Maria Emmerich, 18, a senior at Chaminade Julienne High School in Dayton. The teen has logged more than 170 service hours, most of them volunteering for the Food for the Journey Project in Dayton. It’s a community kitchen that serves 1,000 hot meals a week to hungry people in designated neighborhoods. She began volunteering after a retreat sophomore year that opened her eyes to the problem of poverty.

“When I came home I was interested in finding a way to help my own community,” said Maria.

Her mom, Karen, suggested Food for the Journey Project and the two volunteered together. Once a week, mother and daughter would help set up, prepare the food, serve it and talk to the guests. Maria loved the community atmosphere.

“It kind of opens your eyes a little bit. Sometimes people see people who abuse any substance or have a disability and don’t see them in a positive light,” she said. “I think this was very eye-opening where you’re seeing people being human beings just like anyone else.”

“It was really fun to watch her interact with the various guests, to watch her interact with other volunteers,” said Maria’s mom, Karen Emmerich, a religion teacher at Chaminade Julienne.
Eventually Maria started volunteering on her own and soon was taking on more responsibilities. There was prep work, kitchen work and cleanup. She learned to operate the grill in the mobile kitchen. The commitment could be
three to four hours at a time.

“I would weep if we had more like her,” said Charles Wourms, Executive Director of Food for the Journey Project.

“She has sort of a take charge, give it a try kind of air. [She asks] ‘How can I help?’ And she certainly has a feel for this,” said Wourms. “Maria was involved in every aspect of the meal which made her just so valuable to us. She embraced every aspect of it, and not every volunteer does that.”

Wourms said Maria is a self-starter and has just the right personality for the work. However, the pandemic put a stop to Maria’s volunteer work when the nonprofit had to limit its number of volunteers. Maria’s time became filled with her school work and a part-time job. Still, she found a way to help the organization she’d come to appreciate and enjoy.

“She spearheaded a number of school collections: books, personal hygiene items, products to use in gift bags to give to women in need, food collections,” said Wourms. She also helped organize an effort at school to collect socks for the charity.

Maria will head to Xavier University in the fall to major in psychology. When she gets to campus she hopes to be able to find a way to continue her service work. Food for the Journey Project will miss her enthusiasm, entrepreneurial spirit and her effort.

“All volunteers are great but a person like Maria distinguishes herself certainly with her age and she has more wisdom than many kids her age,” said Wourms. “But certainly with her work ethic, her compassion for the individuals she served, she’s the full package. The real deal.”

This article appeared in the May 2021 edition of The Catholic Telegraph Magazine. For your complimentary subscription, click here.

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