Several teens who volunteer at summer camps at St. Michael the Archangel parish in Troy also work together for the Tri-City ValleyCats minor league baseball team.
Megan Serian, 17, is also in countless other activities at St. Michael's. When she was eight, she started an adopt-a-grandparent program, meeting elderly parishioners at church for a monthly breakfast.
"They didn't have family," recalled Megan, a senior at Columbia High School in East Greenbush. "I just thought they needed someone to tell their stories to."
Megan also re-launched the parish's Small Saints group for young volunteers; they now sing and garden at nursing homes, go on mission trips and bake Thanksgiving pies to raise funds. She started a prayer chain for lost or sick animals, which she says "suffer just as humans suffer" and "need the same amount of love." (Read a previous story at www.evangelist.org.)
She leads the children's choir, runs the Christmas pageant and leads the children's Liturgy of the Word using a book and activities she finds on the internet.
"If they understand the Gospel more, [it] broadens their thought base," Megan said. "It makes me feel so good, but at the same time, I don't take any credit for it because it's all the Gospel."
Megan also takes the initiative to act as a "personal assistant" to the faith formation director before other classes, offering to hold babies while parents are attending to older children or counsel children who are upset. She even volunteers in a kindergarten class at a local elementary school - but she says the best way to work with children is at St. Michael's summer camps. She set up a dance camp there two years ago.
"I got to connect with [the kids] on a whole new level," she said. "You get to know their personalities and maybe their struggles."
Church is a safety zone for Megan: "You're being raised by a lot of people," she said. "There's always somebody there you can talk to without judgment. It's kind of a release of the week's burdens."
Making her confirmation was "really exciting for me, but also really scary," she said. "You're making a decision that will affect the rest of your life. It was me committing myself to the Lord. It didn't change me much, but I did learn a lot."
Confirmation "meant that I was going to live by the teachings of the Lord and interpret them in my own way. I had to give up my selfishness and accept that the Church is sort of a way of life."
Megan is involved in her school's drama club and advanced choir. She wants to study musical theater in college, which worries her parents, but says "it's kind of worth it if I feel happy."
The teen has a panic disorder that seems to float away when she's onstage.
"I can be a different person," she said. "On stage, no one cares who you are. I call it backwards anxiety, because almost everyone has stage fright, but right before I go on stage, I'm not nervous at all."
Megan learned something about relationships this summer when some customers at ValleyCats games didn't react to her cheery disposition the way she expected.
"People aren't so nice, and that was a little hard for me to grasp," she said. "Not everybody's going to like you and you just have to accept that. You don't have to dwell on it."
Katherine Kowalczyk, 17, is a fellow ValleyCats employee and St. Michael's summer camp counselor. She attends Averill Park High School and volunteers at St. Michael's.
One year, she decorated the kindergarten classroom to be more "kid-friendly" with bright colors and felt boards with stick-on Bible stories. "It was just white walls, gray carpets, wooden tables and chairs," Katherine said. "I just thought they should have a space where they feel comfortable in church."
This year, she started a parish lending library to promote learning. "It's really important that everyone get to know about the spiritual part of their life," she explained.
The idea came out of the pastoral council, which she serves as a youth representative to "help the Church become more friendly to everyone, not just older people."
Katherine helps organize monthly Masses that use children as lay ministers. She says her faith has always been important to her, especially when her grandmother died: "She was sick for a while and it was her time to go. I just prayed that she went peacefully, and she died during the night. I don't have all the answers, but I know she's in a better place now."
The senior is cross-country team captain, student council treasurer and a dancer. She wants to study biomedical engineering, go to medical school and become a cardiologist.
Rachel Kearns, 17, attends St. Jude the Apostle parish in Wynantskill and Averill Park High School. She sees Katherine at St. Michael's summer camps and at school, Girl Scouts and the stadium where the ValleyCats play.
At St. Jude the Apostle, Rachel teaches kindergarten faith formation, serves as teen representative on the pastoral council and helps younger children prepare for the Christmas pageant. She's also been a St. Michael's camp counselor since eighth grade.
It never occurred to her that volunteering would help her rack up service hours necessary for making confirmation. "It's nice just to be able to help the kids grow in the faith," Rachel said. "Hopefully [I teach them] to respect others and know that God loves them."
Rachel said the summer camp sessions start with Bible stories. She and other counselors preach cooperation through games and reward ethical behavior. She often brings her viola and plays for the children.
Her confirmation two years ago was "very important" to her: "I was glad to officially become a member of the Church. You're a family. Everyone needs to help each other and you feel united in your love for God. I try to always make the best choice and do what's right."
Rachel is involved with her school's orchestra and stage crew and wants to study forensic science in college.