Ms. Salzer in El Salvador.
Ms. Salzer in El Salvador.
Catholics from the Albany Diocese spend a lot of time in other parts of the country and world, visiting sister parishes and volunteering with service groups. The Evangelist spoke to a cross-section of these volunteers about insights they have gained from their experiences.

Linda Salzer of St. Patrick's parish in Cambridge visited Jesuina Melsi School in San Salvador, El Salvador, to deliver school supplies and receiving blankets for a maternity ward. St. Patrick's parishioners also sent tuition for 10 children; Cambridge children sent 456 Valentines for their peers.

Ms. Salzer has helped to build a "Pueblo to People" sister parish program with St. Patrick's and Holy Cross in Salem.

"I wanted this to be the 'year of saying yes' - to take action," Ms. Salzer noted.

In El Salvador, she witnessed the vestiges of the 1980s' civil war - razor wire, armed guards outside stores and gang threats to a local priest - as well as disparate wealth and poverty. The poor there live in one-room cement block houses with a single light bulb, a water spigot in the yard and a few chickens.

"They don't have much," Ms. Salzer said. "They're very spirit-filled and they're very grateful for anything they have in their life."

She returned home eager to fundraise for clean water, a new school roof and computer education for the people of El Salvador: "I think people should get involved. Go where your heart is telling you to go. By saying yes, you can make a big difference."

(For information on Pueblo to People, call Rev. Richard Broderick, 692-1742.)

Patti Kennedy of Our Lady of the Snow parish, Grafton, has gone to Beacon Correctional Facility, a downstate women's prison, once a year for 14 years. She helps with retreats by Kairos Prison Ministry, a lay ecumenical group. Mrs. Kennedy got involved with Cursillo, the root of the Kairos movement, when she lived in Dutchess County.

"I can't say no," she said. "It's opened the door for me to want to have a personal relationship with Jesus. And it's so easy to share it now. It's not about rules and regulations; it's about forgiveness and love. We're going down to give these girls hope. When they turn to Jesus and change their ways, they are forgiven."

(For information, see www. or call Beacon Correctional Facility, 845-831-4200 and ask for volunteer services.)

Emily Mack of Sacred Heart parish in Troy went to Managua, Nicaragua, in February - her second trip - to paint at an orphanage, deliver rice and beans, build shelters, visit a children's hospital and disability center, meet the archbishop of Nicarauga and more. She's a senior at the Academy of the Holy Names in Albany, which partners for the trips with North Country Mission of Hope in Plattsburgh.

Emily's first trip helped her polish her college application essays, but "it's not the reason I went back," she said.

She and classmates visited a dump where 3,000 people lived in shelters made of plastic bags. At a health fair, she saw Nicaraguan children who thought toothpaste was food. She fondly remembers building a shelter for a pregnant woman and her family: "They're the most grateful people I think I ever met. In America, we're obsessed with material things; in Nicaragua, material things don't matter to them. [The kids'] faces light up when you give them a single sticker."

Emily will attend Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa., in the fall. She plans to join a group called Bucknell Brigade that leads service trips to Nicaragua.

"I wish everyone in this country would have the opportunity to go to a foreign country or Third World country."

(For information, see

Thomas Rybaltowski of St. Joseph's parish in Greenwich has taken many trips to the Dominican Republic over the past eight years, often bringing family, friends and parishioners of Corpus Christi in Round Lake, his former parish. He does construction and plumbing work, education and more. Parish donations help pay school tuition for students there and, recently, a new set of teeth for a deacon. He also ships clothes, shoes, medications and other supplies.

As a young man, Mr. Rybaltowski worked with indigenous craftspeople as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic. Twenty years later, he wrote a letter to friends and was invited back.

The poorest residents of the Cibao Valley live in houses made from tree trunks and palm branches with dirt floors. Mansions sometimes sit next to cinder block and tin structures.

Mr. Rybaltowski enjoys serving: "It's a great experience to help those less fortunate," he said. "I think it provides hope to people."

Maggie McDonough and Claire Young of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha parish, Schenectady (an imminent merger of St. Helen's and Our Lady of Fatima), seniors at Niskayuna High School in Niskayuna, went to Baltimore in April with Habitat for Humanity.

Sister Betsy Van Deusen, CSJ, introduced Habitat trips to parishioners. Now pastoral associate for evangelization and director of the St. Joseph Worker program at the parish, she previously worked for Habitat for Humanity for five years.

In inner-city Baltimore, they saw many houses that were vacant or damaged by fire. "I've learned to take pride in your house and your neighborhood," Maggie remarked.

Claire agreed: "I don't take things for granted as much anymore. I'll be much more grateful for any house."

Maggie and Claire also went on trips to Albany, Ga., and West Virginia. They both want to get involved with Habitat in college.

"No matter how small a job is," Claire said, "you're making an impact."

(For information, see or call Sister Betsy, 346-6137.)