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For 50 kids, a matter of give and rake

Autumn leaves were no match for more than 50 middle and high school students who armed themselves with rakes Saturday and cleaned up the yards of city houses, many occupied by elderly residents who can't do the work themselves.

The rake blitz was organized by St. Jude the Apostle Church, under the leadership of Youth Director Liz Ziarnowski, who came up with the idea.

This was a first for the church.

Several of the residents were notified in advance that the teenagers would be raking leaves on their properties. Other residents were the beneficiaries of what Ziarnowski calls "random acts of kindness," and left with brief explanatory notes on their doors.

Piles of leaves were raked to the curb for pickup by city work crews. "Our goal is to get teens involved in their parish and in the community," said Ziarnowski, 21, a senior at Canisius College, where she is combining religious studies with health and physical education.

The volunteer kids, wearing T-shirts that bore the slogan "Rake 'n Run," brought their own rakes and assembled in the parking lot of the church at the corner of Niagara Falls Boulevard and Erie Avenue.

Before the kids set out, they got spiritual help at the Saturday morning Mass, conducted by the pastor, the Rev. Ted Jost.

During the four-hour cleanup campaign, adult chaperones, in a caravan of about a dozen cars, drove the youngsters to several locations in an area from Robinson and Thompson streets to Nash Road and Niagara Falls Boulevard.

Among the chaperones were the youth director's parents, Edward and Louise Ziarnowski of Wheatfield.

"We had a great response from the kids," said Louise Ziarnowski, whose two other daughters, Brittany, 17, and Rachel, 13, were part of the raking crew.

"The residents, particularly the elderly, were extremely grateful for the physical help, and especially touched that the teens wanted to help them," she added.

St. Jude the Apostle parish was formed in September by the merger of two other North Tonawanda parishes, St. Albert the Great Church and Ascension Church.

"This community cleanup campaign is a prime example of the cooperation and unity being exemplified by our new parish," Louise Ziarnowski said.

e-mail: bmichelmore@buffnews.com

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