St. Mark Parish will be well represented when Catholic Charities in Indianapolis hosts its Spirit of Service Awards Dinner April 30 at the Indiana Roof Ballroom, where Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck will serve as the keynote speaker.
Now in its 16th year, the program provides an opportunity for business, community and social service leaders to unite in recognizing volunteers within the Catholic Youth Organization who have served others with compassion and an unwavering spirit to improving the lives of those around them.
And that spirit abounds in parishioner and Southport senior Billy Cross, who will receive the Spirit of Service Youth Award, which is presented for just the second year. The parish’s Art and Ann Berkemeir will be the recipients of the Spirit of Service Award. All three noted that the recognition is fine, but the real reward comes from the joy of helping others.
Cross, son of Scott and Christy Cross, has been known for his volunteer efforts since he was about 10, be it helping neighbors with their chores, working at the Cathedral Soup Kitchen to feed the homeless, teaching Sunday school, manning the David S. Moore Food Pantry in Fountain Square or helping to coach the seventh- and eighth-grade basketball team at St. Mark.
“I like to help others; it can change their lives,” said Billy. “My work can have a positive influence on others. When they see me volunteering, maybe they will do the same.”
Mrs. Berkemeir nominated Billy for the award. “He is such an outstanding young man,” she said. “I just told his story (in nominating him), and it’s an awesome story. He’s got a real promising career.”
Mrs. Cross said she wasn’t surprised when learning that Billy had won. “He’s very deserving, but he’s a lot more humble than that. He’s happy that he won, but not for the recognition. He just enjoys volunteering. I don’t know what I did, but I wish I could clone him.”
Cross said she believes that Billy gets his spirit of volunteerism from his grandmother Wilma Cross, who delivers Holy Communion to residents at nursing homes and the homebound. It was on her trips to those facilities that her grandson started to tag along and play his violin for the residents. “We all volunteer because of Wilma,” Christy said.
Billy has been playing for about 14 years and plays in the school’s orchestra and is active in theater. Although lessons are a thing of the past, he plays enough to maintain his adeptness. He might perform in the choir at Marion University, where he will attend on a 21st Century Scholarship.
“I am excited but nervous about attending college. I love high school, but it’s time to broaden my horizons,” said Billy, who was the tennis team’s No. 1 singles player and Most Valuable Player this season.
Throughout high school he has been active in the Starfish Initiative, which is a college access and readiness program that pairs a college-educated mentor with an economically disadvantaged student in Marion County.
Billy’s mentor is Terry Shumaker, who has helped Billy walk his way into college. “They are great friends,” said Mrs. Cross. “He’s a wonderful mentor, he’s like family; he and his wife will be at the awards ceremony.”
Thanks to the guidance of their mentors, 100 percent of the Starfish Scholars who completed the program have graduated from high school, and 97 percent have been accepted into college.
Mrs. Cross envisions her son in a pastor leadership position when he graduates from Marian. “I can see him a youth minister; he will be good with elementary-aged children.”
While Billy’s siblings, Grace, a freshman at Southport, and Joey, an eighth-grader at St. Mark, are proud of him, Mrs. Cross thinks they are more excited that they get to hear from Luck.
Billy is really excited about the awards dinner and said he’s a Colts fan all the way.”
Mrs. Cross, who’s employed by Community Health Network, and her children returned from a spring break vacation to Myrtle Beach two weeks, but Mr. Cross didn’t get to enjoy any fun in the sun because he stayed home to tend to the family’s 30 chickens, four dogs (including Wilma’s) and a cat.
The Berkemeirs, 35-year members of St. Mark, have volunteered for almost every activity at the parish, but they are being singled out for their efforts with St. Vincent de Paul’s food pantry, which is among the largest in the Midwest. The center serves an average of 3,000 households weekly with an all-volunteer staff.
Art, who’s retired from Eli Lilly and Co., and Ann, have been faithful volunteers at the pantry for six years. She is responsible for founding a group of about 20 parishioners who work at the center for about four hours every Wednesday morning. They repackage food and sort the good from the bad.
Ann recalls getting in 55,000 pounds of loose beans that had to be packaged in 16-ounce bags. She said her group could put a sizable dent in that type of task over the course of a morning.
“Oh, we’re a lively, enthusiastic group; everyone thinks we’re having a party, and they want to join us,” said Ann, who will miss some days this summer because she really enjoys being outside.
Ann says the group is a fantastic bunch of people. “Not only do they volunteer here, but they also help with funeral meals and sing in the choir,” among other things. “Some of them probably volunteer close to 40 hours a week. They live their faith.”
Art uses his analytical skills to coordinate the computer network between the food bank and the distribution and other services rendered by the society. “We need this technology to serve our clients,” he said.
The Berkemeiers who have four children and three grandchildren.
Catholic Charities in Indianapolis, 1400 N. Meridian St., has served the poor and vulnerable since 1919 by providing crisis relief, shelter, pregnancy and adoption services, elder care, counseling and family support. Nearly 49,000 people – mainly women, children and poverty-stricken – were served during 2013 by the agency, which continues to experience a dramatic increase in the requests for emergency assistance with housing, food and basic needs.
The organization is committed to being a good steward of its resources and ensures that 92 cents of every dollar goes directly to services.
Sponsorships are available from $800 to $10,000; individual tickets cost $225. The program, which begins with a reception at 5:30 p.m. and dinner at 6:30 p.m., will be emceed by “Inside Indiana Business” host Gerry Dick. Valerie Sperka can be reached at 582-4072 for information about sponsorships or tickets.