It’s the season of giving, and five Maryland kids are definitely doing their fair share.
A Crofton teen helps homeless kids with their homework. An Easton tween cooks for the needy. An Arnold youth sent school supplies to students in India, and twin boys from Laurel have spent countless hours caring for abused horses.
If you are looking for an uplifting story this holiday season, start here and learn what these five kids have gained while giving to others.
Teaching kids around the world
Raeghan Smith, 17, of Crofton, spends every Monday night at Sarah’s House, a shelter for homeless women and children on Ft. Meade, tutoring and helping kids with homework while their parents receive counseling.
“It’s been an incredible experience,” Raeghan says of volunteering at Sarah’s House. “I know that I’ve certainly gotten more out of it than I’ve given.”
A senior at Mount De Sales Academy in Catonsville, Raeghan began helping the less fortunate in middle school by distributing backpacks for the homeless at Christmas and collecting donations for local shelters.
Her commitment to service deepened after a trip to Haiti in the summer of 2015 with an organization dedicated to educating the poor. She worked with kids of all ages, playing sports, practicing their English and doing arts and crafts, she says.
“Haiti is such a poor nation and they have endured so much but they are the most spirited people I’ve ever met,” Raeghan says. “They have so much hope despite the lack of opportunities.”
Raeghan returned home determined to make a difference locally and began working at Sarah’s House each week. She also helps sponsor events with her school’s Global Outreach Club, which recently hosted a sleep-out to raise awareness for Baltimore’s homeless population.
“Raeghan is a leader who not only advocates for those in need, but she follows her words with action and service,” says Mount De Sales teacher Allison George. “She is always inspiring her peers.”
Raeghan completed a second mission trip last summer to New Mexico where she worked with students at a Native American reserve in Zuni Pueblo. All of her volunteer work has motivated her to do even more.
“It’s changed my life and given me a new perspective,” she says. “The kids I’ve worked with, we all have the same dreams and goals in life. I want them to achieve everything they can, and I’ll do whatever I can to help them accomplish that.”
Feeding the homeless
Sarah Krocheski, 11, of Easton spends many Friday nights cooking for the homeless with her dad.
“My dad was a cook for many years, and I got my love of cooking from him,” she says.
At least once a month, Sarah and her dad, Tom Krocheski, drive to Cambridge to make and serve dinner for 50 to 60 homeless at Cambridge Wesleyan Church in Cambridge.
“My dad and I will decide what we are going to cook, we shop for everything together, and once we get in the kitchen, I’m kind of his sous chef,” she says with a laugh.
Sarah says that making dinner for the less fortunate has been a great bonding experience with her father, but it has also made her appreciate the simple things.
“When I see people that are so happy just to get a hot meal, it helps me better understand what they have to go through and to be thankful for what God has given me,” she says.
A sixth-grader at Saints Peter and Paul School in Easton, Sarah is a member of the St. Vincent de Paul Club and spends some Saturday mornings bagging groceries for the poor. She also volunteers as a counselor each summer at her church’s vacation Bible school.
“I think Sarah’s spirit of giving is innate,” says her mom, Jean Krocheski. “She is just a natural-born nurturer.”
Sarah is adopted and maintains a relationship with her birth family, whom she credits for her generous spirit. Last year, she was inspired to donate all of her birthday and Christmas money to St. Jude’s Research hospital in honor of her birth grandmother, a cancer survivor.
“I am very close to my birth family,” she says. “They are a big part of my life.”
This spring, Sarah will travel to the Dominican Republic with her father to help repair homes for the poor, a trip she cannot wait to take.
“I know some parts of the trip may be hard, but I also know that I will gain more from it than anyone,” she says.
Working with animals
Jonathan and Robert Sharayera have always loved animals. The 10-year-old twins from Laurel have many pets, but their love of horses led them to Days End Farm in Woodbine, a farm that rescues mistreated and abused horses.
“I love helping the horses,” Robert says. “They are such sweet animals, and it’s terrible that they have been mistreated.”
Once a week Jonathan and Robert volunteer at the farm, helping with grooming, feeding and mucking out the stalls. After volunteering regularly, the boys decided to foster a horse. By donating money each month, they are able to pay for the horse’s medical treatments, food and care.
“Our horse, Jinx, was pretty sick in the beginning,” Jonathan says.
Most horses at Days End arrive severely mistreated and malnourished and require months of medical treatment and rehabilitation. Some horses take years to interact in a friendly way — which can present a challenge for Jonathan and Robert.
“Sometimes I will have to go into the fields to get a horse, and there are many horses nearby that are marked with tags that they are not friendly to interact with others. It can be scary, but I have learned to love it, and I know that I am helping them,” Jonathan says.
The boys’ mom, Susan Sarajari, says their love of animals has only grown since they began volunteering a year ago.
“Working there has given them a great sense of how they can help. They can actually see how their care makes a difference,” she says. “They learn how to handle animals and not be afraid of them, and it’s a great way to spend your time outside.”
Donating school supplies
Laura Hupp, 14, of Arnold, traveled to India in the summer of 2015 with a mission group to work at a school for the poor.
“There was so much poverty in Calcutta it was incredible,” she says.
Laura and a group of teens and adults spent a week working with young children at a school. They also traveled to one of Mother Teresa’s schools to visit the children living there.
When Laura returned, she couldn’t get the children out of her mind.
“My mom and I came up with the idea that we could try and send something back to them,” she says.
So the then eighth-grader at St. Mary’s in Annapolis met with school administrators and got approval to collect donations from her fellow students. The plan was to provide a backpack for each child at the school in India.
St. Mary’s students were each matched with a child from the school and gathered school supplies, toiletries and small books and toys to put in their backpacks. They also sent personalized notes and friendship bracelets. Last January, Laura sent over 70 backpacks to India and was thrilled when the school sent back a video of the children opening them.
“The kids were all cheering and were so happy,” Laura says. “ It was amazing to know we could do something for them.”
Laura returned to India again last summer on a mission trip that assisted Calcutta’s medical clinics. She credits her travels with clarifying her outlook on life.
“As a teenager, I think about how we obsess over having the latest phone or material things. We have so much and still want for things, yet they have so little,” she says. “It definitely makes you realize what is important and to not take anything for granted.”
By Katie Riley