Spreading joy and performing acts of kindness are two activities not usually associated with teenagers; however, they are the founding principles of the TRY Center’s Teen Saturday Club. This holiday season, as well as all year long, the Teen Saturday Club, a group of young people, age 12-19, have been working hard as peace ambassadors and good Samaritans. They are committed to spreading peace throughout their communities and the world. They are committed to performing planned, and random, acts of kindness whenever and wherever they can.

Every month, the youths help administer the Angel Food Ministries program. The Angel Food Ministries Program allows anyone to purchase $70-$80 worth of food each month for only $30. Christina Ragsdell, a 17-year-old senior at Timothy Christian School, serves as the assistant host site director. As the assistant director, her monthly duties entail answering e-mails, sending out menus, distributing fliers in the Austin area and taking orders at least four times a month.

In addition, on distribution day, the fourth Saturday of the month, her day starts as early as 6 a.m., when she and the other teens meet in Hoffman Estates to help unload the refrigerator truck that transports the food from Georgia. Not only do they help to unload the truck, but they must load their own cargo van and transport the food back to the Austin area for distribution. On an average, 116 units of food are distributed to approximately 75 families monthly.

“I enjoy doing this,” Christina said. “At first it was really hard, finding time during the week because of my school schedule, but now I have a routine which makes it easier. It’s a good feeling to help people stretch their food dollars.”

Christina is one of about seven teens who work consistently with the Angel Food Ministries Program. On distribution day, her brother Chris, 19; Reggie Smith, 16; and Seouk Nareago, 17, unload the van, work the distribute line and help people carry their food to their vehicles.

In addition to the Angel Food Ministries Program, these teens perform other acts of kindness throughout the month. On Dec.19, they started their week-long visits to children’s hospitals and senior citizens nursing homes and centers to take gifts and spread holiday joy. Under the Huggable Blessings program, the teens are taking stuffed animals to the children and decorator pillows imprinted with inspirational sayings and biblical scriptures to the seniors.

The group took a collection of stuffed animals to Loretto Hospital’s holiday party for the patients and families of person in its addiction recovery program, which is headed by Dr. Dorothy Thomas. The stuffed animals were a big hit and helped Santa provide something huggable for the little ones at the party.

“It was really cold out there,” 12-year-old Margret Dade, the youngest in the group, said, “but when we got there they offered us food and something warm to drink. It was fun to be able to give those children gifts and to see them smile. I got to sit on Santa’s lap, take a picture with him, and I got a gift too which was really nice,” she added.

A visit to Mt. Sinai and La Rabida Children’s Hospital was planned for the week of Christmas.

“The good thing about this,” 17-year-old Princess Smith said, “is you get to visit with some people who might not have any visitors during the holiday season.”

When asked why they joined a club whose primary focus is community service and acts of kindness, the teens gave pretty much the same answer.

“I do it because I can,” Chris said. “Ever since I was a little boy, my mother and sister and I have done something kind for others. It’s second nature for me now. I look forward to it. I enjoy using my strength to carry things for senior citizens. I don’t mind shoveling snow, emptying trash, whatever. I’m young and maybe someday someone will help me too.”

Reflecting on one of her most memorable act of kindness, Christina said, “I remember one Christmas Eve my mother and I were in Dominick’s. We were behind an old woman in line. She didn’t have enough money to buy everything she had on the counter, so she was trying to decide what to put back. She mentioned she was walking and that it would be too much to carry anyway, so she decided to leave the eggs and some other things. My mom heard that and said, ‘No, get it all, I’ll pay,’ and she did. The old woman said thank you and gathered up her bags and left the store. After we paid for our groceries, we hurried out of the store to see if we could give the woman a ride, but she was nowhere to be found. It was as if she was an angel who had disappeared. I remember thinking it was probably God testing us to see if we would help strangers just because it’s the right thing to do.”

Chris said, “Sometimes when I don’t feel like getting up or going somewhere to help out, I think about how good people have been to me, and I hurry up and get dressed. If I had to choose, I think feeding the homeless and community in Summit on Tuesdays is the best, especially the holiday dinners. When I’m working the line, I get to talk to the people and encourage them. Sometimes whole families come through the line, and you can tell this will probably be the only real meal they will have for the holiday. Then I’m reminded of how blessed I am to be able to help as opposed to needing help.”

“I feel good knowing I choose to do something good just because I could,” Cicco said. “The feelings I get cannot be bought. I believe we all should give back to others, but we all don’t. I take pride in providing service and spreading kindness.”

Reggie, who joined the group for the first time this past Saturday, said he didn’t realize there was so much fun in helping people. “I can’t wait until next month,” he said. “I’m going to bring some of my friends to help out too.”

The Teen Saturday Club meets once a month and is always looking for new members. In addition to performing community service and acts of kindness, the group plans recreational activities, teen and family conferences and annual trips to exciting destination. The group mainly services Austin and Oak Park. Youth interested in joining the group can visit www.talkalotteens.blogspot.com and complete the questionnaire, or call the TRY Center at 708-660-9820.