Catholic Free Press

Catholic Free Press Digital Edition

  • Jan
  • 12

18th birthday party raises money for Haiti

Posted By January 12, 2012 | 1:41 pm | Lead Story #3, Local

By Laura Lambert
CFP Correspondent

Taylor Graff and her family and friends danced the night away, New Years Eve in the parish hall of St. Joseph’s Church in Charlton.
The senior at Shepherd Hill Regional High School in Dudley celebrated her 18th birthday with a half dance marathon which requires partygoers to stay on their feet dancing for six hours. Participants split into teams with at least one person in the group dancing at all times.
Family and friends pledged donations to Miss Graff’s charity of choice, Free the Kids ( which helps to provide medical aid to abandoned, orphaned and vulnerable children in Haiti.  The organization’s vision statement explains: “We look to a time in Haiti, when our nurtured orphan and vulnerable children rise and lead the Haitian people to live happy, productive lives beyond their hopes and dreams.”
Miss Graff chose Free the Kids as recipient of the $1,300 in pledges and donations after listening to a homily given by Deacon Peter Faford who worked at the Free the Kids compound in Haiti and saw much of the devastation from the 2010 earthquake there. Deacon Faford, a parishioner of St. Joseph’s, and his wife, Linda, have spent many years working among the poor in Haiti.
The 18-year-old, who had chosen her unique birthday party two months prior, had been waiting to find the perfect agency to which she would donate the proceeds.
“After I heard the deacon’s sermon, I prayed for a long time and Free the Kids just kept popping into my head,” said Miss Graff, who thanks youth ministries such as Lifeteen for providing support during school and social transitions. Through Lifeteen, Miss Graff has made relationships with other youth who share her beliefs and values.
Among her favorite faith-filled groups is the Virgin Mary Crew (VMC) which she describes as a “girls’ support group” led by Liz Cotrupi, the parish’s director of high school religious education and youth ministry which includes Lifeteen.  VMC meetings involve a social hour and snacks.
Miss Graff is also a student leader in the Shepherd Hill branch of Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD).  As vice president, Miss Graff helped organize a mock car crash meant to encourage prom-going seniors to make positive choices.
To work toward sharing her positive outlook with others, Miss Graff hopes to study media communications at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio.  While she plans to work in film, she looks forward to a college education that will also improve her writing and mass communications skills.
“I want to portray the positive things that can happen like what I did with the money from my party, because so much of what’s in the news is secular and negative,” she said.  Miss Graff provided examples such as profiling organizations that build orphanages and hospitals in Third World countries.  “I’ve seen videos and pictures and the kids always have smiles on their faces,” she said.
Miss Graff’s parents expressed their admiration for their open-hearted daughter.
“Taylor never ceases to amaze me with her kindness, generosity and compassion.  Taylor stands up for what she believes to be right and is never ashamed to share her beliefs with anyone,” her mother, Heidi Graff said.  “Ken and I are proud of the countless positive choices she has made in her young adult life and this is just another reason to be proud.  This comes from her heart, she doesn’t even have to think twice about things like this event she planned.  She decides and she does.  I really hope that her dream of going to Haiti one day becomes a reality for her,” she said.
Even though the money collected at her birthday celebration would have been useful in paying off the projected college loans, Miss Graff said that God would provide.  She found it more important to send the money to people who need it more immediately.
“I think people worry a lot about providing for themselves, but I believe that if we give back to the Church and to other people, we will get what we need,” she said.


PHOTO: Liz Canney, Crystal Mier, Sandy Tarasiak, Liz Haggerty, Delaney Heywood and  Taylor Graff.