Members of Our Lady of Sorrows’ ‘Winging It’ ministry make it up as they go along, brightening lives of developmentally disabled women

FARMINGTON — Whose Gospel is it anyway?

OK, it’s still the Gospel of Jesus Christ as written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Only now it’s in skit form, performed by three Our Lady of Sorrows teenagers for the residents of Angels’ Place in Farmington Hills.

On the third Wednesday of the month, a trio dubbed “Winging It,” under the direction of Our Lady of Sorrows youth ministry coordinator Marilyn Trumper-Samra, tells stories and recreates scenes from the upcoming Sunday’s Gospel for the residents of Angels’ Place, a residential facility for women with developmental disabilities.

Angels’ Place is used to having volunteers come in to throw parties for Valentine’s Day or other holidays to cheer up the residents, but Trumper-Samra said the facility wanted a deeper, more religious commitment.

During the pandemic, however, it had become much more difficult to allow outsiders into the facility. 

“It was in the spring, pre-COVID, and I was looking at what could be done with just myself or a few volunteers,” Trumper-Samera told Detroit Catholic. “The son of the founder of Angels’ Place has a sister in the home, so I saw what he was doing and thought what I could do with a few kids. So I reached out to three teenage girls with a heart for the disabled.”

Trumper-Samra gathered up Valentina Hutter, 15, Elina Goryoka, 15, and Eleni Ligerakis, 14, and the four went to work crafting a script based on the Gospel, finding children’s books to accompany the Gospel message and preparing for the hourlong visit to Angels’ Place.

“We sat in the backyard in September, socially distanced, and the father of the one of the women who was a resident was so happy to see we were there, sharing the faith, making the Gospel part of the residents’ lives,” Trumper-Samra said. “We got the feel for what they liked, so in October we came back with songs to sing, getting thematic with holiday elements.”

Angels’ Place residents sit in the garage of their home as the three teenage volunteers present a skit based on the Gospel. Randall Meono, the father of an Angels’ Place resident, said the visit is a highlight for the residents.

With the weather a little colder, the teens performed their skit outside while residents sat in a covered garage. The group portrayed the Gospel scene in which the scribes and Pharisees ask Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”, using everyday scenarios to explain the meaning behind the passage.

“Winging It” allows the teens to get creative with the Gospel readings, reaching out to a community with whom they normally wouldn’t interact.

“Mrs. Trumper-Samra called me in June and asked me if I would be interested in ‘Winging It,’ and right way I got interested in going over to Angels’ Place,” Hutter said. “It was helping people in the way we were, being in a group, having a fun time together that drew me in. I’ve never done service in that way before, so I wanted to try that new experience.”

Hutter said the bright smiles from the residents’ faces, coupled with the joy the teens experience from visiting the home, has made it worth it.

Randall Meono’s daughter, Cary, has been a resident of Angels’ Place for 15 years. He said it’s rejuvenating to see young people bringing the Gospel message to the home.

“I think Cary likes it. She warms up to them, and she likes young people,” Meono said. “She is nonverbal, but you know she’s happy when they visit. The residents really enjoy someone coming in and paying attention.

“All of the ladies at the home have a basic understanding of their Christian or Catholic faith,” Meono added. “They know a lot of the words of the Lord’s Prayer, a lot of the songs, some of the stories. I think they are extra excited when younger people come over, perhaps more so than when adults visit.”

Volunteering during the challenges of COVID-19 restrictions has prompted the group to venture outside their comfort zones, Trumper-Samra said. The group planned to visit the home again Nov. 18. 

In addition to acting out a scene from the Gospel, the “Winging It” team organizes arts and crafts projects and prepares songs related to the Gospel message.

“The Holy Father has told us many times to get off the bench and get into the game, to leave the churches and go to the peripheries,” Trumper-Samra said. “In Unleash the Gospel, Archbishop Vigneron challenged us to take the parish to the community. The people aren’t going to come to you; you have to go to them and go in different ways, to be in relationship and accompany them — not just a hit and run, but to spend time with people.”

Aside from Trumper-Samra emailing the girls the Gospel readings and the outline of a script, there isn’t much pre-planning. The teens come up with ideas for a sketch, think of songs to sing on the fly and come up with material at the spur of a moment.

“The commitment and enthusiasm from these girls is on another level,” Trumper-Samra said. “Often, you have young people sign up for something and then bow out. But over the summer, I sent them a reminder of what we’re planning, and they kept at it. They really stepped outside their comfort zone, stepped outside their fears, realizing they are doing it for God.”

As long as Angels’ Place will have them — COVID restrictions pending as cases in the state rise — “Winging It” plans to continue sharing the Gospel, giving their time, talent and treasure to coax smiles from the residents.

“It is such a fun time we have with the residents, who are so interested, smiling all the time and curious about everything we are doing,” Hutter said. “For me personally, connecting to other people and getting to know other people is what it’s about. I try to make new friends when I can, be curious about people and see them smile, and it’s great to make friends at Angels’ Place, making them smile in our own unique way.”