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St. John the Baptist students, Catholic Charities residents share the stage for annual variety show

Catholic Charities group home residents and St. John

Catholic Charities group home residents and St. John the Baptist High School students perform in a variety show at the West Islip school. (Jan. 27, 2013) Credit: April Jimenez

A bus pulled up in front of St. John the Baptist Diocesan High School in West Islip Sunday afternoon, and an excited group of adults shuffled out.

Among giggles and whispers, a woman bubbled over: “I’m going to be a star!”

Her excitement was met with hoots and hollers from her group -- all residents of Catholic Charities group homes, which house and care for developmentally disabled adults -- as they entered the school to perform in an annual variety show.

The show, now in its fourth year, is a joint venture between Catholic Charities and student volunteers from St. John the Baptist.

Mary Ellen Kwiecinski, volunteer coordinator at Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Rockville Centre, said she and St. John’s campus minister Tricia Callahan dreamed up the variety show as a way to not only entertain the community and raise money for the school’s mission outreach program, but also to benefit the students and residents.

“The energy these kids come with is just magical,” Kwiecinski said. “The students and the residents enjoy each other’s company.”

Callahan said they have not been disappointed.

“Each year, the show gets bigger and better,” she said.

Performances during the two-hour show ranged from Michael Jackson-inspired dance numbers to a take on the “Gangnam Style” video and a heartfelt Elvis tribute sung by one of the group home residents.

Each act was met with thunderous applause from the audience of about 250. Residents hugged, high-fived and bowed with their student partners before running off stage.

Catholic Charities CEO Laura Cassell sat in the front row cheering on her residents and calling each out by name as they beamed proudly.

Cassell said she was moved by a rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called to Say I Love You,” performed in sign language by deaf residents from Catholic Charities’ Neumann Residence and St. John’s students taking a course in American Sign Language.

“How can you not soak in all the love in this room?” she said.

St. John’s student Taylor McDonaugh, 18, of Massapequa, said she has enjoyed working with this program so much that she plans to pursue a college degree in physical therapy with a focus on disabled children after she graduates in June.

She said she and her classmates benefit as much as the residents from the time spent together.

“I’ve really connected with so many of the residents,” she said. “It’s really special.”

The show closed with a stage packed by all of the students and residents dancing and singing to One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful.” The grand finale song, chosen by the performers, embodies the message woven into the show: acceptance.

“Nobody is ever made to feel different,” said Kwiecinski. “The residents feel a real friendship from these young people, and the students totally accept who they are. That’s just priceless.” 

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