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Marianna Maslanka, a senior at Willows Academy in Des Plaines and a 12-year member of American Heritage Girls, earned the highest recognition American Girls offers to members: the Stars & Stripes Award. She will be recognized at a Court of Honor Ceremony in June. Maslanka, a Mount Prospect resident, earned the award by completing a number of requirements. She had to earn a total of 16 Merit badges, hold a leadership position in her troop for a minimum of six months, write a Life Ambition/Spiritual Walk essay and resume, receive at least three letters of reference, pass a Board of Review, and plan, develop and provide leadership to others in a 100+ hour service project.
As a member of St. Alphonsus Liguori Catholic Church in Prospect Heights, AHG Troop IL 1317, she chose to serve her church by planning and implementing the building of Outdoor Stations of the Cross. The project took 275 volunteer hours to complete.
“I first thought of the idea because my mother picked up a newspaper when we were visiting colleges in which another girl had created outdoor stations of the cross for her parish,” explained Maslanka. “I liked this idea especially because it allowed people to walk the stations of the cross while also appreciating the beauty of nature, God’s creation.”
To make it a reality, she proposed her Stars & Stripes Project to Rev. Joseph Nhat Le, the church’s pastor. After receiving his approval, she presented it to the St. Alphonsus Liguori Parish Council for its approval. During this process, she wrote a 34-page project description and at the completion of the project a 88-page project summary report.
One of her first challenges was raising at least $2,000 to cover the costs needed to purchase lumber, stepping stone kits, solar lights, Stations of the Cross images and other necessary supplies.
“I was nervous because I knew the best way to start fundraising was to directly address the parishioners, so I asked if I could speak at all four weekend Masses,” recalled Maslanka. “This was during the last week of February, and the first week of March in 2020. During that first fundraising weekend, I raised a little over $2,000. The generosity of people amazed me, and I was so grateful to the parishioners for their support. The second weekend I collected donations, and I also raised a little over $2,000, putting my total contributions at over $4,000. I was overwhelmed with gratitude. I had all the money I needed to complete the project and more.”
Then came the pandemic. Right after she finished her fundraising campaign, the church was closed because of COVID-19. Her project became more difficult to achieve with COVID restrictions and was behind schedule. She knew she would have to work quickly and “trust in God to work out the little details” so she could finish her project before senior year and colder weather. She wanted parishioners to be able to pray at the outdoor stations, even when the church was closed.
“Digging the holes for each station proved to be another lesson in perseverance for me,” said Maslanka. “Each station required a hole that was three feet deep to install the station posts, boxes, solar lighting, and stepping stones. The August days were long and hot, and at times it was hard to stay motivated. I thought the digging the holes for the posts would be easy, but after watching my father and other volunteers dig the first few holes with the two-man auger, digging proved to be more challenging than initially planned.”
There was an alternative. They rented a jackhammer to remove some rocks that were in one of the holes. After the holes were made, everything fell into place. Fourteen beautiful outdoor Stations of the Cross were complete, with a solar light to illuminate at night and a stepping stone in front of each station.
“The over 300 hours it took to complete my project comes from all the hours put in by volunteers and myself,” said Maslanka. “However, I alone spent over 100 hours planning and implementing my project. I also had help and support from my AHG Stars and Stripes Award Mentor, Mrs. Rose Anna Nelson.”
Maslanka said those involved in the construction include: Mr. Marchetti (volunteer parish carpenter) and AHG girls for the station box creation and building. Station box and post installation was done with the assistance of her father, Stas, her brother who is an electrician, volunteers from the parish and from the Landscaping Ministry and Knights of Columbus. AHG Troop IL 1317 girls and parents for the Station stepping stone creation.
Asked why this project is so important to her and the parishioners, Maslanka replied, “St. Alphonsus Liguori Parish and School will benefit from my project for a long time. I hope that my stations will still be there in 50 or 100 years. The benefits from my project increase because of COVID-19, not only to include people having the opportunity to pray at the stations outdoors, but also to people having the opportunity to pray in larger groups, since they can social distance more easily outdoors.”
Maslanka said she grew spiritually from this experience. She will be attending Bendictine College in Atchison, KA, in the fall of 2021, majoring in Elementary Education. She is the daughter of Stanislaw and Mary Therese Maslanka.
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