Ken and Debbie Brown of Middlebranch Little Flower Parish truly understand the concept of giving of one’s time, talent and treasure.
Married for 42 years, the parents of two and the grandparents of two, the Browns have been volunteers for most of their married lives – serving in such varied ministries as assisting at Mass, feeding the hungry, teaching, marriage preparation, and the Christmas giving tree.
Debbie said recently that the work, “which has rewards other than monetary ones,” came naturally for her. “I was raised in a family where our parents were constantly doing things for the Church. It was a way of life for all four of us kids.”
Ken, a convert to Catholicism, said, “Volunteering is something I feel drawn to. I have such a wonderful family – a great wife, children and grandchildren. I feel I should give back. So I try to help wherever I see a need.”
Some of the Browns’ undertakings are done individually. For instance, Ken has been serving for 22 years on the parish’s liturgy committee, recruiting, training and coordinating Eucharistic ministers.
Debbie taught summer Bible school at St. Paul’s in North Canton for four years. She is also a cook for Little Flower’s “Matthew 8:20” ministry to the homeless in downtown Canton, which provides meals to the needy two Fridays of the month. Her grandchildren, Emma and Oliver Curd, ages 12 and 10 respectively, help out with tasks like sandwich making and packing cookies for the homeless at Christmas.
Besides their individual efforts, the Browns volunteer together.
Debbie explained, “We do most of our volunteering as a couple because we both work and it’s a way to spend more of our spare time together.”
Debbie is in her 38th year of teaching kindergarten at St. Mary’s School in Massillon, a job she said she loves because the little ones are such a joy. “They’re so honest, they tell it like it is,” she said with a grin.
After being in the printing business for decades, Ken has spent the last nine years working in the printing end of the Brunswick marketing firm of Integrated Marketing Technologies (IMT).
The couple’s volunteer work is varied.
Both are Eucharistic ministers and lectors at Little Flower. Debbie said that their daughters “joke about us doing everything together.” But, she added, “Whether we’re Eucharistic ministers or lectors, it’s very special when we serve together, and we look forward to going to Mass, because it’s not an obligation but a privilege.”
The Browns began helping with their parish’s Marriage Preparation program three decades ago. They felt the call to this work since they agreed that marriage is a work in progress that couples have to work at as circumstances change.
For a long time the Browns participated in the Sponsor Couple Program, which involved meeting with an engaged couple for five weekly sessions. They still keep in touch with couples they mentored – about 20 or 22 through the years. The first couple they mentored just celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary.
Another ministry the Browns are involved with is the Jesus Tree – which is Little Flower’s name for their Christmas giving tree. They’ve been in charge of this for “at least 20 years,” Debbie said.
She and Ken praised the generosity of their fellow parishioners who quickly take the tree’s gift tags and buy the presents requested. This enables the Browns to refill the tree with new tags about four times during the season. Debbie said that if any tags are left at the end of the program, someone in the parish will invariably make a donation to cover those requests.
Typically the ministry adopts 28 to 30 families who are referred to the parish by Community Services of Stark County. Each person in the family receives six gifts. If there is a child in the family, one of those gifts is always a toy.
Since charity “begins at home,” the tree also helps any parish families in need.
Also, through the Jesus Tree, one gift – suggested by the referral agency – is given to each of the 60 to 80 people in Conquest, a recovery services organization in Canton.
The Browns’ grandchildren (and their parents) enjoy getting in on the giving by helping to sort and pack donations for the beneficiaries of the program.
Encouraged by a good example, another generation of Brown descendents is growing up with the tradition of giving to their Church by sharing their time, talent and treasure.