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Girl Scout Gold Award project honors deceased deacon

BRANDON--Deacon Gary Griffin was an integral part of Our Lady of Good Help Parish in Brandon, so when he died unexpectedly last year, what seemed like a big hole was left in the community.
 
But a young parishioner is keeping his memory alive by renovating the basement of the parish center into The Deacon Gary Griffin Memorial Learning Center.
 
Maria Wiles, 17, undertook the work as her Girl Scout Gold Award project. The award is the highest achievement in Girl Scouting and requires girls to identify and investigate an issue, create a plan and take action.
 
She knew the deacon since she was in second grade and wanted to honor him after his death.
 
He was her confirmation class teacher, and that year he helped her cope with a death of a good friend. “We talked a lot about hope, and he allowed me to open up and think about what God meant to me,” she said.
 
Maria said it is her faith that motivates her to help other people.
 
She hopes the new learning center will be a place where youth can gather, people of all ages can learn more about their faith and religious education teachers can find resources, work at Deacon Griffin’s desk and use a copy machine.
 
“Through a lot of hard work and determination along with some help and contributions from others, Maria transformed the former basement of our church hall and created the Deacon Gary Griffin Memorial Learning Center,” said Wanda Murray, parish director of religious education.
 
There was no cost to the parish to renovate the moldy, musty, unused basement; the value of the project (labor and materials) has been tallied to nearly $6,000.
 
Maria secured a $230 grant from Girl Scouts of the Green and White Mountains for materials, and Disaster Recovery Inc. of Pittsford provided volunteer labor and expertise.
 
Work included sheet rocking, painting and installing new trim and light covers.
 
Maria herself put more than 110 hours into the project during the summer.
 
In-kind donations include furniture, movies and books.
 
Among the books are many that belonged to Deacon Griffin, who worked as an IT manager. His widow, Jeannine, a parishioner, donated many of his religious books including text books, lives of saints and books by authors like Henri Nouwen.
 
“Many of [the books] were marked by Gary; people can appreciate where he was at” when he was reading them, she said.
 
She called the learning center project “very moving” and noted that her husband loved youth and had great confidence in Murray, who succeeded him as head of the religious education program.
 
Murray wanted to do something like create a library to honor him after his death, but Maria’s project “is so much more than my idea,” she said.
 
Besides his desk and his easy chair, a large couch and a dining set, the basement room is furnished with some artwork that belonged to the deacon including a picture of Jesus and His Sacred Heart and the Blessed Mother. A photo of him will be hung on one of the white walls along with a plaque honoring him.
 
On one wall Maria painted a silhouette of her friend who died and added words from St. Francis of Assisi: For it is in giving that we receive.
 
On another wall she added the words frequently said by the parish administrator, Father Vincent Onunkwo: “God is good all the time. All the time God is good.”
 
Two white doors bear colorful handprints made by children of the parish.
 
Father Onunkwo was pleased with the transformation of the basement. “To my amazement this young lady has made the [space into] a library to reckon with,” he said. “It is my prayer that everyone will experience the presence of God as we open our doors not only to the youths but to all.”
 
Deacon Griffin taught the confirmation class for more than 20 years and the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program for about a dozen. “He loved serving…. He loved everybody,” Griffin said. “He always felt the church was his second family. We both did.”
 
Maria is the oldest of the three children of Tina and Brian Wiles. “I’m very proud of her” for the project she completed, said Tina, Maria’s Girl Scout leader. “She persevered. Maria is a perfectionist, and I don’t think she realizes how awesome she is.”
 
Tina often tells her children not to “toot their own horn” but to serve silently and move on. “She lives this,” she said of her daughter.
 
A senior at Middlebury Union High School, Maria takes Advanced Placement classes and is on the honor roll. She is a member of the National Honor Society and writing club, runs cross country and is on the Student Coalition on Human Rights. She likes to ski and read, and last year she and her mother co-taught the ninth-grade religious education class at their church. She is currently teaching first and second grade in the program.
 
In July she participated in a Girl Scout service trip to Costa Rica and Panama.
 
Maria hopes to attend college in Florida or South Carolina to study nursing.
 
“Deacon Griffin always had faith in youth. Maria has strengthened my faith in youth,” Murray said.
 
The Deacon Gary Griffin Memorial Learning Center will be dedicated formally on Sunday, Sept. 25, after the 10 a.m. Mass. It will be open on Sundays and by appointment year round.
 
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