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Aquinas High School swimmers are making the most of this season

The Aquinas High School swim team, all nine members, are currently in the process of preparing for the final meet of the 2021 season, the Georgia High School Association (GHSA) swimming and diving state championships. First, however, they have one more afternoon practice session before they leave for Georgia Tech’s Recreation Aquatic Center in Atlanta. “It’s going to be sad,” said Aquinas community coach Dana Pittman of the Tuesday afternoon practice. “This season was really weird because of COVID.” Pittmans has been helping coach the Aquinas swim program for the past 12 years alongside Belinda Waters, the other community coach and Santos Pagan, the head coach. 

This season has been like no other she has been associated with. Not even close. The Augusta Aquatics Center pool, where the team has their practices, was closed due to the coronavirus in March 2020 and was not opened to the public again until late last year. The swim team held their first practice of the season on January 6, 2021, nearly a year later. “We had our first practice a month ago and the kids have been able to practice 10 times,” admitted Pittman, who’s daughter Sydney, a senior and a nationally-ranked skeet shooter, also swims on the squad. Despite the lack of practice time and opportunity to work together the team had all nine swimmers qualify for the state championships. The Fighting Irish had four meets this season, two in Waycross and another pair closer to home in Richmond County. According to Pittman the ups and downs of this season has brought the team together in a way. “I think they grew up and became stronger, physically and mentally,” she said. “They kind of knew this was their last season. They all do their part to make this team work.”

One of the nine swimmers that made the state championships is senior Anna Summers, who recently signed with Virginia Tech. Another is Charlotte Schow, a junior, who has improved year after year and is showing immense progress. “[Charlotte] is coming around and she’s a good study,” said Pittman. Junior Collin Skedsvold, who Pittman called “a good swimmer and the most passionate male swimmer on the team” is also making the most of this season. “You can just see his passion for the sport,” she said. “He should do pretty good next season. It’s in his mind that he’s a winner.”

Asked how she thinks the faith of the individual members of the team has helped get through this truncated season Pittman said, “Their positive attitude helps a lot. There’s no negativity with this team and I think being students at Aquinas has helped a lot.”

“I believe their faith helps the kids realize they all have to work together to succeed.”

The state championships, which will take place from Tuesday through Saturday, will not have spectators allowed within the venue. Teams are only allowed a certain number of coaches on hand and just one by the pool during the meet. No parents will be allowed to attend and that as much as anything else will be a huge adjustment for the Aquinas swimmers. “Asked to describe this season in a few words Pittman said, “Challenging, fun, determined, but our final goal was to make state and we accomplished that.” 

Benedictine Military School and St. Vincent's Academy have both also qualified swimmers for the state championships this week.

New Beginnings

By Rachel Balducci

Henry and Isabel started school last week. Thank you, Jesus!

Ever since Isabel started preschool, I’ve taken a picture on the first day of school with all our kids lined up in front of the staircase. The very first year we did this, all five of our boys were looking sharp in their school uniform white shirt and khaki pants. Henry had on shorts, part of the elementary uniform while middle schoolers Augie and Charlie stood next to high schoolers Elliott and Ethan. Elliott was to the right of Ethan since he shot up like a weed at the end of middle school. All my little duckies in a row, nice and neat and sharp.

Isabel was first in line, to the left of her brothers. In the picture, she sports a cute little green skort because she did not yet wear a uniform. It is all precious and a sight to behold my entire world, and focus right there in a neat little line.

As the years have passed, the number in the line-up has dwindled. When Ethan graduated high school and went off to college, we had our first year with just five in the picture. And that number has quickly changed since we’ve had four high school graduates in the last five years—the number varies on such a regular basis.

We saw so many changes in just a short amount of time.

The picture I took this year was just Henry and Isabel standing in front of the stairs. No more tiny siblings were standing next to the older, lumbering ones. Isabel is in fifth grade, and Henry is in seventh. For the first time in almost ten years, there is not a Balducci boy in our high school.

I took the picture, and Isabel asked if she could text it to dad and to the four big brothers, all in college now. Instead of sending it to our family group text, she sent it individually, and I got individual responses back from each of the boys. “Makes me sad,” said one of them. Another sent a crying emoji. One brother loved the picture.

How did I feel about it? I wondered, especially after seeing the range of emotions from my sons. We are down to two at home, two whose lives we fully keep track of. It’s strange and more relaxing and different.

It’s wonderful.

There’s a way I could well up with emotion and feel sad and lament the passage of time. I suppose I could focus on those years that all my babies were together under my roof, all going to the same school, on the same sports teams, and riding everywhere with me in my giant twelve-passenger van.

Those were wonderful years, of course! And even though life is much easier now, I really did love washing all those uniforms and making all those lunches (I loved it even when I didn’t!).

When I was a younger mama and so aware of the gift of this full house (even when I wasn’t!), I sometimes feared the future. I could not imagine these babies of mine growing up and graduating high school and moving away. Would they really leave me? How could this be?

And then it started to happen. And I survived.

And better than that, it has been pretty awesome. Of course, there are hiccups and challenging moments, growing pains, and moments of loneliness. I do miss my boys when they are away! I love these children of mine.

But! But, what is so extraordinary is how your world expands as your children get older. I love that instead of one small bubble that we all exist within, there is now a much more giant orb where we circulate. We have more interests and experiences and activities. The world seems more significant, with even more adventures to enjoy!

What was once so scary to me has now become a great joy. New seasons bring a lot of unknown. When I remember to trust in the Lord and his great love for me and my husband and each of our children, I can find peace and assurance that God is there with us as we go about our way.

New Catholic Social Services Thrift Store has "mission" to accomplish

AUGUSTA, GA.-The Catholic Social Services (CSS) thrift store began serving customers in 1990, selling donated goods and clothing to people of all walks of life. Proceeds from the sales have helped support Catholic Social Services of Augusta, which has its headquarters downtown. The tradition that began as a monthly yard sale continues three decades later as the new store, moved from a smaller space nearby, opened Monday, July 6. 

Located at 3229 Wrightsboro Road, the new 17,000-plus square foot location has already been a popular shopping destination for Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Rows and rows of clothing hung from moveable racks stationed throughout the sales floor. Signs notified customers of $2.75 shirts and $1.50 ties. Books, DVDs, furniture, electronics and toys, which each have separate sections, are available for perusal. Everything from a used treadmill (retailing at $75.00) to oil paintings and bicycles can be purchased. The store has something for everyone, and that's exactly how Philomena Mooney, the store's manager, likes it. Mooney describes the thrift store system as "the best form of recycling." 

 People donate items to CSS and then the CSS employees, 15 in total (seven full-time from the previous store and eight new part-time hires), and volunteers fix what needs fixing before the donations hit the floor. Minutes before the store opened Monday, July 13, Mooney had been gluing a chair together. "We have lots of volunteers, but could always use some more," said Mooney, who attends St. Mary on the Hill Church, Augusta. Volunteer applications will be available online later this month. 

 On a Monday morning earlier this month the store was busy with a dozen shoppers mingling about. The boutique, a small section of the store that houses more rare and not-so-everyday donations was also busy with customers. Managed by Donna Weeks Borroughs, the boutique consultant, this section is where the stores more exclusive books, statues, wood work, art, clothing and jewelry. An autographed copy of Ralph McGill's classic non-fiction book "The South and the Southerner' was available for purchase, as was a 19th century German-made brass crucifix. A porcelain statuette of Saint Francis, wedding dresses and official Masters golf tournament polo shirts were also on display. A sign that said, "No Carts in the boutique" made it known that this portion of the store was extra special. "Those are vintage things or collectibles, brand new clothes. Things that are not generally viewed as a necessity." 

 The old store didn't have a boutique. The new one does and Burroughs, who also doubles as the section designer, enjoys providing the service to customers. "Our new digs are incredible," she said before helping a customer at the jewelry counter. "We are out to give customers a wonderful shopping experience. Our mission is to give back to our customers like people have given to us."

 Located next door to an apartment complex, car wash and Chinese buffet, if nothing else, the CSS thrift store gives its customers a unique shopping experience. Open Monday through Saturday from 8 am-6 pm, the store  is closed on Sundays, the CSS thrift store, "The one and only," says Mooney of the store and its place in the community, is much-needed. "Especially now with the lack of job security during this pandemic. We have people that need and we have got people that are stuck at home, tidying up there home and are looking for alternative things to do. They are cleaning out and we have the need for it." Augusta residents donate items to CSS and the items are prices according to a general price point. "A suit is going to cost someone $5. It can be a Walmart suit or it can be a Hugo Boss suit and it's going to be the same price," said Mooney. "For the price of lunch you can get an outfit from here."

School supplies, children's clothes, timely items that parents will be looking for next month when school begins again, are also available. "And right now with people not really knowing whether their children are going to be back in the classroom you kind of are afraid to spend too much money on clothes and stuff because they may be at home. It's a good alternative to check us out first."

 The store is more family-oriented than most. "It is truly a family affair," said Mooney, a mother of four adult children, two of whom are still contributing to the stores success. Mooney's daughter, who lives in Scottsdale, Arizona, runs the social media accounts and one of her sons is designing a billboard that will go up on Wrightsboro Road in a few weeks. It will have a large arrow point down towards the store. All of the kids grew up working in the original location. "My children grew up with me doing this mission," said Mooney. "They learned how to put stuff out, they learned how to deal with customers, they learned how to be nice and learned to recognize that people had it worse than them."

 Mooney always describes the thrift store's purpose as a "mission." She believes in making things as easy as possible for families, herself having raised her kids as a single mother following a divorce. "I think the store meets a lot of different missions," she says. "Just to name a few, people's need to give back to the community. We offer a place the stuff is actually going to be used for our local community. It's just local people doing a mission of love."

 The CSS thrift store also offers a voucher system for those that may not have cash in hand for the items in store. The Catholic Social Services main office determines whom may be offered the vouchers in order to shop. "It's kind of like a gift certificate to use at the store," said Mooney. "It's not just the needy that come here."

 A big part of the mission, along with the donations and vouchers, are the volunteers. From moving the donations from homes to the store and onto shelves and racks, to helping as associates and cashiers in the store, the volunteer work taking place at CSS thrift store is crucial to the overall mission. "People also want to give in many different ways, said Mooney. “That could be through their time, talent and treasure.”

 During the grand opening customers were paying-it-forward, several times contributing money to the balance of the person behind them. Mooney felt like the energy from the first day set a good tone going forward. "That happened several times," said Mooney of that day, "or they would say 'keep the change'. Giving back is one of the best ways to standout."

 The new Catholic Social Services Thrift Store most certainly does that. 

Right to life gathering brings over 100 to streets of Augusta in prayer, reflection


Augusta, Ga.- The parking lot of the Alleluia Community School was full of people holding signs, holding small children, and in some cases holding signs and small children. They were there to show their support for the Pro-Life movement and the Catholic church’s stance on the right to life. It has been 48 years since the United States Supreme Court came to the decision to legalize abortion, the Roe v. Wade decision, in 1973. Bishop of Savannah Stephen D. Parkes was the day’s guest speaker and marched up Lumpkin Road onto Peach Orchard Road and back through the parking lot among a crowd that numbered a little more than 100. 

“When we have laws that do not protect the unborn we are a society that is troubled because the way in which we treat those that we cannot see and the most vulnerable in our society says a lot about who we are,” said Parkes who celebrated a Pro-Life Mass at Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Baptist Friday, Jan. 22. During that afternoon’s homily he said that “God has a special plan for each of us.” Ha talked to the crowd about that Mass and his similar message to those that attended.

“[Friday] we honored and I celebrated a Mass for the legal protection of the unborn, and yes it was the day that many refer to as the anniversary of the decision ofRoe v Wade,” said Parkes. “I think we need to stop that language of calling it an anniversary because anniversaries are things we celebrate, that is not something for us to celebrate. It is something that we really have to make sure that we pray for our world and especially here in our country that we do not honor it in a way that we would honor a marriage, or honor a special birth date. We don’t celebrate [that] as an anniversary, I think it was a tragic and dark day in our history.”

Father Timothy Cremeens was the other guest speaker of the day and preceded the Bishop. Cremeens is a Greek Orthodox pastor and member of the Alleluia community who is now ministering in Huntsville, Alabama but made the trip back to Augusta for the event. During his homily he prayed for the unborn and for the women and men that have had to make decisions that will be with them for the remainder of their days. “It’s not that we are against something, but it’s that we are for life,” said Cremeens of why they were all assembled this day. “There are no mistakes, and we must honor all life. Not only from the womb, but to the tomb. We must affirm all life.”

Many of the marches held signs as they made their way around the parking lot.  Prior to the start  of the event Josh Dooley, 42, a parishioner at St. Joseph Church, Augusta, did not have a sign. He was too busy helping the sound crew get prepared. The father of five, like many, felt strongly about the stance that was being demonstrated. “We are out here peacefully expressing that this is a matter of life and death,” he said. “It does something for me to be out here and I trust that God wants me to be here. It strengthens me.”

Tom Hartney, 64, a parishioner of the Church of the Most Holy Trinity, Augusta said he was here because it was important to take a stand for those who cannot stand for themselves. “It is important to stand up for life,” he said. “We are living in a culture that does not appreciate the value of life. This is about respecting people, God created all of us. We are his people, we are diverse, we speak different languages, but he is the one Lord.”

Sitting on a nearby bench a few feet from the street the marchers were making their way down, Dorothy Platte, 80, held a sign that read, “Pray to end abortion.” A mother of five grown children and 30 grandchildren, Platte has lived in Augusta since the 70’s and remembers the landmark decision well. She has participated in Pro-Life demonstrations ever since. “It’s wonderful to stand up for something you believe in,” she said as she waved the sign at cars passing by. “This is a cause I believe in and are willing to stand up for. You have opportunities in your life to accept or deny God’s will but you’re the happiest when you accept it.” 

Father of 11 Wayne Rose, 68, sat on a folding chair next to one of his 26 grandchildren, Annabella Rose, 9. Rose, a parishioner of St. Mary on the Hill Church, Augusta, said he has returned to this particular event because “people forget quickly and it’s important to keep coming back because I know first hand how important, precious and good life is. The concept of family that God designed could not be better.”

A young man walked back and forth through the parking lot, helping here, helping there, and looked like he was always involved in the event. He looked like he knew his way around the grounds and he did. 16-year old Noah Ceyessens is a student at the Alleluia Community School and was on hand assisting the sound crew this morning. Why was he still here hours later when he could be anywhere else in the city on a sunny Saturday afternoon? “It’s a life and I don’t think we should be killing anyone at any age, old or young.”

1 Timothy 4:22reads “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” 

From Noah’s mouth to as many ears that will listen. 

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