Doing for others when they cannot do something for you in return has proven to be the best life lesson in love for a Northern Panhandle teen.

Angelene Ricci is an eighth grader at St. Vincent de Paul School in Wheeling. When you meet her you are immediately impressed with what you see – her sweet nature, maturity in her conversations for her age, and smiling eyes. What you can’t see is her heart. Angelene Ricci has a heart of gold.

The 13-year-old is an altar server at St. Vincent. She enjoys volleyball, cheering, and competing with her school’s forensics team.

While many of her peers would prioritize a family vacation packed with summer silliness, awesome restaurants, and being lazy by a pool or beach; Ricci chose to make memories in a completely opposite environment.

Ricci spent more than a week of her summer in Buffalo, NY, volunteering with Eight Days of Hope, a prayerful group of volunteers who recognize their gifts and talents as treasures from God. Volunteers for the organization prioritize being God’s hands and feet on earth to help others. People from all over the country and from all faiths make up the Eight Days of Hope workforce. The group rebuild homes, serve meals to those in need, and do manual labor such as yard work, painting, clean up needed as a result of natural disaster or devastating circumstance.

The Ohio County teen learned of the opportunity through her friend Ella Wheeler last Spring. Wheeler’s church group at the Vineyard Church was going to make the trip north to help residents of Buffalo who had a long list of needs but no means to complete them without the help of an army.

“I went home and told my parents about it and how I thought it would be a good opportunity for me to do good for people I don’t even know,” Ricci said. “I’d be missing our big family trip and reunion in DC but I honestly felt like I needed to go.”

Her parents, Michael and Anne Ricci were proud of their daughter and gave her their permission after they made sure their daughter knew that she would be giving up a trip of family fun and laughter for eight days of getting up super early and working to the point of exhaustion everyday no matter the weather or heat.

Her parents were right – right about the sweaty long hours and less than ideal working conditions, and also right about being proud of their teen.

Angelene and her group woke up at 5 am every morning. They started the day with a prayer service and then breakfast. The group would hold another circle prayer on their work site just before starting their chores.

For Ricci it was going to homes and working landscaping jobs – pulling weeds, digging out old roots, clearing weeds, mulching, and general yard clean up. They would take a little break for lunch on site and keep working until dinner time followed by evening prayer.

“We worked so hard in so many neighborhoods,” Angelene said. “The people who lived in the homes were so happy we were there.”

She said she loved it when she would work at a home with little ones, because they would run to the windows to wave hello.

She and Wheeler were among the youngest in the group.

“It was like a big sleep over when we went to bed,” she said. “We would be in bed by 9 pm, and all of us slept in a big gym, some on cots and some on the floor. No one complained. We met so many people from other states there to help. It was neat to be with people who were like me, but also at the same time so different from me. “

She said they all were there for the same reason, “to help people out even when it’s hard, because it is the right thing to do. There is no better feeling you can get than making someone you don’t know happy, especially when you know that someone won’t ever be able to repay you.”

“It’s that special feeling you really can’t put into words,” she said.

Ricci’s favorite saint is St. Therese of Lisieux, who wrote about that feeling, “I feel that when I am charitable it is Jesus alone who acts in me; the more I am united to Him the more do I love….”

Volunteering is second nature to Ricci, who with her school and parish do a variety of merciful works and projects. Her mother, who works for Wheeling Health Right, is also a shining example of what St. Therese taught us in her lifetime, “Remember that nothing is small in the eyes of God. Do all that you do with love.”

The Wheeling teen hopes to be a part of Eight Days of Hope again.

“I’d love the chance to do it all again,” she said. Until then Ricci will be enjoying her eighth grade year and all the milestones that brings with it in a Catholic school. “I just now have a better idea and recognition of how I can help others even if it is just in a small way like pulling weeds. A little work that makes a big impact on someone’s heart.”