Diocesan News

Family filling gift bags for youths in juvenile detention

By Leigh Calfee  

(SNR) - St. John Bosco, popularly known as “Don Bosco,” dedicated his life to serving underprivileged children and juveniles with legal issues.

Although Don Bosco lived in the 19th century, and was canonized a saint in 1934 by Pope Pius XI, his legacy lives on across the globe, including in the Diocese of Lincoln.

Theresa Connelly, a student at Peru State College, majoring in criminal justice with an emphasis on juvenile counseling, recently completed an internship with Lancaster County Juvenile Detention. Her time working with children assigned to juvenile detention drew her attention to the fact many kids in detention often spend the holidays without visits or gifts.

Connelly and her mother, Rosanna, came up with the idea of gathering items for Christmas gift bags, with the goal of distributing them to the children in Lancaster County Juvenile Detention for Christmas 2018.

The Connelly family, with 14 children in all, brainstormed ideas for the gift bags, and parishioners from the Connellys’ home parish, St. Martin in Douglas, have contributed items for the effort.

Rosanna Connelly suggested calling the program the Don Bosco Project.

“Don Bosco is the perfect patron because he worked with kids and reached out with love and compassion,” she said.

Rosanna prayerfully asked Don Bosco to bless, direct and guide the project, and for two weeks afterward, a steady stream of people donated to the cause.

The Connellys have created a list of generic items suitable for children in juvenile detention. Because kids often don’t stay long, the gift bag items are designed to follow the children to their next placement.

The Don Bosco Project hopes to serve 40 children for Christmas this year, and the Connelly family already has 30 homemade stockings, ready to be filled. They are accepting donations of Christmas stockings, either handmade or store-bought, and those stockings not used this Christmas can be saved for next year.

Reagan Connelly, age 16, is in the process of crocheting hats for the project, and the younger Connelly children have helped with making flyers and moving supplies. There are three adult Connelly children serving in the military, and they are helping to make up the gap in donations for the effort.

Rosanna Connelly has been blessed to see her children pitch in to help with the Don Bosco Project.

“If it’s important to my kids, it’s important to me,” she said. “The gifts will give kids a tangible reminder of God’s love.”

Chad Chapman, programming coordinator for the Lancaster County Youth Services Center, supervised Theresa Connelly’s internship. Chapman alerted Connelly to the fact there is usually a lack of Christmas gifts in juvenile detention.

Chapman’s goal is to see the children he serves have a blessed Christmas.

He said, “These kids often have few visitors. They rarely get gifts for the holidays. This is a way to make sure every kid in our facility has something for Christmas.”

Theresa Connelly’s time working with children in juvenile detention has convinced her the Don Bosco Project is needed.

“I love those kids, and they deserve something for Christmas. They’re great kids, and they need to know people out there care about them and want them to get better,” she said.

Although people who donate to the Don Bosco Project will likely never meet the children at Lancaster County Juvenile Detention, Rosanna Connelly hopes there will be a spiritual bond between the donors and the kids that extends far beyond Christmas. She related, “I have confidence people will come forward to make this project a success.”

Theresa Connelly is convinced anyone who donates to the project will be blessed: “Even if there is no recognition or thanks, kids really do appreciate it, and God’s going to recognize the contribution. Even if no one see what you’re doing, God sees it, and the kids will appreciate it.”

For more information or to donate to the Don Bosco Project, you can contact the Connelly family via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. They are willing to pick up donations at locations across the diocese.

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