Susan Laielli – Special to the Florida Catholic
A heart of gold is what you’ll find when meeting and getting to know volunteer Rebecca Linarez of St. Michael Parish in Wauchula; but she’ll simply say it’s her gratitude to Our Lord that keeps her working nearly seven nights a week for the Church.
Regardless of her full-time job as a senior clerk with the Florida Department of Health’s WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children) and Nutrition Division, Linarez can be found Monday through Wednesday evenings at St. Michael Parish. Sometimes she is preparing snacks and making her famous fresh mango smoothies for the children in Religious Education, or teaching the Catechism to first graders on Thursday nights. Maybe she is helping with youth group events on Friday night, or serving in the food bank on Saturday mornings, and then it’s back to making smoothies and snacks most Sundays.
On some nights, if needed, she even may be driving the school bus to pick up children for Religious Education.
“The moms and dads are working in the fields all day and are too tired sometimes to get the kids to Church, so we help them get here,” said Linarez, as if she’s caring for family.
It all began nearly 20 years ago when Linarez, who was not really involved with the Church at all, says her husband walked out leaving her with their three children, ages 17, 14, and 7-years old to clothe, feed and raise. Regardless of having a job working for the Department of Health, she was worried about her children’s future, and their well-being. That’s when she visited St. Michael Parish to speak with the Sisters about finding help for her family.
“Oh my, the Sisters were so helpful to me at that time. I wanted to direct my kids to something better in life – I owe God a lot,” said Linarez.
Her new relationship with God Almighty would soon be put to the test it seems when in 2004 Hurricane Charlie destroyed her family’s mobile home, leaving the family homeless. Adding insult to injury, when the application process was beginning for emergency aid, she was told she made too much money to qualify for assistance.
“It was only a few dollars over, but we were left in limbo with nowhere to go,” said Linarez, who never gave up praying and having faith despite some pretty dark days.
Linarez was blessed to receive a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) trailer, but this would be allowed for a short period of time, and it took forever to figure out the system in order to start to repair the hurricane damages to her mobile home, and the land costs where the trailer sat were adding up.
“I didn’t have enough money to pay for the land where the destroyed property was located, and repair the house, so it was like a ‘Catch-22,’” explained Linarez.
When times seemed the darkest, a woman came out of nowhere she recalls, and told her about a program through the county to help repair the mobile home.
“I couldn’t believe it! I filled out an application and it was approved. The county’s program helped me tear down the old home and rebuild another one on the same spot, and that’s where I live today, all these years later,” said Linarez, smiling.
Her glowing eyes tell the whole story of the joy she feels today, and the consistent need deep in her heart to give back to God for all she has received from Him.
Seven days each week, St. Michael Parish and the students are blessed to have the Linarez making her famous smoothies and teaching the Catechism while instilling her thankfulness in the more than 900 children who attend Religious Education classes at the Parish.
“They say, Ms. Linarez, are you making your smoothies?” she laughs. “Oh yes, you bet!”