“She’s amazing! I can’t imagine my life without her.”
Debbie Guiggey says ever since her daughter Kayla was a baby, she has had a way of brightening the darkest day.
“She’s been our sunshine since day one. You can be all sad, and she’ll come over and give you a hug, and you forget why you were sad,” she says. “She definitely makes my life wonderful.”
Anna Robinson, youth ministry coordinator at St. Benedict, Benedicta, says when she thinks of Kayla, one word comes to mind.
“Joy -- she just brings joy,” Robinson says.
Kayla, age 19, has been an active member of youth ministry at St. Benedict Parish since first joining the group in middle school. Robinson says she has always been one of the most faithful members.
“You have some kids who come occasionally or when they feel like it, and then you have some who are really committed, and Kayla is one of the ones who is really committed,” Robinson says.
Kayla has brought that same commitment to altar serving, which she has been doing for about ten years, starting after she made her first Communion in second grade. In all that time, she has never missed a day and can only think of one occasion on which she had to switch schedules with another server.
“She is very dedicated and efficient on the altar and has been known to lead and keep everyone on their toes throughout Mass,” says Robinson.
“I like it,” says Kayla. “I love it."
Kayla also enjoys participating in the many community service projects offered through youth ministry. They include filling Christmas stockings for the teens at Shaw House, an emergency shelter in Bangor, and delivering Halloween candy to senior citizens so they, in turn, have candy to hand out to others.
Kayla says God means “everything” to her. She says she talks with Him just about every day about what’s going on in her life and always carries a Bible in her backpack when she heads to school. When asked why, she simply states, “I just do.”
Because of the way she lives her faith, Kayla was nominated by Robinson to receive a Saint Timothy Award, given by the Diocese of Portland to teens who live as disciples of Christ. She was among seven teenagers presented with the award at this year’s youth convention.
“She sets a positive example for others through her joyful attitude, sharing the love of her God and her Church,” says Robinson. “Kayla has lots of good morals and values, and she shows those at school. She is a great leader at school with how she just handles herself.”
Debbie Guiggey credits Kayla’s two grandmothers for laying that foundation. She says before her husband’s mother passed away five years ago, she had a significant spiritual influence on Kayla and the entire family.
“She was a big person in teaching respect for everybody – yourself, your body, and other people, treating yourself as God would want you to treat yourself,” says Debbie Guiggey. “She definitely taught us a lot about values and being happy and cherishing every day, and knowing that it was because of God that we were here, and we were happy.”
As with most families, there have been some challenges. Born with Down syndrome, Kayla needed heart surgery when she was eight months old. She still has a heart condition today and, at some point, may need medication or additional surgery. To try to hold that off as long as possible, she has been trying to eat healthier.
“She just independently does that herself. She is trying to make really good choices,” says Robinson.
Fortunately, Kayla is not restricted in any activities, other than being advised not to strain by lifting heavy objects.
When Kayla was a child, her family helped to establish a Buddy Walk in Bangor, to raise awareness about Down syndrome, which is a genetic disorder occurring when an individual has a full or partial extra copy of chromosome 21. Those born with Down syndrome often have cognitive delays, are shorter in stature, and have low muscle tone.
Kayla has taken part in the Special Olympics since she was in the third grade and has won multiple medals.
“I do running, softball throw, and jumping,” she says.
She also enjoys swimming and was invited to join the Katahdin High School cheerleading squad.
“The kids reached out to her and wanted her to participate. I remember when they called me, I was scared to death, because I thought they were going to make fun of her, and it was just the opposite. She jumped out of her shell,” says Debbie Guiggey.
Kayla also joined the school’s Performing Arts Club, and then, during her senior year, was named captain of the cheerleading squad.
“That was just amazing,” says her mother.
Kayla says she enjoys cheerleading because she likes “being with my friends.”
On the occasion of Kayla’s 18th birthday, one of her friends wrote this message: “I just want to thank you for the energy and spirit you bring to school on a daily basis. You are always offering up a friendly smile and an energetic hello. We really appreciate it. We can only hope to gain a quarter of the joy that you show us on a daily basis.”
During her junior year, Kayla received a school service award, and at graduation, she was honored with both a choral and a school spirit award.
For the school’s baccalaureate ceremony, held shortly before graduation, Kayla composed and shared this message with her classmates: “Spirit of love, spirit of truth, guide us as we pray, to think and wish and praise the best and mean words we say.”
Robinson says it is in that spirit that Kayla lives every day. “She is very spiritual. She is close to God.”
Kayla will attend adult education classes in Houlton this fall, while residing with her parents in Staceyville. She will also continue to develop her life skills including cooking, although she already makes what is described as a “mean spaghetti and meatballs” with homemade sauce.
Robinson, who is an educational technician at the high school as well as the parish’s youth ministry coordinator, says while she is excited with all that Kayla has accomplished, there will be something missing without her presence.
“She brings so much joy to us, whether it’s through her faith or just her being her.”
As she wrote while nominating Kayla for the St. Timothy Award: “Kayla Guiggey is one of those special people God sends to us to fill us with joy and inspiration.”