Good, Old Summertime

May 29, 2003
VOL 122 NO. 21
Good, Old Summertime
By Howie Mansfield
Photo’s submitted

As the school year winds down and students prepare for summer vacation, the diocese is gearing up for a summer season of fun, faith, and service in youth ministry areas. From Mexico to Morrisville, diocesan youth have opportunities to meet new people and grow as Catholics. Sister Eileen McCann, CSJ, diocesan director of the Office of Youth Ministry, said youth aren’t the future of the church, but part of the current church. Adults must recognize this and provide support to youth who aren’t aware of their gifts and talents. “When youth aren’t participating in church, we are losing their gifts. They have to share at this moment or it makes us incomplete,” Sister Eileen said. “We are living in the shadow of 9-11. There aren’t many places where you can celebrate in a safe atmosphere who we are. These kids can all make a difference and work toward a systemic change.” p The first event on the calendar is the Christian Leadership Institute (CLI) from July 6 to July 10 at The Joseph Center in Rome, next door to Rome Catholic High School. CLI, a program created by the Center for Ministry Development in 1979, is a five-day training program to help high school students develop untapped leadership skills in a prayerful environment. The program was brought to Syracuse in the mid 1990’s by Sister Eileen and has been altered to fit the growing needs of the diocese through the years. A newly revised manual will be used this year, giving even more information to youth. “We cap the number of kids participating at 30 each year because that’s a nice size group to work with,” she said. “One year, we tried Youth Leader, which is similar to CLI. But we liked the CLI model much better because it’s more hands-on learning.” CLI has a number of components. Skills workshops focus on communication, leadership, planning, decision-making skills and group dynamics. CLI staff and parish adults provide support to youth to nurture growth in their faith. Participants in CLI plan liturgies and prayer times throughout the five-day experience. One of the major parts of CLI is the “learning by doing.” Participants take on the same leadership roles they learned about in workshops. Sister Eileen said youth are transformed by their CLI experience. Many shy, introverted youth have come home excited about their faith, their church and serving others. “We show them that they can make a difference in their local communities and that can ripple out to a national level,” Sister Eileen noted.

The month of July concludes with the annual diocesan Youthfest at the State University of New York at Morrisville on July 26-27. The weekend event draws hundreds of diocesan youth to the rural college campus for a meaningful time of reflection, faith and fellowship with other teens. This year’s theme is “Catch the Wave, Make a Splash.” “Youthfest is just plain fun. It’s a great place for kids to come and share that commonality of Catholic faith and not be afraid to do so,” Sister Eileen said. “Morrisville has been great to us. It’s centralized in the diocese and we have room to expand over time.” This year, Anna Scally will be the Youthfest’s keynote speaker. Scally is an inspirational speaker, businesswoman, writer, educator and disc jockey all rolled into one. Scally, from California, has led catechetical sessions at World Youth Days at Denver and Toronto. She has experience speaking with youth and Sister Eileen is excited to have her come to the diocese.

A new addition to Youthfest is a number of booths and exhibits that will be available to participants. “We are hoping to have some groups set up and talk about various opportunities. We will have a representative from the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, FrancisCorps and religious communities to talk about vocations. This is a great chance for young people to learn and ask questions about these organizations,” said Sister Eileen. Youthfest is open to diocesan youth going into grades 9-12. Sister Eileen said recent high school graduates are eligible. Most of the college students return to Youthfest as event staff and leaders, she said. Youthfest is the largest diocesan youth event held during the year.

One new summer offering is the L.E.A.P.S. (Learning, Empowering, Adventures, Promising, Searching) Program. LEAPS is a collaborative ministry of Oneida/Madison Catholic Charities and The Joseph Center. This adventure programming opportunity is available at both The Joseph Center and Camp Nazareth in Woodgate, N.Y. LEAPS allows teens to use teamwork and build trust through a series of challenge course elements. These courses provide groups with a way to grow in a dynamic, physically challenging environment. Dick Vetere, director of The Joseph Center and associate director of the diocesan Office for Youth Ministry, is pleased with the collaboration with LEAPS. “LEAPS was developed as a result of the strong belief in the Eastern Region that collaborative efforts between diocesan offices work,” said Vetere. “LEAPS has always existed because Catholic Charities and The Joseph Center have their own ropes courses. The only difference is that we are marketing and managing them jointly. It also brings to light that we have adventure programming year-round.”

The Joseph Center offers half-day low-element programs throughout the year, while Camp Nazareth provides both full-day high and low element programs during the warmer seasons. Food service is also available for groups at an additional cost. Vetere said because of the collaboration, funding for the LEAPS program was received by the Oneida County Youth Bureau and will also serve as a site for the county’s summer youth program. “We are really pleased to have the extra funding. Agencies are happy to see groups working together,” he said.

Another program offered at The Joseph Center this summer is the Servicewatch Summer Work Camp, from Aug. 3 through Aug. 7. Servicewatch is a widely-popular program for senior high youth that blends learning Gospel values, prayer and service to those less fortunate. The Servicewatch Summer Work Camp, in its second year, is an expansion of this program, Vetere said. “We are building on the success of the one-day program we offer during the school year. Teens can come together as a community and learn more about Catholic Social Teaching Social Justice and their faith,” said Vetere. “The kids go out and serve in the community. They come back with a whole different perspective on life.” Peter Denio will be the facilitator for this year’s work camp. Denio, who lives in Spring Valley, N.Y., has brought youth groups to The Joseph Center in the past. He has developed immersion experience for his own parish’s youth ministry in the U.S. and Mexico. Denio has a passion for social justice and service, two of the key elements in Servicewatch, and was a natural choice according to Vetere. “Peter was really impressed with the service opportunities, especially the Hospitality Row ministries in Utica,” Vetere explained. “He has the experience and knowledge with youth ministry that will make this a great week.”

Sister Eileen said teens have no idea how great Servicewatch is until they spend time working with those in need. “They learn so much, but they get back more than probably thought they would,” she said. “The testimonials of the kids are phenomenal. This is really special.” During the same week as Servicewatch, the seventh annual Youth Bike Tour gets in gear. This year’s tour will focus on the themes of fun, faith and service. The trip will start from St. Paul’s Church in Webster, N.Y. on Aug. 4 and heading to Mexico in Oswego County. The tour returns to Webster on Aug. 9.

Joe McDonald, youth minister at St. Patrick’s Church in Whitney Point, said the bike trip has evolved over the last six years from a small parish event to inter-diocesan in scope. “We have had quite a few people from the Rochester area send kids to this trip and we wanted to honor them this year and kick the whole thing off from a parish there,” McDonald said. “We saw a need in our own church to connect more effectively with youth and give them a chance for reflection and prayer in a non-Mass setting. We decided to do a bike trip and it has grown every year.” Past bike tours have gone to the diamond mines of Herkimer, the Finger Lakes, along the Erie Canal, Syracuse and Watkins Glen. This year, the destination is St. Francis Farm in Lacona, where participants will spend time in community service. “We wanted to get back to St. Francis Farm because we had been there before,” McDonald explained. “It was probably the farthest we could go from Webster in two days. The first time we included service as an aspect of the trip we went to St. Francis Farm. The kids were really affected and they didn’t want to leave. They were really taken by the kind of people they spent time with there in service.” McDonald described a typical day, complete with opening circle for prayer, biking 10 miles, stopping for reflection and Scripture reading before continuing to the day’s final stop. Participants are given lots of free time before each day’s main event, a campfire. “We do silly skits to start, but we gradually add more serious stuff, religious songs and then we have people, adults and youth, talk about their faith,” McDonald said. “They just talk about anything in their heart.”

After the service day at St. Francis Farm, the young people talk about their experience at a campfire that night. “It really gives the kids a chance to open up and talk about what they learned. It becomes the main topic of discussion,” said McDonald. “By the end of the week, you really see the growth in these kids because they are willing to share.” All the diocesan youth events happen because of the HOPE Appeal, Sister Eileen said. The Office of Youth Ministry is separate from the diocesan Office of Religious Education, even though the two overlap in collaborative ways, she said. The Office of Youth Ministry is responsible for charging fees for each event to make up the difference not covered by HOPE Appeal funding. For more information on CLI and Youthfest, call Sister Eileen at (315) 470-1419 or e-mail her at oymsyr@dreamscape.com. For more information on the Servicewatch programs or LEAPS, contact Dick Vetere at (315) 336-3656 or via e-mail at oymrome@dreamscape.com. Bike Tour information can be obtained by calling Joe McDonald at (607) 692-4688. All the events are listed at the diocesan web site, www.syracusediocese.org.

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