Summer youth program marks 20 years, celebrates success of new collaboration

Teens participate in a Wednesday adventure to the Adirondacks through a summer youth program sponsored by parishes in the diocese's Eastern Region. (Photo provided)

For two decades the summer youth program at Our Lady of the Rosary Church ministered to teens in the New Hartford parish. This year, OLR and the parishes in its pastoral care area came together to offer a collaborative summer program for teens throughout the PCA.

The summer program originally was inspired some 20 years ago by a young college student and his class paper, according to Dick Vetere, OLR’s longtime coordinator of youth ministry.

“[The student] in his paper talked about the parish as more than a place of worship, sort of a community center where youth could gather and have other aspects of their lives addressed —  and that’s really how it all began,” he said.

The program, designed for teens in grades 7 to 12, evolved over the years, incorporating peer ministry and the varied gifts and talents of its staff and volunteers. This year’s program, running over four weeks in July, consisted of Sunday “teen nites out” — evenings of food, fellowship and prayer — and Wednesday day trips to spots including Howe Caverns, Enchanted Forest and Darien Lake.

The Sunday night gatherings routinely attracted about 70 teens, Vetere told the Sun earlier this summer. “It’s been pretty exciting to see that growth and it’s been pretty challenging to keep on top of it,” he said.

The program’s growth is due to a new collaboration between OLR and its neighbors in the PCA.

The collaboration was a “response to Bishop Cunningham’s pastoral plan, which directed us to find ways to collaborate with Our Lady of Lourdes [Parish in Utica],” Vetere said. “I began to work with my counterpart there, Mark Ranieri. We decided one of the ways we could work together was to blend our summer programs.”

They ultimately extended the invitation to collaborate to the other parishes in the PCA. “The good word spread,” Vetere recalled, and by the time the pamphlet promoting the summer program went to the printer, it was a collaborative effort between all the area parishes.

Though a PCA-wide collaboration wasn’t necessarily the original plan, it’s “been a wonderful way to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Our Lady of the Rosary’s summer youth program and to welcome all area parishes,” Vetere said.

Vetere noted that one of the summer’s highlights was seeing pastors interact with the teens. “I grew up in era where my parish had three priests, just as a matter of fact. That’s changed dramatically, as we all have experienced,” he said. “One of the biggest blessings of the summer, for me, was to have four or five pastors [from the collaborating parishes] spend a couple hours with kids each Sunday night and watch their interaction with kids. They don’t often have a lot of time to do that, nor do the kids have opportunities like that to interact with pastors in our area.”

The summer program received generous support from a number of sources, including OLR’s Teen Angels, the Good News Foundation, sponsoring parishes and the Oneida County Internship Program. This year, Sacred Heart-St. Mary’s Parish in New York Mills and the Knights of Columbus offered facilities to accommodate the larger crowd.

Vetere said the success of this year’s program will be built on for next year.

“I pretty much think we are on to something great,” he said. “We’re going to sit down and talk about what do we do with this new gift we’ve discovered.”

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