A new summer immersion experience available to diocesan teens

By Connie  Berry
SUN editor

Love begins by taking care of the closest ones — the ones at home.
— Mother Teresa

It may sound more adventurous when teenagers in the diocese tell how they went to Boston or Philadelphia or Chicago over the summer to serve the poor and the hungry, but realistically, the poor and hungry can be found in their own backyard.

The new Summer Servants program enables young people from parishes around the diocese to take part in an overnight urban missionary experience. In its infancy, Summer Servants will offer two weeks this summer, July 11 to 16 and Aug. 8 to 13, when students can stay at the St. Thomas More Alibrandi Center at Syracuse University while they focus on creating community by serving with each other.

Summer Servants is a program under the umbrella of Come and See, an ecumenical retreat ministry. The work sites have not been finalized but Come and See executive director Kevin Frank said the Oxford Street Inn, the L’Arche community, the Brady Faith Center and other urban organizations will likely reap the benefits of Summer Servants.

The immersion experience Summer Servants provides will include ministering at the Brady Faith Center via its vacation bible school and other programs. A working retreat in essence, the Summer Servant program will connect young people from different parishes and different faiths. Their common goal will be to help those less fortunate.

“Our goal is to get 50 participants in each retreat this summer,” Frank said. “They’ll be coming from different parishes. Part of the goal is to build community for the week, getting to know new people. So few ministries bring people together from different neighborhoods and different denominations. We hope this ministry can be a place where that can happen — a place centered on service and centered on the Gospel.”
Frank was recently named executive director of the Brady Faith Center, a role he feels complements his position with Come and See.  Frank’s experience includes several years of pastoral ministry with St. Lucy’s Parish on Syracuse’s west side. He also worked at Unity Acres in the Northern Region of the diocese and within the L’Arche community, a spiritually-based residential ministry with persons with disabilities. He said his life has been full of service to others for the past 20 years and he speaks from experience when he says “whatever you give, you get back in return.”

“You always get back more than you give,” Frank explained. “My journey in ministry has been so transformative. I wanted to offer others the opportunity to touch lives.”

Young people will likely spend the morning hours in hands-on service to others whether it is cleaning up a neighbor’s yard, painting a deck, or making craft projects with children at the Brady Faith Center. Then in the afternoon they will meet at a single site to serve together and talk to the people who minister there, as well as to hear testimony from the people the ministry impacts. The evenings, Frank said, will allow for a communal dinner and some fun free time. The young people will gather at the end of the day to reflect and discuss the day’s experiences.

“Many times we take Scripture and try to live it before we experience it,” Frank said. “We’ll talk about Gospel stories that illustrate what they just lived out and then the Gospel comes alive for them.”

The idea for Summer Servants was percolating with Frank for almost a decade before all the pieces came into place recently. He has spoken to confirmation groups for several years about his own experiences in urban ministry. After talking to many parish directors of faith formation over the years, Frank determined they all had some common items on their wishlists. One was the need for a hands-on service retreat that didn’t require a lot of money and fund raising for the young people. Summer Servants program will cost $250 per person and includes lodging, meals and a full program for the week.

Andrea Jacobs is youth minister at Holy Cross Church in DeWitt and she is one of the youth ministers Frank is relying on for expertise in the area of youth trips and retreats.

“This is a great thing we need for our kids in the Syracuse Diocese,” Jacobs said. “We take trips to El Salvador, Worcester, Massachusetts and a lot of other places so why don’t we stay in Syracuse and serve in our own community?”

The Syracuse retreat experience, Jacobs explained, will be like the others further away in the sense that it gives young people the opportunity to get away with their friends, and the logistics for families and organizers will be much easier to manage.

Jacobs said she hopes the Summer Servants program takes root in the diocese. “This will be our first year and we’ll see what we can do to make it better next year,” Jacobs said. “Kevin knows the city and he knows how to talk to people and especially to teenagers. We‘re lucky to have him.”

For more information about Summer Servants, call (315) 472-9077.

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