Local youth participate in action program

By Claudia Mathis / SUN staff writer
Photos submitted

Trenna Kelly, youth minister at St. James Church in Cazenovia, is looking forward to what she knows will be a phenomenal  experience for some members of her youth group. In July, 10 young people, accompanied by two adults, will travel to Worcester, Mass. to participate in a week-long service project through the Young Neighbors in Action Program. The youth at St. James will be participating in the program for the first time, but Kelly, who has also served as youth minister in Baltimore, Md., said she has taken young people on service trips outside their community numerous times in the past. “It’s a powerful experience for them,” she said. “They have a chance to gather together at the end of the day to talk about their service with the people in their group and with other youth groups from around the country and also to reflect on it and connect it to the Gospel. The experience empowers them to want to do service when they get back to their own community. They get such a passion for helping people — it makes a huge difference in their lives.”

Young Neighbors in Action is a program of the Center for Ministry Development, a Catholic youth ministry training program. The programming is designed to inspire deeper faith, to build community, to connect Scripture and Catholic social teaching, to engage in dialogue about important issues and to have fun.

Young Neighbors in Action provides direct and indirect service opportunities which are meaningful, allowing participants to learn more about social justice issues and to see the effect their work has on changing lives. The work sites provide opportunities to serve the elderly, work in soup kitchens, help out with children’s programs and rehab homes. The intense, week-long work experience helps young people to see how poverty and a lack of respect for human dignity impact people’s lives and, as a result, it changes their perspective. Besides service, the week provides opportunities for learning and dialogue, cross-cultural sharing, community building, prayer and recreation.

Some Young Neighbors in Action teams are heavily involved in direct service — working with soup kitchens, homeless shelters, recreation programs and abuse centers to help ease people’s pressing needs. Others split the day between direct contact with the needy and painting and repair projects with the sponsoring agency. Still others spend their day with more physical projects, working with Habitat for Humanity or similar local groups.

Linsay Royer, a member of the youth group at Holy Cross Church in DeWitt, said her perspective has changed because of her participation in the Young Neighbors in Action program. Last July, she, along with other youth group members, traveled to Worcester, Mass., and in the summer of 2007, they traveled to Buffalo. “It opened my eyes to the way other people live,” said Linsay. “I learned that you can’t judge or stereotype people because they come from different backgrounds.”

Andrea Jacobs, youth minister at Holy Cross, said this summer 19 youth and five adults will travel to Chicago by train to participate in the Young Neighbors in Action program. “I firmly believe that summer camp is a must for youth,” Jacobs said. “When you get them away from the distractions in their community (like their cell phones) they have a better faith experience — they are more apt to listen.”

When the group traveled to Buffalo, they worked at the St. Vincent de Paul Society, where they served in a soup kitchen and thrift shop. Jacobs said the youth did a multitude of things at the soup kitchen. They prepared meals, bussed tables and distributed bread. At the thrift store the youth cleaned and organized the shelves, hung clothing and unloaded merchandise from delivery trucks. “The kids really liked working there,” said Jacobs. “Some of the clients came every day and they got to know some of them. Before we left, the director thanked the kids and told them how much their efforts were appreciated.”

Jacobs said she felt a little nervous embarking on the first trip through Young Neighbors in Action but it turned out to be very successful. “They absolutely loved it,” she said. “They couldn’t stop talking about the things they learned and how much fun it was to get away with their friends.”

When the group traveled to Worcester, they worked on a farm that supplies food to the Worcester Food Bank through the Community Harvest Project. Their service included harvesting zucchini, tying up tomato plants and weeding the garden. “We were inspired by the volunteers who worked there because they could see beyond what they were doing to the good they were accomplishing,” said Linsay. The youth also spent one day volunteering at the food bank. In addition, the teens worked for one day alongside inner-city youth at a community garden in Worcester.

Jacobs said she will hold a meeting to prepare the young people for the upcoming service project in Chicago and will teach them about social action. “The kids are living in a post-9/11 world and they know there are a lot of problems,” said Jacobs. “They have the spirit of ‘we can make life better.’ Kids love to do things that mean something.”

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