Last summer, 16-year-old Maria Bednar of Nashville, Tenn., was overwhelmed by grace in action.
“I feel truly blessed to have stumbled upon such a place and to be allowed to call it home,” says Bednar of her time at Bethlehem Farm, a Catholic community that serves the needy of Summers County, W. Va.
She is one of thousands of young people who put their Catholic faith into action during the summertime.
According to Jim Lindsay, who for the past 15 years has served as the director of the Catholic Volunteer Network, last year alone, more than 35% of the more than 14,000 volunteers that his organization placed worldwide were under the age of 18. He says it is always an honor to work with teens because it is an opportunity to help them shape and form their faith through service.
“Teens offer a unique, fresh perspective, and they’re usually not afraid to jump in and get to work,” Lindsay says. “They bring with them much enthusiasm and energy to the service programs that they participate in. As well, their time as volunteers could lead to a lifetime of service.”
In Germantown, Pa., Sister Patricia Evanick of the Daughters of Charity has served as the assistant director of the St. Vincent de Paul Young Adult Center for more than a decade. Each year the center hosts around 36 groups of about 15 students who come for a week of service.
Their days are spent at different service sites in the Germantown area, lending a hand at the local soup kitchen or the nearby thrift store or helping out to rehab homes. Sister Patricia says that what has impressed her about the young people she has worked with is their enthusiasm to be changed for the better.
“What has impressed me the most is their desire to give of themselves in service and their willingness to be transformed by their experiences,” she says. “They are happy to give a week of their lives living in community, serving in the neighborhood and being an extension of Jesus in their willingness to give.”
One of the stories that has remained with her is the experience of a high-school student.
“This boy started the week by sharing some of the normal experiences that a lot of the kids receive. But by the last day, this young man was talking about how his life had been changed and challenged,” Sister Patricia recalled. “His faith had come alive during the week, and he felt that he was really making a difference. He was headed home to work at living the Gospel and to take time to think and reflect on his actions and to commit himself to service in some way.”
A Bigger World
Earlier this year, junior-high student Sophie Carson participated in her class mission trip to the Franciscan Volunteer Program in Cincinnati. In April, the seventh-grader from St. Joseph’s School in Galion, Ohio, had a chance to see a world that was very different from her own.
Carson recalls being close to tears on her first day. A young boy no older than 8 came in, wearing ragged clothes. He asked for six sandwiches for all his brothers and family members who were at home.
“This challenged me,” Carlson says, “because he was so young and was trying to help his family without his parents around. Things like that aren’t regular experiences for me.”
Another moving time for her was while working on dilapidated houses. “It was hard to think that some people have to live in such run-down houses,” she shares.
Carlson says that the volunteer experience offered her a number of important lessons.
“I learned from this time that not everyone has it easy and that we need to help one another as much as possible. Seeing firsthand others who truly need help to survive allows us to never take for granted the blessings we have in our lives.”
For any young person who is thinking about going on a service trip or helping out at their parish, Carlson’s message is clear: “Young people especially should volunteer, because it might help them appreciate more what they have, where they live, and how much their parents do for them.”
Eddie O’Neill writes from Green Bay, Wisconsin.