Catholic Charities a good fit for Catholic high school service projects
Catholic youth of St. Louis are ready and willing to serve.
That was the message shared Sept. 28 at the Catholic Charities Youth Day celebration at Chaifetz Arena on the campus of St. Louis University in Midtown St. Louis.
About 1,200 juniors from many of the 28 Catholic high schools in the 11-county archdiocese attended, expressing interest and enthusiasm for what speaker Father Jeff Vomund, pastor of St. Elizabeth Mother of John the Baptist Parish, called the importance of "finding your passion."
"Do not live a life without meaning," Father Vomund told the youths. "Find what matters to you and live it. It will make a difference in our world."
"A Way of Life, A Passion with Action, Simply Compassion" was the theme of the Youth Day, which preceded the Catholic Charities USA Annual Gathering being held in St. Louis Sept. 30-Oct. 2. Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary, was the host organization for the national event.
Catholic Charities of St. Louis kicked off the celebration with the daylong youth program to introduce students at Catholic high schools to the Catholic Charities federation agencies here and to share agency missions of service. The youth event was sponsored by the Vatterott Foundation.
Catholic high school students here all participate in service projects, explained Brian O'Malley, president of Catholic Charities of St. Louis. "The goal of this day was to connect the students with Catholic social teaching, connect them to the needs of the poor and to the work of Catholic Charities."
O'Malley added, "This day was organized by the students themselves, a steering committee of students called Disciples of Christ Serving, from the different high schools."
Joan Mullin, a theology teacher at Ursuline Academy who is on the board of Catholic Charities of St. Louis, was the Youth Day coordinator; she was assisted by two co-chairs, fellow Ursuline teacher Kristen Jensen and Angela Forte, parent of a Chaminade College Prepreparatory School student .
"The youth day was Brian O'Malley's idea. Our goal for the day is that the students leave inspired and want to serve the poor in St. Louis, particularly through our Catholic Charities programs," Mullin said. "We are grateful for the past 100 years of Catholic Charities and look to the future. This," she said, gesturing to the youth, "is our future."
Catholic Charities of St. Louis has eight federation agencies: Catholic Family Services, Cardinal Ritter Senior Services, Catholic Charities Community Services, Good Shepherd Children and Family Services, MaryGrove, Queen of Peace Center, St. Patrick Center and St. Martha's Hall. The agencies had information tables at the Youth Day, with volunteer sign-up sheets available, as did the Catholic Charities central office.
The students on hand got quite an education. Many students, even in Catholic high schools, are unfamiliar with the work of Catholic Charities, Mullin said.
Paul Fister, a junior at St. Louis University High School and a member of the Disciples of Christ Serving (DOCS), the planning committee, got involved in the event because of his dedication to and interest in community service. "But I didn't know about many of these agencies, honestly," he said. "This is a great way to get the word around."
Marie Gardner, a junior at Incarnate Word Academy and another DOCS member, said, "This is a great way to get people involved in service, not just as a school requirement. ... Being on the committee really opened my eyes to the different aspects of life that Catholic Charities helps with."
"We had an excellent response, over 30 students sign up after the first break," said Dana Sebastian-Duncan of Queen of Peace Center, the Catholic Charities agency that provides behavioral health care to women with addictions and their children.
Karen Wallensak, executive director of Catholic Charities Community Services, said called the Youth Day energizing. "It's exciting to see so many young people on fire with their faith who want to live it by volunteering. We want to give them that opportunity."
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