Known as “by youth-for youth” grants, the new grant program flips the script to let young people innovate and show adults new ways of approaching one’s faith journey.
BRIDGEPORT, Connecticut – How can we encourage young people to deepen their Catholic faith and become more involved in the Church? One way is to give teens the space and resources they need to bring their dreams to life. And that’s exactly what Foundations in Faith is doing, thanks to a new innovative grant program.
In an effort to revitalize how young people experience their Catholic faith, Foundations in Faith has awarded its inaugural Youth in Action Grants to two youth-created projects, an innovative radio show featuring faith-filled, teen-oriented content and a much-needed food pantry.
An initial grant of $2,500 was awarded to Cardinal Kung Academy in Stamford for the development of “Tune in to your Faith,” which will launch on the Veritas Catholic Network. An initial grant of $2,500 was awarded to a high school-aged youth group at Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Bridgeport to open a food pantry for the greater community.
“Nothing like these grants has ever been offered,” said Kelly Weldon, Director of Foundations in Faith, which is committed to supporting and transforming pastoral ministries in the Diocese of Bridgeport.
“This is a very exciting opportunity for Catholic high school students and the many high school youth groups in the Diocese to showcase how they envision new approaches to changing the fabric of Faith Formation for teens,” Weldon added.
Bishop Caggiano is committed to not just listening and hearing from Catholic youth, but also learning from their creative thinking. Last September when he announced the new grant opportunity, he asked young people to incorporate collaboration, evangelization, and mission work into their ideas.
“We need to listen to their voices and give them the space and resources to design programs and projects that will resonate with them,” the Bishop emphasized.
The two funded projects will be spearheaded by teenagers, while adult mentors will offer guidance and help. The grant awards are up to $5,000. Both recipients received initial funding of $2,500, and will provide Foundations in Faith with a project update and Year-to- Date budget in June. If all is proceeding as expected, they will receive the second half of their grant.
Grace and Ava Lannigan, students at Cardinal Kung Academy, proposed “Tune in to your Faith,” which will involve the efforts of students, faculty, staff, laity, and clergy. Program content will aim to reach Generation Z, those born between 1994 and 2009. The thinking behind the idea is that one of the most critical issues facing the Catholic Church is keeping young people involved in the Church.
Grace Lannigan, 16, noted that there is a plethora of media outlets designed to reach the Catholic community, but most are focused on adults. “There are very few geared towards younger Catholics,” she said. “‘Tune in to your Faith’ is a wonderful platform that gives us the opportunity to connect Catholic kids and teens across the Diocese.”
Their goal is to produce content that speaks to the teen audience, such as by giving teens access to discussions that are relatable to them and then showing how faith helps in dealing with issues. “I am hopeful that hearing from young people like us will invigorate other kids to explore their Catholic faith,” Grace added. “The radio is a very great way to reach a large audience and to begin exploring the ways Veritas radio can help us amplify our efforts.”
It becomes easier to energize teens on a platform that is more relatable such as the radio, Ava Lannigan, 14, pointed out.
“We need to pull teens into the Church in as many ways as possible in order to create a strong future for the Church,” said Ava Lannigan. “It would only take a few teens to spread the word to get many involved. Once it does, I believe it will skyrocket.”
The radio program is just one element of what organizers hope to offer teens.
“We are in the process of exploring multiple avenues to reach teens via the radio: a live show, downloadable content and hosting guest speakers,” said Karen Lannigan, project leader, suggesting, for example, users will be able to download inspiring talks and engage via social media platforms. “We would like to establish ambassador type roles for teens to attend existing Diocesan events at schools and parishes that would let them know what we are doing and show how they can get involved.”
So far, approximately ten teens, ages fifteen to nineteen, and numerous adult mentors are anticipated to be involved in the operation of the Our Lady of Fatima Food Pantry, which will be located in the parish hall in the lower level of the church. Initially, it will be open the first Sunday of each month from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. beginning in late February or early March.
“In the future, we hope to expand it to twice a month and grow to include seasonal clothing, diapers, and toiletries,” said Melissa Oliveira, Youth Group Leader.
Several youth group members said the food pantry will energize young people in the Bridgeport parish, because it’ll give them a voice and empower them to share their faith. “It’ll show other youths that you can reach people through God and help them in a simple way,” one teen said.
The teens were especially delighted to hear of the grant news because opening a food pantry has been a dream of Father Rogerio Perri, Parochial Administrator.
Organizers said the food pantry will have a high social media presence and combine the efforts of different groups within the parish. It is also intended to increase the sense of community with the local Portuguese people who are parishioners.
The goal is for the pantry to “open the doors of communication” and help the community grow through Christ and spread his love.
“The purpose of this project is to bring together the older and younger generations with the common goal of helping the community,” said Oliveira.
For more information on Foundations in Faith and the pastoral care ministries and grants, please visit www.foundationsinfaith.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
-By Meg McCaffrey