Small but mighty: Mini grants inspire summer service

BRIDGEPORT – As the summer draws to a close, many parishes are gearing up for a productive school year where their youngest parishioners are concerned. But certain parishes didn’t slow down at all during the dog days of summer, thanks to Foundations in Faith’s mini grant program.

The mini grant program provides grants between $500 and $2,000 for parishes and programs demonstrating exceptional innovation or exceptional need. They were once only available through the St. John Paul II Fund for Religious Education and Faith Formation, but following a decision made by the foundation’s board of trustees last year, the opportunity opened up to all nine of the foundation’s funds.

Once the opportunity opened up to all nine funds, demand for mini grants skyrocketed, and 12 ministries applied for and received mini grants in the past fiscal year.

Toward the beginning of the summer, Foundations in Faith made a push for religious education and faith formation programs to host engaging and fun new approaches to youth and young adult ministry. One of the mini grants supported St. Aloysius Parish in New Canaan and St. Matthew Church in Norwalk. The two parishes hosted a Summer Mission Day for their teen ministries on July 12, and were also joined by teenagers from St. Francis of Assisi Church in Weston and St. Michael and St. Paul Churches in Greenwich.

According to Chris Otis, St. Aloysius’ youth minister, a Summer Mission Day was a wonderful opportunity for teenagers to engage in service and remain close to home. And she and St. Matthew’s youth director Olivia Buisson were committed to making it happen.

“We had a dream of engaging young people from various parishes together who might not be able to go away for a whole week of service on a summer mission trip,” she said. “Gathering teens together illustrates to them the power of prayer, love and service and that their love can make a huge difference in someone’s life, even if just for a moment.”

The Summer Mission Day centered on the theme “Love Makes the Difference.” And if that was the theme of the day, the prayer of the day was the Rosary, which the teens committed to praying one decade at a time throughout the day of service.

Following morning Mass, icebreakers, a Gospel reflection and lunch, the teens departed St. Matthew for their first worksite: Filling in the Blanks, a non-profit in Norwalk seeking to end child hunger. Once they arrived, the group prepared over 1,000 weekend food bags for children eligible for free or reduced lunch.

But even with such an accomplishment, the day was far from over. Following a small group reflection on the corporal work of mercy they just performed, the group headed to Malta House, a transitional housing program for pregnant women.

The work at Malta House certainly combined faith and fun. The teenagers hosted a mini carnival and barbecue dinner for the mothers and children of Malta House’s Partnering Success alumni program and community outreach members. And while a carnival might be a commonplace scene during the summer, it meant something much more to Otis.

“As I stood up and watched the scene, all I saw was an outpouring of love,” she said. “the teens brought forth smiles and joy from the children as they splashed in the water, found triumph in winning a game or had their face painted.”

Following cleanup, Deacon William Santulli led an evening prayer back in the Malta House chapel, when the teens were able to share their experiences and reflect on the day with their peers. But according to Otis, even if the day had ended, the teens’ mission to live out their faith continued.

“When we ended evening prayer, our challenge to the group was to continue to listen to God’s call and to answer Him by putting their faith into action back at their individual parishes and in their own lives,” she said.

Otis would love to see more mission days occur throughout the Diocese of Bridgeport, a sentiment she shares with Kelly Weldon, Foundations in Faith’s director. But in order to fund them, the foundation needs a bit of help.

“Mini grants create what I like to call ‘Holy Spirit opportunities,’ but this year, all but $1,300 was distributed to pastoral ministries in our Diocese,” Weldon said. “That will only cover one mini grant ‘Holy Spirit opportunity.’ We hope that folks in the Diocese will be struck by the impact of our mini grant program and help fund future innovative and needed programs.”

To learn more about Foundations in Faith’s mini grant program, visit To donate, please call (203) 416-1392.

— Rose Brennan