Youth in Action Grants Inspire Service “By Youth, For Youth”
By Emily Clark
Foundations in Faith has announced the recipients of the 2021 Youth in Action grants, representing groups of Catholic young adults and teens who possess the desire for collaboration, mission work, and evangelization within their parishes and communities. With up to $5000 going to each organization, the grantees include Our Lady of Fatima Parish Youth Group in Bridgeport, St. Theresa Church Youth Group in Trumbull, and the Fairfield and Stamford chapters of Crossroads 4 Christ.
Now in its second year, the Youth in Action grants grew from Bishop Frank J. Caggiano’s affinity for young people’s thoughts and ideas with a philosophy of “by youth, for youth,” according to Kelly Weldon, Director of Foundations in Faith. “The Bishop sees young adults and teens as so creative and engaged. We wanted to launch a grant specifically for teen and youth ministry,” she said. With the success of the first two awards in 2020 to a Catholic high school and a Catholic Church youth group, Weldon said they decided to add a Young Adult category this year.
“We need to shine a light on all that Catholic young adults are doing and let high schoolers know about these groups,” she added. “After college, this is a bridge – a next step in their faith journey.”
As one of the 2020 recipients, the youth group from Our Lady of Fatima Parish applied for a second grant to further the project they began last year. With their previous award money, they opened a food pantry, collected donations, and distributed them to parishioners and community members in this predominantly Portuguese neighborhood. Last September during the pandemic, this youth group celebrated a grand opening outdoors and in masks, offering food in reusable bags with Bible verses printed on them.
This year, building on the success of the food pantry, the youth want to create Our Lady’s Garden, transforming an old playground to plant fruits and vegetables to stock the pantry. Youth Group Leader Melissa Oliveira said she looks forward to combining these endeavors to provide fresh produce to the community.
“This project will further YIA’s mission by engaging youth in a skill that is very much rooted in our Portuguese culture and connect our multi-generational parish through God’s work,” Oliveira said. “The older generation will pass on skills that would otherwise be lost. The youth are excited to increase their presence and responsibility.”
The excitement felt among the youth at Our Lady of Fatima is mirrored by that at St. Theresa. With a desire to share the love of their faith with other teens, STAY (St. Theresa Apostolic Youth) is planning a “Find Your Fire: Trumbull Catholic Youth Day” event this summer to join with the other parishes in town as people reemerge from the COVID-19 quarantine. An engaging speaker, outdoor Mass and adoration, games, music, and food trucks will highlight this event and unite young people as one community under Christ. Weldon is excited to see 4 Churches in Trumbull come together with their high school age youth ministry groups. Parishes connecting with other parishes is a good thing. We need more of it!
“The goal of our project is to help teens make a connection with their faith by seeing other teens practice it,” said high school senior Kate Barton, who co-wrote the grant with fellow youth group member Abigail Clark. “We hope to inspire them to follow us on our journey.”
Referencing the name of the project and plan for evangelization, Barton added, “We have been set on fire by our faith and want to ignite that spark in teens all over Trumbull which will hopefully lead to a future generation of eager Catholics.”
Collaborating with others to reinvigorate the faith is also a goal of Crossroads 4 Christ, whose mission is to “develop intentional communities of young adult missionary disciples.” The group’s chapters in Stamford and Fairfield will join together and, with financial assistance from the YIA grant, create a “Meet Us at the Crossroads” project to increase the formation, evangelization efforts, and inclusion within this community, primarily through digital and multi-media programming.
Weldon commented on the need for such a platform, especially among 20- to 35-year-olds. “With the two groups coming together, they can use technology to engage Millennials who are working and attend different Parishes. C4C offers virtual and in person events and formation opportunities” she said. “Momentum is building. We want to help with this and share the news with the teens that they have something to look forward to after college.”
Instructional videos, theological lectures, essays, and links to other web-based resources will allow those of Crossroads 4 Christ to create such an online formation based on the needs of each chapter. Post COVID in person gatherings are being organized for the C4C chapters.
The award recipients have already begun planning their projects which will be implemented during this calendar year. Weldon said Bishop Caggiano shares Pope Francis’ admiration for young people and the need to work with them and learn from them, objectives made possible through the Youth in Action grants.