By Celine Klosterman
After returning home from the National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC) in 2011, Izzy Brandt, 17, got involved in parish and diocesan youth activities for the first time. Alison Dickinson, 16, began wanting to volunteer in her community. And Emily McLain, 17, is now fundraising for a service trip.
The youths said the conference fueled their passion for their faith, so they’ll join 790 other Catholics from the Diocese of Davenport at this year’s NCYC Nov. 21-23 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. About 23,500 people are expected to attend the event, which will include workshops for youths and adults, opportunities for reconciliation and daily liturgy, discernment sessions, music and fellowship.
For Dickinson, a member of St. Mary Parish in Fairfield, what’s especially appealing is the opportunity to “further my faith and better myself,” she said. At the 2011 conference, “I got to hear actual responses as to how teenagers in today’s world can spread the Word of God without being considered ‘weird.’ I learned how I can give back to my community. I learned how to pray more sincerely and how to incorporate God into my life without it seeming like ‘a hassle’ or ‘extra work.’”
For about a year, her parish has been fundraising to send a dozen youths, five chaperones, and Pastor Father Nick Adam to the conference. St. Mary’s has held an ongoing pop can drive, a rummage sale, tip nights at local pizza restaurants, a trivia night, soup supper and other efforts to raise the $460 per-person cost of attending. That fee, set by the diocese, covers expenses including registration, transportation and lodging.
St. Mary Parish in Centerville, which is sending 31 youths and chaperones to NCYC, started fundraising work in summer 2012 when a committee formed to publish and sell a parish cookbook — an overwhelming success, said JoAnn McLin, faith formation director. Other efforts included an Italian dinner and pancake breakfast organized with the Knights of Columbus, a bake sale, yard work and T-shirt and hoodie sale.
Preparing for the conference can be stressful, but is a labor of love, McLin said. The 2011 event gave her new ideas for youth ministry, and helped inspire four parish youths to become catechists for younger Catholics at St. Mary’s.
“I was confirmed last year and have decided to teach third-grade faith formation,” said Jessica Allen, 16, a Centerville parishioner. After attending NCYC in 2011, “I wanted to come back because it was an experience that helps reminds me that faith can be fun.”
“During my trip to the 2011 NCYC, I learned how to get closer to God not just in church, but everyday life,” said Centerville parishioner Anthony Furlin. “I became involved in more things to help out my community either through school or church activities.”
This year eight youths from the diocese will serve at NCYC as ambassadors, who help with workshops by welcoming participants, introducing speakers, leading opening prayer and more. McLain, of St. Anthony Parish in Knoxville, accepted the invitation to be an ambassador from her youth minister, Tracy Russell, after seeing the fun ambassadors had in 2011. At the conference, McLain said, “Everyone was at a different place with their faith, but you saw how God transformed everyone at the end.”
Joining her as ambassadors will be Allison Becker and Anna Chicken of West Burlington, Megan Larkins, Caroline VanPelt, and Alix and Athena Moad of Burlington, and Abbey Ties of Coralville.
Also, four youths from the diocese will serve as animators who lead prayer, song and dance at NCYC: Charlette Flanders of Ottumwa, Shanlie Phillips of Oxford, Mason Tope of Davenport and Devin Yarkosky of Albia.
For Brandt, of St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City, taking part in a Mass with 23,000 other Catholics at the 2011 conference showed how religion can bring many people together. “Going to a Catholic school, I’m used to seeing that, but seeing that it’s everywhere across the U.S. is so powerful,” said the senior at Regina High School in Iowa City.
She’ll be among 16 youths and a few chaperones attending this year from St. Patrick’s. The parish has been fundraising for about a year by holding pancake breakfasts, selling sweatshirts and T-shirts with the parish name, taking up a special collection and more.
After returning from the last NCYC — her first activity with her parish youth group — she started attending the group’s weekly meetings and participated in March for Life and the diocesan Catholics in Action service retreat for the first time.
“Keeping the buzz alive after NCYC is definitely a challenge, but you continue to encourage youths, find ways to reach out to them and invite them to be involved in the parish,” McLin said. “And you pray that they were touched by the seeds of NCYC and let God work through their experience of the event.”