Step out to serve

Barb Arland-Fye
Teen volunteers lift driftwood out of the Missi­ssippi River in Fort Madison’s Riverview Park in this file photo.

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

Taking a cue from the Vision 20/20 initiative, the Diocese of Davenport’s Faith Formation Office is stepping out into new territory this summer with a youth service initiative: Step Out to Serve.

The initiative taps into the volunteering that young people and their families already plan to engage in this summer, such as service projects, mission trips, Vacation Bible School, assisting neighbors and extended families. All of this service exemplifies sharing the joy of the Gospel with others, the centerpiece of the Vision 20/20 initiative, says Don Boucher, director of the Faith Formation Office.

Step Out to Serve — from Memorial Day to Labor Day —targets youths in middle school through high school, the adults serving them, and families. They are encouraged to team up with their parishes to serve people or causes in their communities, track the service they complete and report it to the diocese. At the end of the summer, Sept. 8, everyone will gather to celebrate the services they provided across the diocese. Take a look at resources and service ideas for Step Out to Serve at www.davenportdiocese.org/sos.

Boucher explains that Step Out to Serve emerged as a solution to a dilemma. Typically, during the summer, the diocese offers a three-day service project for youths called Catholics in Action. But a shortage of leaders for the teams resulted in the project’s cancellation this year. Youth ministers and directors of religious education brainstormed about options and came up with Step Out to Serve (SOS).

“More than a program, it’s meant to be an umbrella or a movement, something that brings awareness to the service already being done,” said Brett Adams, coordinator of evangelization and youth ministry for Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Bettendorf. And, hopefully, it will “spark an interest in those who hadn’t been planning on doing service.”

“The idea is to empower parishes to take responsibility to put Catholic Social Teaching in action,” said Pat Sheil, youth minister and director of religious education for St. Joseph Parish in DeWitt. “It can be in their parish, in their community — and in the broader area if they are doing a service trip.”

Sheil said Step Out to Serve is about “making a conscious effort to unite in service with others.” Catholics in Action did that, she said, but it was a limited, three-day project. The new initiative encourages service that “can be done anytime, anywhere throughout the diocese and it can be done on many different levels.”

In her parish, for example, she’s teaming up youths and prayer shawl ministry members to collaborate on a project to create waterproof sleeping mats for people who are homeless. The project will start out simple: Prayer shawl ministry members will teach the youths to knit and crochet first. They’ll make dish clothes to be distributed during the youths’ mission trip this summer to the Appalachians. It’s about building relationships, Sheil said.

Maintaining the sense of community that comes from bigger, diocesan events while encouraging more local service projects spread across a greater length of time is important, said Jasmine Tone, coordinator of youth ministry for the Davenport West Cluster.

Youths in her cluster (St. Alphonsus and St. Mary parishes in Davenport and St. Peter Parish in Buffalo) will pull weeds and garden at Eagles’ Wings Retreat Center in Davenport on June 20 and clean St. Mary’s in July. Another project is in the works. Tone sees Step Out to Serve as “an opportunity for youths to recognize what they can do locally.” The celebration on Sept. 8 will allow them to see what other parishes did, and “we’ll have the fire to do even more.”

Adams said he grew up participating in Catholics in Action. He sees Step Out to Serve as a way to “instill the desire to serve and to draw awareness to the fact that it is an essential part of our Catholic identity.”

Fairly new to his position at Lourdes, he said he’s looking forward to connecting with youths and families in service throughout the summer. For starters, he’s offering high school Bible study and middle school open gym events. He’s working to partner with the local Chick fil-A to host the Bible study a couple of times to make it inviting for the youths.

The Sept. 8 celebration will help youths to build a sense of connection with the rest of the diocese. But the bigger goal is to “draw awareness and make people feel empowered so that they can be stewards of service and change in their own communities, Adams said. “It’s what we’re called to do in our everyday lives as Catholics.”

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