Fun, learning is stressed at God Camps and Youth Leadership Institute, where participation is strong
When school lets out in May and many students look for the nearest pool, mall, video game or smartphone to inhabit until August, a number of diocesan pre-teens and teens make plans to interact with peers from around the diocese to develop team-building and leadership skills.
Sound like summer school? Think again.
God Camp and the Youth Leadership Institute (YLI) are key parts of a strategy to bring kids from across the diocese together in the spirit of fellowship, fun, faith-building and to identify youth leaders among the parishes.
“This is an opportunity for our youth to see the larger Church. They get the idea that they’re not alone in this. Some of the kids come from areas where there are few Catholic youth,” said Al Forsythe, director of the diocese’s Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry.
As the students establish camaraderie and teamwork through activities and competitions, a group of adults and older students work with them to hone their leadership abilities, preparing them to take on greater roles within the Church during high school, college and beyond.
This summer, the Youth and Young Adult Ministry held camps in June and July that attracted more than 200 students.
Through its summer God Camps, the diocese offers three opportunities for young people to get together to meet others their own age, celebrate life, explore nature and discern what is the will of God for their life. Camp activities are held at the 1,200-acre Harrison Bay State Park in Harrison, Tenn., in the Chattanooga Deanery. The campground has 24 cabins, an Olympic-size swimming pool, outdoor sports, camp fires, prayer services, celebration of Mass. Team-building and group interaction activities include four square, basketball, softball, volleyball, horseshoes and an evening dance.
Three separate God Camps, all open to any youth in the diocese, are held base on student ages. Dare to Dream, for high school students, was held June 18-22. Reach, for incoming seventh- and eighth-grade students, was held June 25-28. And Discover, for incoming fifth- and sixth-graders, was held June 28-30.
The YLI camp was held July 13-16 at Horn’s Creek NOC Resort in Ocoee, Tenn. The camp’s aim is for diocesan youth to gather in common faith and fellowship to learn the dynamics of Christian leadership as developed in sacred Scripture, Church tradition and teaching, Christian witness and discipleship.
The high school students attended workshops on faith development, leadership styles, methods of prayer, how to run meetings, how to lead prayer services and sharing sessions. Skills and insight developed at the workshops help youth become Christian leaders at home and in their parish, school and community.
The diocesan Youth and Young Adult Ministry staff, along with Diocesan Youth Ministry Advisory Council (DYMAC) representatives from the four deaneries, work months in advance to plan the YLI camp.
Mr. Forsythe said one of the goals at YLI is to encourage campers to “step up and step out” as a way to get out of their comfort zones by doing challenging activities in a team atmosphere. Activities included paintball contests and rafting.
“A lot of people say the youth are the future of our church. They are our church today. When they develop leadership skills they can contribute to their church. They can become leaders in their church like readers, music ministers and those active in the pro-life ministry,” Mr. Forsythe said.
Bernadette Hunt, 17, who will be a senior at Bearden High School, represented Immaculate Conception Church at YLI and praised the program, which began the week with “ice-breakers” and sessions with diocesan leaders.
“By the end of the week no one wanted to leave and we all talked about how to become better leaders. It definitely helped a lot. It was a great experience,” said Miss Hunt, who noted that students learned how to lead a group, better communicate with others and how to defend the teachings of the Catholic Church.
To further underscore his point, Mr. Forsythe said studies show young people need good role models and if they find them within the Church, they will stay with the Church.
“Church becomes home and everyone wants to come home,” he said.