“The shared resources, collaboration and duplication of efforts allow us to put forth a beautiful, Christ-centered ministry – we’re better together and it’s better for the kids,” Deacon Matt Nicosia, St. Thomas More Parish, Manalapan, said of the LIFT Youth Group.

LIFT, an acronym for Living in Faith Together, is the name of the youth group formed by the Monmouth County parishes which make up Cohort 12: St. Thomas More; St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold; St. Joseph, Millstone, and St. Rose of Lima, Freehold.

While the idea to form a cohort group was examined in the past, this one formed organically during the coronavirus shutdown.

“We didn’t want our youth to feel isolated or alone during this time,” Jeanne Marinello, leader of the LIFT Youth Group, explained. “They were thirsty and looking for something faith-centered, for comfort and reassurance. We had to spring into action and think outside of the box.”

Marinello and fellow youth leaders from the neighboring parish communities came together virtually to pray and reconnect with the teens they serve.

“It’s such a blessing,” she shared. “We’ve wanted to do this for a long time. And now it just makes sense.”

“Collaboration can only benefit young people,” said Dan Waddington, diocesan director of the Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministries.

“The regional approach for youth groups allows for greater outreach and the opportunity to share resources,” he explained, and “can only be accomplished through the cooperation of the pastors. I applaud the pastors of the cohort for their collaboration and dedication to the youth in their parishes.”

Marinello agreed and had kind words for Co-Cathedral rector, Msgr. Sam Sirianni.

“Msgr. Sam is such a champion of youth ministry,” Marinello said, and cited an example of a recent Mass at the Co-Cathedral acknowledging recent Timothy Award winners from all the cohort parishes.

The LIFT Youth Ministry team has teen and adult representatives on board from each parish in the cohort; this structure facilitates more involvement and throws a wider net to reach the broader communities they serve.

Rosemary Chaloupecky is the parish representative for St. Joseph Parish and is thrilled to be a part of LIFT.

“It’s so nice to see young people involved and holding on to the faith,” she said. “And with the combining of resources of the youth ministers, there are so many more avenues for the youth to become involved.”

“We’re reaching out beyond our parish borders and into a larger community,” Marinello added.

While the youth have met in person since the spring, joining meetings virtually will remain an option for those teens who wish to log on from home.

Waddington expressed his desire to help parishes who wish to explore the idea of a cohort youth group.

“Please contact the Diocese. We are willing and honored to assist you and accompany you on this journey,” he said.

For Cohort 12 and the youth they serve, the journey to forming LIFT has been a success, Deacon Nicosia asserted. “It’s been very rewarding for God’s Church and for the youth that we serve,” he said. “It’s been a home run for us.”