By David Karas | Correspondent

The Center for FaithJustice has received a major grant from the Lilly Endowment to nurture youth-led initiatives in parish communities.

The Lawrenceville-based nonprofit, which works to develop the next generation of leaders through education around justice in the Catholic tradition, will use the funding to support its new project, “NeXt Level: The WorX Continues.”

According to the Center, the project will “institute youth-led parish-wide campaigns rooted in service and justice at select participating Catholic congregations across the greater New Jersey region.”

“Parishes are the spiritual homes for youth, which is why congregational outreach has always been at the heart of CFJ’s mission,” said Stephanie J. Peddicord, the Center’s president. “NeXt Level will allow us to experiment, explore, share findings, and influence the future of Catholic youth ministry and intergenerational religious education.”

The five-year grant will begin with a 2019 launch at six parishes throughout the region, with an expanded scope in the years following. While the selection process for the initial number of parish communities is underway, Maggie Smith, director of special projects for the Center, said they “expect that at least one or two of the pilot parishes will be from the Diocese of Trenton.”

“We are fortunate to have many trusted parish partners across the state from whom we were able to solicit input and honest feedback,” Peddicord said. “Partner parish voices informed many elements of the NeXt Level program design. As a result, we believe that the initiative will begin to build the missing bridge between youth, the WorX model and the home parish community.”

The project will build upon the success of the nonprofit’s traditional WorX programs, which has been proven through both participant reflections and a longitudinal study released in October 2018 to have a lasting impact on participants.

The Center is planning a May orientation for pilot parishes featuring a world-renowned leader in the field of youth ministry, Peddicord said. The summer will feature a weeklong service immersion program in Trenton for youth delegates and adult mentors from each parish, which will kick off their charge to return to their parish communities to work on implementing “passion projects” over the course of the year. Results of the program will then be collected and analyzed to contribute to the field of youth ministry.

In commenting on the connection between this programming and the Center’s work to bolster youth agency, Smith reiterated the Center’s mission.

“Throughout our history, CFJ has offered innovative and engaging programs using service as the entry-point to a deeper exploration of faith,” Smith said. “We encourage youth to be agents of – not just participants in – their faith.”