Seán Patrick Sanford, Center for FaithJustice founder, presents a brief history of the organization during the 10th anniversary celebration held in St. Ann Church, Lawrenceville. Photos courtesy of the Center for FaithJustice
 

Seán Patrick Sanford, Center for FaithJustice founder, presents a brief history of the organization during the 10th anniversary celebration held in St. Ann Church, Lawrenceville. Photos courtesy of the Center for FaithJustice

 

By Katie Cerni | Social Media Coordinator

Maureen Plover is quick to point out that the three summers she served with the Center for FaithJustice ignited her passion for social justice and working for those in poverty.

“I’ve become a mission-driven individual because of my time here,” said Plover, an engagement associate for the nonprofit Manna on Main Street in Lansdale, Pa. “I wouldn’t be who I am today if I didn’t have that experience.”

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Plover was one of nearly 100 staff, board members, former participants, volunteers, donors, friends and family who gathered Oct. 17 in St. Ann Parish, Lawrenceville, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Center for FaithJustice becoming a nonprofit.

Thomas Bartolomei, CFJ board of trustees member, reflected on the past 10 years with a smile, saying, “While this time has been amazing, we are not just celebrating 10 years of the Center, we are celebrating thousands of kids and volunteers whose lives have been changed forever because of the work we have done here.”

The night began with hors d’oeuvres in the parish’s Faith Development Center, informational poster boards sprinkled throughout the hall that conveyed the findings of a recent data survey showing the effectiveness of the Lawrenceville-based Center for Faith Justice programs.

The study, released by the Center for FaithJustice and the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University, showed that a majority of the 220 alumni surveyed continued volunteer service after the program, still consider themselves Catholic or belong to a faith community.

“It’s not rocket science,” said Seán Patrick Sanford, Center for FaithJustice founder. “At a time when the Church is hemorrhaging young people, we found a program that works. The effectiveness of the program speaks for itself.”

“I’m really thrilled with how everything has turned out,” he said. “We started as a nonprofit organization 10 years ago in the middle of a recession, but we have been blessed with incredible leadership.”

The gathering served as reunion for some and a time for others to meet for the first time.

“Not only are we celebrating 10 years, we also wanted to provide a moment for those friends and community partners that we work so closely with, to come meet,” Mare Ernesto, the Center’s vice president of programs and outreach explained. “There are so many phone and email relationships we have, and this is a good opportunity for everyone to meet face-to-face.”

The anniversary celebration included a brief history of the Center and personal testimony from Sanford; Scripture readings; a production from community partner Sprout U School of the Arts, a Trenton-based nonprofit that performed “The Lion King Jr.,” and an update from Caitlin O’Donnell, who served with the Center’s WorX social justice programs. O'Donnell now serves with the Jesuit Relief Service in South Sudan.

Those involved with the Center agreed on their hopes for the programs to grow into a nationwide initiative.

“We have a very dynamic staff helping us move in the right direction,” said Rocky Balsamo, board of trustees member.

Colleen Paras, who attended the event with her daughter, Anya, works with the Center for FaithJustice each summer. “I have loved watching this grow into its own elements,” Paras said. Watching these programs bring a spirit of service into parishes “gives me hope for my little one.”