" Everything about our day is going to be centered around helping young people to realize that God loves them so much that he’s given them all these amazing gifts and empowers us to be a light in the world. "

From the guest speakers and prayer experiences to social media contest and service project, everything planned for the 2020 Diocesan Youth Conference will remind youth of an important message: “You are the Light of the World.”

“Everything about our day is going to be centered around helping young people to realize that God loves them so much that he’s given them all these amazing gifts and empowers us to be a light in the world,” said Dan Waddington, director of the diocesan Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministries.   

The annual Diocesan Youth Conference, set for Feb. 8 in Donovan Catholic High School, Toms River, is open to teens in grades eight through 12. From 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., youth will explore the day’s theme from the Gospel of Matthew – “You are the Light of the world … your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” – through breakout sessions, a service project, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and a Mass with Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M.

Each segment of the day will follow the Gospel with a direct connection, Waddington said. “The first talk will remind the youth they are loved unconditionally and God has empowered us with everything we need to make a change in the world. It is important to wake up, realize who you are, how you are loved and what you have.”

Among the day’s keynote speakers will be Alex Gotay, known as “Dr. G.,” who will speak to the teens about letting their light shine in a world relatively uninspired and unmotivated by God’s love. Gotay is a national teen and young adult speaker who serves in campus ministry and teaches theology in Texas.

In addition, this year’s DYC service project will invite teens to help with the Box of Joy program. The initiative, in partnership with CrossCatholic.org, will see youth filling boxes with items such as toys and school supplies to be sent to underprivileged children around the world.

Explaining how the program works, Waddington said, “Priests and sisters accompany the gifts, and while they distribute them, they deliver the message that Jesus was God’s gift to the world.

“We have the opportunity to evangelize the message of hope and love,” he continued. “Though the world may be relatively uninspired, here is an immediate response the youth can do to make a difference.”

In advance of DYC 2020, faithful across the Diocese are being encouraged to help make the “Box of Joy” service project a success by donating funds or items to defray the costs of the box assembly and shipping. Requested items include plush animals, toy cars, dolls, pencils, crayons, toothpaste, sunglasses and lip balm. Sponsors may sign up to donate funds toward the project or pledge items at dioceseoftrenton.org/dyc-service-project-1. Contact Waddington at 609-403-7140 for details on the location and time of item drop-off, or corporate donation matches.

In addition, teens are invited to share their inspiration stories ahead of the DYC on Instagram. To compete in the DYC Inspired Giveaway, teens may use the LiveInspired2020 filter on Instagram to take a picture or video of someone who inspires them in their faith and post it. Pictures will be shared in a slideshow at the DYC, and winners of inspired prizes will be announced there.

Young people are encouraged to register before Feb. 3 at https://www.dioceseoftrenton.org/youthministry at a cost of $25; register by Jan. 22 to guarantee a free DYC T-shirt. Walk-in registrations will be accepted for $35.