Among the many service projects teens and youth ministry leaders can take part in during Mission: Jersey is helping out at a local community garden, such as this one last summer in Trenton. John Blaine photo

Among the many service projects teens and youth ministry leaders can take part in during Mission: Jersey is helping out at a local community garden, such as this one last summer in Trenton. John Blaine photo

By Jennifer Mauro | Managing Editor

Dan Waddington smiles as he reflects on a concrete example of how Mission: Jersey can impact the teenagers who take part in the annual service project retreat.

“There was a young person who came on Mission: Jersey and was so taken by the experience of serving in a local soup kitchen that for her birthday a few weeks later, her request was to return to the soup kitchen with her family and friends as a gift to her,” explained Waddington, diocesan director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries.

“Here’s someone who came on the trip, learned about what our faith teaches us about serving and then had an experience that touched her heart,” he said. “Now, she knows how to plug into that experience on her own. That’s what’s unique about Mission: Jersey – we are immersing ourselves in the needs of the local community.”

It’s with that ongoing mission in mind – to understand how and why Catholics are called to serve – that high-schoolers are invited to take part in this year’s two Mission: Jersey service retreats.

The first opportunity will be a three-night mission taking place July 11-14 out of St. Gregory the Great Parish, 4620 Nottingham Way, Hamilton Square. The second, a five-night retreat, will be July 28-Aug. 2 in St. Theresa Parish, 450 Radio Road, Little Egg Harbor. Youth who attend sleep overnight on parish grounds but travel during the days to service locations around the Diocese and beyond. There are also many opportunities for prayer, faith-sharing, small group discussions and Mass.

“This is an opportunity to recognize the needs of God’s people around you right here at home,” Waddington said. “These are our folks, our neighbors, the people God has put in our path.”

“Mission trips are often to far-away places, to different countries, to different parts of our country – and that’s very good because help is needed there. But there is a great value in experiencing how those right here at home need help, too,” he said.

There are multiple work sites associated with the event, ranging from city gardens and soup kitchens to the Seeds of Service community outreach center in Brick and the Atlantic City Rescue Mission warehouse. Last year, for example, teens helped a Brick resident whose home was still in disrepair from Superstorm Sandy.

Cost of the three-night retreat is $65 per person; the five-night mission is $150. The retreat is open to current high-school students. Interested participants should contact their parish youth minister, Mission: Jersey chaperone or Waddington to register.

For more information about the event, which is being sponsored by the diocesan Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministries, visit https://dioceseoftrenton.org/missionjersey or contact Waddington at 609-403-7140 or dwaddi@DioceseofTrenton.org.