Bridget Filan, 14, of St. Barnabas Parish, Bayville, prepares a plate of food for clients in the Atlantic City Rescue Mission as site leader Patrick Cavicchio, a former youth ministry member in the parish, looks on. Nearly 50 teens, young people and adults took part in service work across the state as part of this year’s Mission: Jersey. Jeff Bruno photo
Bridget Filan, 14, of St. Barnabas Parish, Bayville, prepares a plate of food for clients in the Atlantic City Rescue Mission as site leader Patrick Cavicchio, a former youth ministry member in the parish, looks on. Nearly 50 teens, young people and adults took part in service work across the state as part of this year’s Mission: Jersey. Jeff Bruno photo

In the lower levels of the Atlantic City Rescue Mission, Matt Salmons peeled off his plastic gloves and hair net after helping serve lunch to the homeless. Only moments before, the sounds of plates being shuffled and trays sliding down a cafeteria counter rang throughout the kitchen and dining area.

“I’ve learned how we really are God’s servants. God is working through us,” said Salmons, 17, of St. Barnabas Parish, Bayville, discussing his third year with Mission: Jersey.



Photo Gallery: Atlantic City and Egg Harbor Township

Photo Gallery: Seeds of Service, Brick

Salmons was among the nearly 50 teens, young people and adults to take part in this year’s Mission: Jersey. The Diocese’s annual summer service project for high-schoolers focuses on how youth can give back to those who need help in their own communities.

This year’s mission took place July 13 and then again as an overnight experience from July 28 to Aug. 2. The latter kicked off in the evening with prayer, games and ice-breakers as participants arrived in St. Theresa Church, Little Egg Harbor, for their five-night stay.

“I came with a friend, but we don’t really see each other,” said Amanda Ward, 14, of St. Pius X Parish, Forked River, explaining that once the teens arrived, they were divided into “families” that began to get acquainted with each other.

“I was scared I wouldn’t know anyone or make any friends, but that’s the total opposite of what happened,” she said. “Everyone has been so friendly!”

Renewed Spirit

Volunteers representing more than 10 parishes across the Diocese took part in the service project, with locations spanning the eastern part of the state. Among those served was the Lunch Break soup kitchen and clothing/food pantry, Red Bank; the Seeds of Service community outreach center, Brick, and various organizations in Atlantic City.

“I’ve been volunteering since my freshman year of college in 2013,” said Sierra Giasullo of St. Theresa Parish, who served as a worksite leader. “I began helping because a coworker asked me, but now I can’t imagine being anywhere else during this week over the summer.”

That was the case, too, for many teens when they found out they would be returning to help the same homeowner as last year through Seeds of Service.

Tricia McAvoy’s house in Brick was flooded in 2012 during Superstorm Sandy. Seven years later, she has yet to move back into her home due to various trials along the road to repair, ranging from contractor issues to new city ordinances.

“Every time I walked back into the house, something was wrong or the state required me to do something else,” McAvoy said. “The only people who came to help me were groups of missionaries doing good work in God’s name.”

Mission: Jersey helped McAvoy in 2018 by preparing her house for renovation. 

“Just seeing Tricia and [knowing] all that she’s gone through, I really want to see her in her new home,” said Kyrie Gumina, 17, of St. Thomas More Parish. “All the progress will be very exciting!”

The teens spent the day at McAvoy’s house working in two teams. Those inside focused on cleaning walls and windows, baseboards, bathrooms and carpets; those outside took care of landscaping, such as weeding the gravel driveway, all in preparation for the final inspections needed for her to move back home.

“I love the kids from Mission: Jersey. They give me hope,” McAvoy said.

As the teams finished with the day’s work, Dan Waddington, director of the diocesan Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministries, which sponsors Mission: Jersey, stood outside, looking around the neighborhood.

“People drive through a place like this … and they think, ‘How could someone who lives in such a nice place be struggling?’ But one of the goals of Mission: Jersey is to show these teens that they don’t need to go very far to find someone who needs a little bit of help.”

Lasting Service

As youth sorted through canned and boxed food items in the Community Food Bank of NJ, Southern Branch, first-time retreat-goer Maggie Mitchelli said the service work was a good experience she hopes to continue on her own.

“I’ll only get two more years with Mission: Jersey,” said Mitchelli, 15, of St. Pius X Parish. “I wish I had started the first year I was old enough because it’s only a week of your time in the summer and the difference you make for other people is huge. After Mission: Jersey, I feel like I’m going to come back to some of these places to volunteer.”

Watching the teens help each other pack boxes, Kait Ryan, youth ministry coordinator in St. Mary Parish, Barnegat, reflected on how every time she returns to the Egg Harbor Township warehouse, there are always rows of crated goods that need to be distributed.

“It’s a very stark reality that there is a need year after year,” said Ryan, who was attending Mission: Jersey for the third year. “But it’s a beautiful thing that we constantly have young people who are willing to keep meeting that need.”

Waddington agreed. “There is a very positive energy about the whole group … this crew really hit the ground running.”

Among that team was 16-year-old Isaac Holt, who attends the non-denominational Grace Church of North Brunswick and was invited by a friend from St. Thomas More Parish.

“I feel so welcomed here,” Holt said as he painted a wall in the Atlantic City Rescue Mission, where a large fan was humming loudly as it pushed warm air through rooms that temporarily house women and children in need. “We are all believers in Jesus Christ, we just worship differently.”

Holt said participation in the week’s service projects lifted his spirits. “People underestimate the power of a little bit of kindness.”