From left, Megan Curtin, Andre Bell and Sofia Buonanno lead a TNT youth ministry meeting in November in Sacred Heart Church, Riverton. Photo courtesy of Hope Blanch
From left, Megan Curtin, Andre Bell and Sofia Buonanno lead a TNT youth ministry meeting in November in Sacred Heart Church, Riverton. Photo courtesy of Hope Blanch
For Andre Bell, witnessing his peers growing in their faith helps him grow, too.

“Hopefully I can learn with them, because I have a lot of growing to do in my faith as well,” he said. “I think [the group] gives them a place to be in touch with their faith, to be themselves without judgment … it helps give them a new perspective, having teens lead teens.”

Bell, a junior in Holy Cross Preparatory Academy, Delran, is among a group of high-schoolers who are leading a new youth ministry in Sacred Heart Parish, Riverton.

The new group came about when parent Hope Blanch was approached by longtime friend Erin Foley last spring to seek ideas for a parish youth group – though they couldn’t have known their conversation would help launch a vibrant new group for teens, led by teens.

A religion teacher and leader of campus ministry in Holy Cross Preparatory Academy, Blanch had a bevy of teenage volunteers at the ready – and Foley wanted to see what they did that worked well so it could be applied at her home parish of Sacred Heart, where the youth group was in a state of transition. So Foley and Blanch, of Our Lady of Good Counsel, Moorestown, decided to discuss a way to gather as many youth from as many parishes in the area who wanted to be involved.

“Teenagers need a place where they can let go of [life’s stressors], and get some faith formation that deals specifically with their anxieties, depression, insecurities, bullying – you name it,” Blanch reflected.

A meeting with Fran Stinsman, pastoral associate in Sacred Heart Parish, yielded the opportunity they needed.

“She was so welcoming with faith and willing to share,” Blanch affirmed. “She said, ‘This is wonderful – I’ll give you a room where you can meet … I’ll give you a refrigerator, I have a pool table!’”

The fledgling group “TNT – Teens Need Truth” began in October with its first meeting in Sacred Heart Parish, led by junior and senior students in Holy Cross Preparatory Academy, under Blanch’s guidance. More than a dozen eighth- through 10th-graders showed up from area parishes to participate. More meetings have been held since.

“We didn’t want to replace any existing youth groups at the churches; we just wanted to make a once-a-month meeting at this particular church for anybody who wanted to come,” Blanch explained.

The teen leaders planned the activities ahead of time, approved by Blanch, and the group was divided in half – two volunteers leading each half. Activities included games, small group discussions led by the teen leaders, and a break for food and mingling halfway through.

Megan Curtin, a Holy Cross junior and member of St. Katharine Drexel Parish, Burlington, said many of the teens who attended were public school students.

“I think it’s important that they have religious ties in their lives outside of school,” she explained. “I hope that it will inspire them during the week, that they’ll bring it back to their public school [and that] others will see what it’s like to be a Christian and see Christ through them.”

Junior Sofia Buonanno of St. Charles Borromeo Parish, Cinnaminson, said, “They can relate to us more because we’re close in age.”