Mission: Jersey continues with teens lending helping hands in local communities
By Thomas Wiedmann | Correspondent
Building upon the success of the recent first Mission: Jersey opportunity, the second part of the service project retreat kicked into full swing the week of July 29 as young people volunteered around the Diocese – including the Lunch Break soup kitchen in Red Bank, which provides food and clothing for those in need.
“Last year’s Mission: Jersey was the best experience of my life. Since then, I’ve changed my outlook on everything,” said Hannah Dalton, 16, of St. Barnabas Parish, Bayville, explaining her personal growth through Mission: Jersey. “It makes you … see that people actually need help and that you have to be more open to helping people.
Photo Gallery: Mission: Jersey – Teens volunteer in Brick
Photo Gallery: Mission: Jersey – Community FoodBank of NJ Southern Branch
“The best part is doing God’s service and growing close to everyone – just being able to laugh and have fun while we work,” she said.
Dalton was one of nearly five dozen teens to take part in Mission: Jersey, held July 29-Aug. 3. The retreat, based out of St. Theresa Parish, Little Egg Harbor, included day trips to numerous worksites including Lunch Break; the Seeds of Service community outreach center in Brick and helping a nearby resident impacted by Superstorm Sandy with her damaged home; the Atlantic City Rescue Mission warehouse, and the Community FoodBank of New Jersey Southern Branch in Egg Harbor Township, among others. Each day also held time for prayer, Mass and faith-sharing.
Wearing navy blue shirts bearing the Mission: Jersey logo, the group that traveled to Red Bank split up throughout Lunch Break’s three-floor building to sort through donated clothes while on their hands and knees, sweep outside the garage where shipments arrive, mop floors in the basement around the canned and boxed foods, or prepare silverware utensils in the soup kitchen.
As Dalton and other members spent their time arranging heaped piles of grocery coupons, others ruffled through thick-fabric clothes and denim pants. Julia Tchaplygin, 13, of St. Pius X Parish, Forked River, found joy in shelving clothes for those in need while the sound of plastic hangers clacking against each other filled the room.
“It strengthens [my faith] because you know what good comes out of it. You want to do more as you do different things,” said Tchaplygin, a first-time Mission: Jersey participant.
“It kind of feels like a second family being here … everyone is really kind,” she continued, explaining that on the retreat, nobody feels left out. “Everyone is included in everything.”
Colleen Bolton, 23, a parish youth ministry leader in St. Theresa Parish, agreed, saying the teens were understandably “a bit shy at first.” But as they continued to share in service and prayer, she said, they grew in faith and as a community in Church.
“It’s really cool being able to see them come out of their shell,” Bolton said, explaining with a chuckle how during the drive to the first work site at the beginning of the week, “everyone was dead silent – nobody was talking to each other, and it was a little awkward. But by the ride home, they were laughing and goofing around, and then we became an unstoppable force.”
“They all have the best intentions in their hearts to do God’s work,” she continued. “With different parishes coming together, we’re all meeting so many people within our own faith that have the same values and drive to do this good work.”
Indeed, those values were shared just weeks before, when a shorter Mission: Jersey was held July 12-15 in St. Gregory the Great Parish, Hamilton Square, that included helping out at a local park in Trenton. Sponsored by the diocesan Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministries, the service project grew this year to include two retreats in advance of the official October launch of the diocesan Year of Youth, which was decreed June 12 by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M.
First-year Mission: Jersey participant Jonathan Vanwagner, 15, of St. Mary Parish, Barnegat, said he hopes to volunteer again.
“I want to come back next year. I like helping people and meeting new friends,” Vanwagner said. “You’re serving God. You’re serving people because Jesus helped people and he wants us to help others like he did. It’s following your faith.”