Teens pitch in at Trenton community garden during Mission: Jersey retreat
By Thomas Wiedmann | Correspondent
With the sun bearing down upon them, and shovels and rakes in hand, teens from around the Diocese lent their time and energy July 13 to a community garden in Trenton, putting their call of service and faith into action.
The service project, part of the first of two Mission: Jersey retreat weekends, kicked off with more than a dozen teens gathered beneath the shade of a wooden gazebo. There, they were given an overview by Justin Allen, Isles community garden’s urban agricultural coordinator, who explained the history, significance and impact the nonprofit serves with multiple locations around Trenton. Isles works to transform neglected parcels of land in the city into gardens, many of which provide food for Trenton residents in need.
Photo Gallery: Mission: Jersey Isles Community Garden in Trenton
After the talk, the teens were quickly put to work, getting down on their hands and knees in mulch and shrubbery.
As Michael Angelo, 17, of St. Joseph Parish, Toms River, ripped and pulled weeds, he reflected on how his efforts in the garden resonated with his faith.
“It shows the fruit of your labor actually happening right in front of you,” said Angelo, a first-year participant of Mission: Jersey. “Since a lot of the saints and Christ helped us and other people, it shows that deep compassion for others to show, ‘I care about you. I will help you out.’”
Although the sounds of passing traffic, car engines and honking horns surrounded the inner-city garden, the urban noises were overpowered by the teens scraping their shovels against gravel and dirt and pushing squeaky wheelbarrows of mulch and soil around the perimeter. While the efforts of caretaking for a garden provided a bit of firm labor, Madelyn Balko, 15, of St. Mary Parish, Barnegat, found the hard work to be a source of faith-building.
“It’s a humbling experience to get your hands dirty. It makes me definitely appreciate what I have,” Balko said. “It’s always sparked an interest in me to go out and help others. I think that was my calling – to help others. It’s just what I love to do.”
The July 12-15 Mission: Jersey retreat, sponsored by the diocesan Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministries, kicked off the night before with Mass in St. Gregory the Great Church, Hamilton Square. Though the teens worked side-by-side in the hot temperatures, the mid-summer day didn’t discourage them from discussing their experiences at Mass.
“I really like that it gets you closer to people who share the same faith as you,” said Catherine Rowe, 15, of St. Martha Parish, Point Pleasant. “Mass was very special because you normally don’t get to see everyone [of the same age] praying with that reverence.”
The annual Mission: Jersey service project has grown 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. The next Mission: Jersey will run July 29-Aug. 3 in St. Theresa Parish, Tuckerton.[[In-content Ad]]