Summer Program Breaks Down Barriers

Posted: 10/15/2010

Glenmary seminarian helps staff summer mission program

Many Glenmary missions sponsor annual summer programs for children from the missions and the surrounding communities. And Glenmary's small, diverse St. John Neumann mission in Eupora, Miss., is no exception, hosting its "Youth Summer Program" since 2005. Eupora is located in impoverished, rural Webster County.

According to pastoral coordinator Sister Alies Thérèse, St. John's program has key goals and features similar to the others—but also has its own unique character. It has been consistently popular with the kids, she says, and has also had a very positive impact on the local Catholics' relationship with their neighbors in the area.

"In a small town like Eupora, there are very few organized summer youth activities," Sister Alies says. "Our aim has always been to serve our mission kids and their public school classmates with a fun, creative program—one that also lets us share the faith and teach them about God. But it's been a wonderful tool for evangelization, too. It breaks down barriers between people. That's a big part of why we do it."

This year 22 kids attended-all six kids from the mission and 16 from the community. "We have 20-25 kids because that's all we can handle," she says. "Two or three times as many kids would come if we had a bigger space and promoted it more."

The participants are even more diverse than the mission parish. And this year's adult team included Sister Alies; multicultural worker Lorenzo Aju, a native of Guatemala; a Glenmary student from Africa; two other parish workers; and two parent volunteers. "It's an educational experience for the kids in many ways," says Sister Alies. (She also serves as pastoral coordinator of Glenmary's Ackerman mission 20 miles away.)

The mission staff works hard to make each year's program different and better than previous years, says Lorenzo. The first three days are for ages 6-9, and the second three for ages 10-13. The seventh day is the climax, featuring presentations and a party for all the children.

This year's theme was "Pray and Obey." The program included listening to Bible stories; doing activity sheets and crafts; joining in games and activities focused on the Ten Commandments; praying and singing; participating in physical activities from soccer to table tennis; and having healthy-snack breaks.

Lorenzo has been on the parish staff for five years. This year he took his first turn as the program leader. "I remember when I first came to Eupora, some non-Catholics avoided Catholic events—even activities like yard sales—because they thought Catholics were strange," he says.

In 2010, for the first time, kids' parents and relatives were invited to come on the program's last day, which featured brief plays (young kids presented the story of Jonah, and older kids the story of Moses); a slide show of the kids' activities; and a back-to-school party. Expecting a small turnout, the staff was happily surprised, says Lorenzo: About 40 adults came to encourage the kids. They filled the little church and enjoyed the whole experience.

"That's a sign of how people's attitudes have changed," he says. "The parents see how much their children like the program, and they appreciate the way we treat them. Many kids come back year after year." Two parents of another denomination even donated foosball and air hockey table games to the mission to show their appreciation.

The mission sets aside money for the summer program, says Sister Alies. But its adopting parish, St. Joseph the Worker in Dubuque, Iowa, has also been very supportive. Besides assisting with general operating expenses, St. Joseph helps in other ways.

Sandy Radke, St. Joseph social justice committee chair, says her fellow parishioners are very committed to their annual summer program contribution-a backpack full of basic school supplies for each kid. In addition, St. Joseph sends new and used books for children and adults. Every kid in the program can pick one or two. The remaining books are distributed to mission members and donated to the public library in Eupora.

"For poor families, the school supplies are a real blessing," says Lorenzo. St. Joseph has also funded special T-shirts for the participants and adult team the past two summers.

"We're very proud to be part of this effort," says Sandy.

The students of St. Joseph Consolidated School in Hamilton, Ohio, contributed to the cause this year, too. After developing a relationship with the mission during a Lenten awareness project, they raised money to support St. John's Youth Summer Program.

Finally, a Eupora man used his talent and scrap wood to assemble 25 kits with which the kids could build their own model boats.

"The summer program is one of the best gifts we can keep giving the kids and community," says Sister Alies. "And we are very grateful to our generous donors and volunteers who help make this kind of outreach possible."

This article originally appeared in the October 2010 Boost-A-Month Club newsletter.