By Doris Yu
August 7, 2015 — During Teen Summer Service Week at the Jesuits’ St. Peter Catholic Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, middle and high school youth lived the Gospel by loving their neighbors and offering their time and talents to those in need.
The third annual event sent 42 teens to various locations near the parish — located in the heart of downtown Charlotte — from July 27-31. Aided by adult volunteers, drivers and chaperones, they helped the less fortunate in the surrounding community and earned service hours toward school requirements.
Over the five days, the group served in a variety of ways, including spending time with children of homeless parents and with the elderly living in a city housing development; feeding the hungry at a soup kitchen; cleaning up a nearby creek; working on a farm serving the Missionaries of the Poor; and restocking the food bank at Catholic Charities.
The teens knitted baby hats at St. Peter's and participated in the #WalkWithFrancis social media campaign.
Each day began with a reflection on one of the Beatitudes. The teens met in small groups to discuss the Gospel before heading out to “set the world on fire.” After completing their service work in the morning, they returned to St. Peter’s for lunch, spiritual reflection, and then special projects such as making blankets for Ronald McDonald House or knitting baby caps for newborns.
Local organizations were the focus of the teens’ projects. They made bead bracelets that are sold through Charlotte nonprofit Bethany’s Beads to raise funds to rescue young girls from abuse and human trafficking. At Love Inc., a Christian charity, the teens built residential ramps for disabled people who were unable to leave their homes. “It is a joy to pray with the residents and to share their emotion as they use their ramps for the first time and discover their freedom again,” said Cathy Chiappetta, interim faith formation director at St. Peter’s.
Building a ramp for disabled people who cannot leave their homes with Charlotte, North Carolina organization Love Inc.
The teens also volunteered at Samaritan’s Feet, which delivers shoes to impoverished children around the world, and they contributed directly to the St. Peter’s community by helping to paint a mural in the parish hall.
In addition to the service projects, the program included time for recreation, with a visit to an indoor trampoline park and a cookout with the residents of McCreesh Place, an apartment building offering safe, supportive and affordable housing for men with physical disabilities or mental illness. The building was named after Jesuit Father Eugene McCreesh, who served at St. Peter's and founded St. Peter’s Homes (now known as Supportive Housing Communities), providing housing for the homeless and those in danger of eviction.
Throughout the week, the teens were guided by Jesuit Father James Shea, pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church and former provincial of the Maryland Province, who greeted them each morning. Parochial vicar Jesuit Father Thomas McDonnell joined them for lunches, encouraging them to continue expressing their own God-given spiritual gifts.
St. Peter Catholic Church pastor Fr. James Shea, SJ (left back row), and teens participating in the Teen Summer Service week pose in the parish meditation garden with a sculpture of St. Ignatius.
The conclusion of the program coincided with the feast of St. Ignatius on July 31, which they celebrated with a party in the St. Peter’s meditation garden with Fr. Shea, who taught the teens about the feast day and the Jesuit order.
The teens even found time to take part in several social media campaigns, including Loyola Press’ “Find Your Inner Iggy” contest, by posing in photos with a “#FINDIGGY” sign of St. Ignatius and sharing them on Facebook. They also pledged to “Walk with Francis” as part of the Archdiocese of Washington and Catholic Charities’ effort to encourage others to perform good deeds in preparation for the pope’s visit to the U.S. in late September.
“St. Peter Teen Summer Service Week gives our young people a chance to be men and women for others,” said Chiappetta. “The teens will tell you the work is challenging, but they are all smiles and ready to serve daily. Their generous spirits teach all of us how to be more giving.”
View more photos of the Teen Summer Service Week at St. Peter's Facebook page here.