The enigma of youth ministry

By Marilyn Lariviere
Youth StreetReach Coordinator
Special to The Anchor

After reading Claire McManus’ excellent article about Youth Ministry in the August 24 Anchor, I felt compelled to share a few thoughts about this topic as well. While working as a Youth Minister at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Pocasset for 16 years, we had the requisite number of ski trips, Vacation Bible Schools, haunted houses, and pizza parties, which were all great community builders.

But these young people in 2007 created a program called Youth StreetReach which is still going on today. We had taken the youth to Boston to CityReach, run by Ecclesia Ministries, a program which allows young people to interact and provide hospitality, food, and clothing for the homeless. This had a deep impact on all the participants, and when we had a program run by The Housing Assistance Corporation at one of our meetings, three young women and one young man approached me and said they wanted to create CityReach on Cape Cod. This was their idea, their vision, and essentially their project. I believe that is key to Youth Ministry. Too often adults create programs that they think kids want and/or need but the kids are not invested and we wonder why they don’t come.

We began Youth StreetReach at the Federated Church in Hyannis working with the NOAH Shelter (now St. Joseph’s), CHAMP Homes, the Cape Cod Council of Churches, Church Women United, and the Federated Church of Hyannis. Together we created an outline that is still used today for young people to come together on a Friday night, hear speakers from the homeless community, and take a walk around Hyannis with “tour guides” showing from a distance where homeless people have lived and died. Returning to the church Fellowship Hall for discussion, prayer, and pizza, sleeping on the floor with adult chaperones and getting up at 6 a.m. to create breakfast for homeless and low-income friends is a powerful way to truly live the Gospel of Matthew 25. 

We ended that first event with a circle where the volunteers could share their insights. We had one homeless man who stayed as well. I will never forget his words, with tears in his eyes, he said, “You young people are wonderful. You don’t know how much this means to us. When will you be back?” And that is when we knew we had created a ministry that would endure.

The starfish has become our symbol, with the story of the young man throwing dying starfish back into the ocean. When an adult asks why he was doing that since there were thousands and it couldn’t make a difference, he responded, “It made a difference to this one.” That is what we continue to share with the young people, the fact that we can make a difference — one at a time. We have bright blue T-shirts with the starfish logo and we give out small starfish charms at the conclusion of each event to the volunteers as a sign that are called to continue to make a difference. 

Over the years we realized that we should not be limited to “Catholic” groups or even “church” groups. The young people have friends who are not part of any church for whatever reason, but they came and continue to come and we became “church” in the manner that Jesus led His disciples to be “Church.” We have had National Honor Societies, baseball teams, hockey teams, and just families who want to help. But we always end with a time of prayer in a circle where everyone shares how the face of Christ has become visible to them in our guests. 

This has been a key part of what we do because it is a time for the youth and adults to share the miracles they have seen and been part of throughout the day. I truly believe that we need to provide the experience of living Gospel message and then take the time to process and explain that we are living out what Jesus called us to do. That makes so much more sense than learning rules of how we should live. Youth StreetReach provides catechesis in a way that will touch one’s heart.

We have a retired minister who decided that our regular menu of egg casseroles, fruit, breakfast breads, and pancakes could also use eggs. So he and his wife and friends have begun to cook eggs to order for the past two years. The church he now attends has no youth group, but he comes faithfully and now wears an apron that says “Egg Man” and his buddy wears one that says “Muffin Man.” When they first cooked eggs, one guest said in tears, “I can’t remember how long it has been since someone asked me how I wanted something cooked.” 

Four years ago St. John Paul II High School decided they would like to have their own breakfast on a weekday. Knowing that homeless people will eat anytime, we now have breakfast on a weekday in December thanks to these students who take the time from school to do this.

The young people who began this ministry are now adults with own careers. Sadly, Christopher Golden of Sandwich who helped to begin the journey died at age 28 of Glioblastoma. We recently held a “Thanksgiving Celebration” for those who have helped support the program over the years. One of the highlights was the presentation of the Christopher Golden 110 percent Award given to Robert Anderson. This award will be a way to recognize contributions of youth and to keep alive the memory of Chris and all that he and his family have done for Youth StreetReach. His mother Deb Golden has been part of this journey from its inception.

At our celebration we reached out to the three young women who made this happen. Sofie Kline sent greetings from Arizona, Liz Laprade of Bourne was able to attend and share her own thoughts as well as what Kelsey Collett Camire had sent from Virginia.

Although I couldn’t be there with them, I wanted to let all of them know how proud I am of them and this program. Youth StreetReach began as a dream that a handful of teen-agers had to replicate a program we had experienced in Boston. We knew that Cape Cod had a homeless population that was mostly invisible at the time, and that there were also a lot of kids our age who wanted to make a difference in the world but didn’t know how. We saw StreetReach as an opportunity to address both issues, and to begin to bridge the gap between the privileged and the struggling. 

My favorite thing about StreetReach is that it empowers youth to do something about the injustices they see. When I was helping plan the very first overnight at age 16, I was adamant that teen-agers be involved at every step of the planning. I continued to insist that youth stay involved when I left Cape Cod to go to college, and nothing makes me happier than knowing that young people continue to be at the helm of StreetReach to this day. I could not have dreamed that this little idea would have blossomed into what it is now; a program that has continued to serve the Cape’s most vulnerable citizens for 10-plus years, all while forging a deeper sense of community and service. When I was starting and participating in Youth StreetReach, I was inspired and driven by Matthew 25: “For I was hungry and you gave Me food.” Now as I reflect back on StreetReach and all that it taught me about who I was and who I wanted to be, I am reminded by the words in 1 Timothy: “Do not let anyone look down on you because you are young, but be an example for the believers in your speech, your conduct, your love, faith, and purity.” May you all continue to be an example and lead by your actions. What you are doing here is important and it matters. 

History of Youth StreetReach

Youth StreetReach is a program of the Cape Cod Council of Churches. 

Youth StreetReach Mission Statement:

“To integrate education, worship, and outreach in order to make youth more aware of injustice and to respect the dignity of all people, especially the lonely, lost, and disenfranchised.”

The program goals are:

— To bring together youth and adults from different faith communities to explore the issue of homelessness on Cape Cod and to help them develop a passion for living out the message of the prophets and the Gospel in the world;

­ — To empower formerly homeless and homeless individuals to use their gifts and talents in a positive way through sharing their stories;

— To help dispel the stereotypes identified with homeless individuals by spending time and sharing a meal together;

— To look at the root causes of homelessness and vision action to prevent it;

— To provide food and clothing to the homeless; and

— To have fun through praying and working together.

Youth StreetReach began in September of 2007 as a response to a request from the Housing Assistance Corporation to provide a program to help youth understand the issue of homelessness on Cape Cod. It is loosely based on the CityReach Program in Boston sponsored by Ecclesia Ministries. Youth from St. John the Evangelist Parish had participated in CityReach with Youth Minister Marilyn Lariviere and wanted to replicate it on Cape Cod. It began with an overnight gathering of youth and adults meeting homeless and formerly homeless individuals, touring areas where homeless have camped out, visiting shelters, and listening to stories. 

After the guests left, the youth spend time processing, sharing, watching a movie about the issue, and sleeping on the floor in the Federated Church of Hyannis. This led to the next day when 75-100 homeless folk arrived for breakfast and an opportunity to pick up donated clothing. It was so successful that a Youth StreetReach Council was formed and now eight events are held annually, including a cookout at Sea Street Beach. We call our group a council rather than a board of directors since we feel that is a more inclusive term. It includes youth and formerly homeless individuals to provide a balance.

Our mission statement was written by Kelsey Collett, one of our teen-age founders. (She is now a social worker in Richmond, Va.) It articulates what we believe, that youth learn best when service, education, and Spirituality work together.

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