ROCHESTER — What do Rochester, Queens and Steubenville, Ohio, have in common?
They all have welcomed youth missionaries from Dirty Vagabond Ministries, an urban ministry founded by Catholic hip-hop artist Righteous B.
Righteous B — aka Bob Lesnefsky, Dirty Vagabond Ministries’ founder — performed a free concert at Light of Christ Parish’s St. Andrew Church location on Aug. 31. The event, which also included a school-supply giveaway and free hot dogs and drinks, drew several hundred people.
As the beat of hip-hop music pulsed in the background, two missionaries from Dirty Vagabond Ministries outlined plans to expand Light of Christ’s afterschool drop-in center program.
In the past, the parish has opened its doors to young people ages 8 to 16 on Fridays from 3:30 to 6 p.m. to have fun in a safe environment, make friends and get dinner. This month, the parish is expanding drop-in center hours to include Tuesdays, and volunteer tutors will help students on those days as well.
The Dirty Vagabond missionaries have allowed the parish to further expand its drop-in concept: Starting in September, the parish will open a new center called Urban Underground that will be staffed by Dirty Vagabond missionaries Kree Kenton and Mark Pirro. The center, which will be geared for high-school-aged students, will be open from 2:30 to 5 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays.
"Our whole goal is to transform the city from the inside out, one kid at a time," said Pirro, a Schenectady native who has been working with the Steubenville-based Dirty Vagabond Ministries for three years.
"It’s a beautiful city, and there’s definitely a lot of work to be done," said Kenton, a Wichita, Kan., native who has been in Rochester since January. During that time, she led Light of Christ youths on a mission trip to New York City, where they volunteered with the Missionaries of Charity and the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal.
Kenton and Pirro said their ministry is aimed at building relationships with young people in the neighborhood — Catholic and non-Catholic alike — to help build the urban Catholic church. Kenton described the drop-in center as a place for teens to hang out, play pool, watch TV, play video games and do homework, all in a safe environment. After the center has been up and running, youth ministers will incorporate optional break-out sessions to discuss faith and engage in simple catechesis, she said.
"The focus of our ministry is the relational aspect," Kenton said.
The concert and the parish’s drop-in center both illustrate Light of Christ’s attempts to reach out to young people and their families who live in the neighborhood around the parish, said Father Mike Mayer, pastor.
"I think it’s all part of what the mission of the church is: to get to know people, to love them, to serve them," Father Mayer said.
Light of Christ Youth Minister Amy Dorscheid said the success of the drop-in program and the concert demonstrates the void that the community has for these services, including dinner programs for kids.
"This seems to be filling a need," said Dorscheid, who also noted that volunteers from a suburban parish partner, Church of the Transfiguration in Pittsford, will be helping out at the drop-in centers.
Eleven-year-old October Smith gave a ringing endorsement for Light of Christ’s Friday drop-in center, which she has attended multiple times.
"It’s a nice place to meet up with new friends and people to talk to," October said.
One of the best things about the center is that volunteers serve food, she noted.
"When they cook it’s nice because some moms don’t like to cook and kids can come and eat," October remarked.
While Renaja McDonald, 8, agreed that the food was the best part of the center, 10-year-old Diamond Dean noted she had fun playing such board games as Mousetrap.
"It is good for kids because they could meet new friends," Diamond said of attending the drop-in center.
One parishioner who was volunteering at the concert said she enjoys getting to know the young people who come to the church for such events.
"My husband and I have been so blessed with so much in our lives, and we were both brought up in families where if you have been blessed with things, you give to others," said Millie Delucia Lewis of Irondequoit, a parish volunteer who was helping to serve food during the Righteous B concert.
"I worked for 46 years, and I thought that was rewarding, but this is heavenly to me," she added.
Andy Rockafellow, 16, a Hilton resident who attends St. Leo Parish, helped repaint rooms for the Urban Underground center and relocate a library so it could be used for tutoring. Andy’s volunteer work was part of his Eagle Scout project, and he received donations of money and supplies from Lowe’s and Home Depot for the endeavor.
He said that prior to this project, he didn’t know much about Light of Christ’s youth ministries.
"I just think it’s amazing how much (Dorscheid) does to keep the kids off the streets," Andy said. "It’s really nice to know there’s something like that."
Details about Dirty Vagabond Ministries are available at www.dirtyvagabond.com.