The teens who belong to St. Katharine Drexel Parish‘s youth group frequently may be found at soup kitchens, senior-citizens’ residences and inner-city elementary schools. They keep busy, volunteering their time and talents for the benefit of others in their community at least twice a month.
The teens are hooked on serving others, which is exactly what Youth Minister Steve Fedor hopes will happen each time he plans the next batch of youth-group activities.
“That feeling that you get from generosity, that keeps them coming back. They feel that sense of accomplishment,” Fedor recently told the Catholic Courier. “I try to get them hooked on that feeling. I always tell the kids I think the best-kept secret is to do things for other people without expecting anything in return. To watch others grow because of how you’ve helped them, nobody can ever take that away from you.”
Fedor has been helping teens experience that feeling of generosity and satisfaction for several years now. He became the volunteer youth minister for St. Katharine Drexel Parish, which has worship sites in Palmyra and Macedon, eight or nine years ago and immediately made some changes to the youth group’s structure, he said. The parish’s previous youth minister had run the youth group like a faith-formation class in some ways, and teens had to pay a fee in order to participate.
Fedor eliminated the fee, encouraged teens to bring their friends and decided to build the youth group around service. Many teens have had “a great education through faith formation” by the time they get to middle school or high school, but they may not necessarily know what to do with all that they’ve learned, he said.
“Now I’d like to help them discover what to do with it,” he explained. “The church seems to lose kids after confirmation, after high school, after college. I think part of it is they don’t know how to still be part of the church after that point, or what they can do with what they’ve learned. I try to get them hooked on helping others and teach them how to live what they’ve learned from the Bible and put the Scripture into action.”
While some teens don’t know what to do with the things they’ve learned in faith-formation classes or at Mass, others have been doing community service but don’t necessarily know why. Fedor seems to reach both groups through his youth group and its many service activities. Between 17 and 20 teens typically participate in each of the group’s twice-monthly service projects, which usually take place on Sundays. Many of the projects focus on helping children with special needs, the elderly or the “less financially stable,” Fedor said.
“I think those are three of the groups that are high-need and could use some love and support,” he said. “We focus on building relationships and making connections with people in the parish and the community, just paying attention and spending time with people that could use it.”
One of the highlights of the year for many youth-group participants, including his son, Avery, comes in December, when the youth group “adopts” the kindergarten classes at the Rochester City School District’s School No. 52. The school’s teachers let Fedor know how many kindergartners are in the school, and the teens go out and purchase Christmas gifts for each one of those children.
“We have a shopping and wrapping party. We all create Christmas cards to go along with them. Then the Wednesday before Christmas break, we take a field trip and spend the day with the kindergartners. We do crafts with them, give them the gifts, and talk about paying it forward and sharing,” Fedor said.
“You get to spend the whole day with the kids, and you really build a bond and a connection with them,” said Avery, 14.
Avery also likes visiting Macedon’s Bickford Home with the youth group and talking and playing cards with the disabled veterans who live there.
“It just makes you feel good inside, and obviously it makes the other people feel good,” Avery said.
“(The activities) are good for the people that we help, but they’re just as good, if not better, for us,” Fedor added. “It’s really tremendous for the kids and makes them feel so good about themselves.”
After each service project, Fedor reminds the teens that they do not have to wait until the next service project to experience that good feeling again and suggests ways they might be able to help others on their own or with their family members or friends.