Teens spent an afternoon changing bed sheets at Good Shepherd Ministries, a homeless shelter in Toronto. Photo courtesy of Office of Catholic Youth

OCY Service Week opens up new world for youth

  • March 23, 2018

Sixteen-year-old Mary-Margaret Asoata wasn’t expecting much from Service Week. 

She looked at the event — a pilot project by the Office of Catholic Youth (OCY) and ShareLife to give young people an opportunity to see the work of Catholic agencies first-hand — as merely an opportunity to earn community service hours for high school credit. She didn’t expect she would walk away with a life-changing experience. 

“They told us we shouldn’t stress about school and that everything is in God’s plan and we should let God take everything,” said Asoata, a parishioner of St. Marguerite d’Youville in Brampton, Ont. “No one had ever told me that before and I was always told you can do whatever you want but the way he said it…. It just stuck with me, like we are on this Earth not to live for ourselves but to live for God.”

Asoata said Service Week opened her eyes to works of charity. She said she has found a new sense of purpose with her faith that she hadn’t felt before.

During March Break, Asoata and about 20 other teens from three parishes in the Archdiocese of Toronto spent their week volunteering in different Catholic agencies. 

“It’s just been really enlightening for the teens to know that these programs happen everyday,” said Stephanie Benedetti, OCY event co-ordinator. “These programs aren’t happening especially because we are showing up. But we had the opportunity to enter into the good works that are already happening.”

The idea for Service Week came from an existing youth program run by the Salesian Youth Ministry in Toronto called Gospel Roads. 

Teens spent March 13-17 travelling across Toronto contributing their time and labour at six different ShareLife charities, such as St. Jude’s Academy of the Arts and Canadian Food for Children. Teens also spent a large portion of their week on street patrol, feeding the homeless. 

Street patrol was probably my favourite part,” said 15-year-old Alan Rapp from St. Francis Xavier Parish in Mississauga. “We got to talk to all these different people and we got to realize that they’re just like us…. And just even talking with us did so much for them.”

During the evenings, the teens lived in community at St. Joseph’s College School where they slept in sleeping bags and airbeds on the gym floor. Two groups took turns preparing meals and cleaning up. They also attended daily Mass in the school chapel. During their free time, they played basketball, ping pong or hide and seek.

“I literally knew no one but my youth minister and I was kind of nervous because I’m not so much of an outgoing person,” said 16-year-old Virginia Carvalho from St. Marguerite d’Youville in Brampton. “But once I got here, Stephanie (Benedetti) gave me a warm welcome and everyone started to come in and I instantly felt comfortable.”

Benedetti said the Service Week pilot project was a success. Whether OCY and ShareLife is looking to adopt the event as an annual program remains to be seen. 

“We were really quiet about how we advertised it ... but everyone has already said they want to do it again next year,” she said.

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