By Dakota Antelman, Contributing Writer
Northborough – Over 50 area high school students took a week out of their summers last month to help less fortunate “neighbors” in New York City, nearby Worcester, or elsewhere.
As part of the nationwide Catholic service program, Young Neighbors in Action, teenage members of the St. Rose of Lima Parish volunteered to build houses for Habitat for Humanity, assisting at Camp Sunshine, a camp in Maine for severely disabled children and their families, and serving through various urban projects in Worcester and Brooklyn, New York. For those teens and their program organizers, the effort is a hugely beneficial one, directly in line with their Catholic faith.
“This is a program where the kids say ‘let me give to you, let me serve you. I’m not here for my own needs,’” said Jim Houston, the church’s pastor.
Now in its 17th year participating in Young Neighbors, St. Rose of Lima and its leaders like Houston have seen notable benefits of offering such mission trips that, for many other Catholic teens, would only be possible after high school graduation.
“We have found that once a kid tastes service, it can change that kid’s life and that kid becomes a real participant rather than a passive person,” he said. “They find out that service has with it a certain joy that gives to other areas of their life.”
But the benefits, Houston said, do not end even with the participants themselves. St. Rose of Lima hosts annual “going away” and “welcome back” Masses before and after each Young Neighbors trip bringing teens before their congregation in celebrations often sandwiched between readings or sermons about the joy and virtue of service.
“It’s a huge witness program,” Houston said. “When people see a bunch of kids and chaperones, it’s really inspiring, especially in the times in which we live.”
As those moments offer examples of faith in action for congregation members, St. Rose of Lima Faith Formation Director Susan McGormick added they double as recruiting for future Young Neighbors programs.
“You see a lot of younger siblings that have seen their brothers and sisters grow and are looking forward to being able to participate,” she said. “That’s a great thing to witness.”
Indeed, a large portion of this year’s Young Neighbors delegation followed in the footsteps of older siblings.
“After watching them go on the trips and have such great things to say about it, I felt a strong urge to join,” said Alexa Sullivan, who attended her third Young Neighbors mission this summer.
Altogether, Houston touts the Young Neighbors program as a worthy group of ambassadors for his church to the world. Grateful for its success, he hopes the Young Neighbors program will remain a part of the congregation’s future, continuing to operate, he said, under a universally accessible concept.
“It’s worth it to be nice to people,” he noted.