By GEORGIANNE CARPENTER
Alaska teens from St. Michael Church in Palmer and St. Anthony Church in Anchorage headed to California this summer for a week of service in Los Angeles County.
The 11 middle school-aged youth participated in an outreach called Just 5 Days, a mission for teens from across the country. The five-day program focuses on living out Catholic social teachings.
For each Alaskan youth, the event was their first mission trip outside the state.
Months in the making, the project included fundraising and formation. The cost for each person was nearly $1,000. A series of rummage sales, raffle tickets, spaghetti and potato dinners and donation requests, reduced the cost of the trip for the youth.
The group flew to Los Angeles in mid-June. After settling in at the community center of the Church of the Incarnation in Glendale, the youth spent a few hours hiking to the iconic Hollywood sign and exploring the area.
Once the mission began, however, the youth were busy with outreach efforts.
“On this mission trip we got to do prayer every day. We sang and we learned about different countries,” said Frances Ippolito, an eighth-grade parishioner at St. Michael Church in Palmer. “We were taught all about the less fortunate people around the world that exist today, and how we can help make the world a better place.”
The second day, the groups split into smaller teams for service outreach. Half the Alaskans went to a food bank to sort food for those in need. The others socialized and worked alongside disabled adults.
Seventh-grader Genika Valdehueza, of St. Anthony Church in Anchorage, worked at the food bank, checking expiration dates on cans and other foods.
“After checking expiration dates, we put the can or some other food container into the organized boxes,” Valdehueza said. “And when the box was full, we took it to a table and counted how many cans or containers fit into the box.”
After each day, the groups came together, socialized, ate and spent time reflecting on their work and learning about the social justice teachings of the Catholic Church.
“They then were allowed to process their service through group discussion, activities, songs and prayers,” said Kris Adamczak, an adult volunteer from St. Michael Church.
On day three the youth worked a half-day in order to tour Homeboy Industries, an outreach founded by Father Gregory Boyle to serve as a center for former gang members in Los Angeles. The outreach employs and trains former gang members in a range of social enterprises, while providing critical services to 15,000 men and women who walk through its doors every year.
“We met a former gang member who shared his story — he had been through some tough things,” Ippolito recalled. “I learned so much from being there — the whole building was full of motivational people who were always laughing and looking out for each other.”
The Alaskans had a chance to visit the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels and tour the grounds where they saw relics, ornate tapestries and a mausoleum.
Just 5 days ended with a Mass in which they were urged to think about their vocation in life, including a possible call to a religious vocation.
“The best part of the trip was seeing our kids grow in seeing Jesus in each other and in the people we served,” said Linda Peters, a youth minister at St. Michael Church. “I believe the kids really learn about Catholic social teaching by experiencing it.”
Next June one of the locations for Just 5 Days will be Anchorage. To learn more about the program, contact Matthew Beck, director of Youth & Young Adult Ministry for the Anchorage Archdiocese, at 907-297-7734.