Still teenagers, but taking the lead

Still teenagers, but taking the lead

The Lead Team at Saint Mary of Mount Carmel Parish in Hammonton organize and plan many of the parish youth group events.

They’re willing to take charge, they’re committed and responsible — and they’re role models of faith for their peers.

They’re the Lead Team at Saint Mary of Mount Carmel Parish in Hammonton — a group of 11 teens chosen by their youth minister, Kim Fahy, to take the reins on planning and organizing many of the group’s events.

Fahy says the members of her Lead Team are the “main crew” that attend youth group meetings regularly — but she chose each of them for different reasons.

“One girl specifically I chose because of her commitment,” Fahy said. “She always shows up, so that’s really important. Another one is not afraid to really take charge with certain things. … he’s got a good personality for just kind of calling the shots if need be. …. others because of their personality or their kindness, [and] one specifically because of his faith. I knew that he had a deep devotion, and we need that.”

The Lead Team, made up of eighth through 12th graders, was formed about a year ago. Since then, the members have met every first Wednesday of the month. They helped to plan a retreat for their group in February, and are working on another for the summer. Back in the fall, they helped set up for a diocesan event where Justin Fatica of Hard as Nails Ministries came to speak at their parish.

And with this year’s National Catholic Youth Conference approaching in November, Fahy said she didn’t think twice before asking her Lead Team to consider attending.

Lead Team member Kenny Cinkowski, a 17-year-old high school senior who began attending the youth group about a year ago — and plans to join the Marine Corps in the fall — said he hopes to see the team get involved in more volunteer efforts.

“Lead team is still relatively new, so a lot of the things are still being established, so we’re still finding out what works and what doesn’t,” he said. “It’ll take a little bit, but I feel like eventually it will be nice to do more projects throughout the community. There’s a lot that goes unseen.”

Cinkowski said the other youth group members often turn to him — and many on the Lead Team — for guidance and support.

“It’s easier for them to talk to someone closer to their age that they look up to,” he said. “They always come to me when they need me.”

It’s important for all the members of the group — sixth through 12th graders — to see their peers in leadership roles, Fahy said.

“I think it encourages them to want to be more deeply involved,” she said. “It shows them that, hey, this is a real thing. This is a commitment, just like your sport, even more important than the sports really, it’s your faith, and that there’s other teens willing to just put the time in for this commitment.”

The teens’ leadership positions aren’t without challenges. Several members of the youth group are autistic, Fahy said — and she encouraged her Lead Team members at a meeting earlier this month to accept their differences and befriend them.

“It’s challenging, and there are some behavioral issues, but we can’t reject them either,” Fahy told the team. “It’s either you can stop coming because you’re getting annoyed, or you can take it as a challenge to be their friend and thank God that you don’t have to suffer from that — you weren’t born that way… maybe life is a bit easier for you, while some of these kids are feeling rejection on a daily basis.”

On social media, too, Fahy often reminds her Lead Team members that they need to present themselves as examples for their peers.

“It really holds them up to the challenge that it’s not just when you’re here, you’re playing a certain role,” Fahy said. “That role has to be all throughout, when you’re on Snapchat or Instagram or whatever, you can’t be posting things that aren’t appropriate. People know that you’re a special part of this youth group and you’re representing the youth group.”

The entire youth group meets weekly for Tuesday “faith sessions,” where they share a meal, discuss a faith-related topic, play games and pray the Rosary together. Some decide to stay longer and hang out in the “youth lounge” at Saint Joseph’s Church.

Fahy says it’s often an “uphill battle” — but she does see the ministry making a difference in her teens’ lives.

“We had our eighth grade graduation last night for Saint Joe’s Elementary School and our one girl, she got a number of awards, and one of them was a faith award scholarship for being so involved, and she’s on our Lead Team,” she said. “So yeah, I do see it taking root. I get really happy when they post prayerful things or I’ll see them asking each other to pray for them, and that tells me that they’re getting it, it’s sinking in.”


Amanda Woods is a writer from Saint Andrew the Apostle Parish in Brooklawn, New York.

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