Outside of being a husband and father, a few of my favorite activities include working for/within the Church, playing music, doing youth ministry, and traveling. In a couple of weeks, I’ll get to again be part of an amazing program that allows me to do all four of those things at once. That program is called Young Neighbors in Action (YNIA), and being part of it has been one of the great joys of my life.
Quoting YNIA’s ‘about’ page, “Young Neighbors provides a solid, Catholic approach to service and justice that balances Scripture and Catholic social teaching, direct service, and a justice consciousness. It provides the experiences, skills, and learning needed to make change possible.” I can tell you from personal experience that I have witnessed all of those things firsthand. There are many service camp opportunities available to teens. None of them, in my opinion, offer what Young Neighbors does. I know of no other Catholic program for teens that works as hard to train and empower high school students to be vocal advocates for the implementation of Catholic social teaching in their own communities and in the world.
These teen participants are truly remarkable. I mean, how many teens do you know who would do ALL of the following?
-Pay hundreds of dollars to give up a week of their summer
-Head to a completely unknown city/location and spend time working with people in need
often in less-than-ideal neighborhood settings
-Sleep in classrooms/gym floors, often without air conditioning
-Spend their evenings immersed in bishops documents, Catholic social teaching, and prayer
-Relinquish much of their bathroom and shower privacy
-Agree to be told when to eat, when to socialize, and when to go to bed
I don’t know many teens like that and I’ll bet you don’t either. These young people are special. In fact, they’re a great reminder to me of what the apostle Paul said in his first letter to the Corinthians. “Love never fails…” (1 Cor 13:8) So long as there are people (in this case, young people) willing to selflessly serve their fellow earthly travelers, treating them at all times as Christ would, love cannot help but thrive.
I know this sounds like a sales pitch, but I assure you our enthusiasm for Young Neighbors stems from our own experience with the program. Orin and I are blessed to have been part of YNIA now for about fifteen years. In a couple of weeks, I’m headed to St. Louis for a week to serve as a Prayer and Music Coordinator. Next month, Orin and I will be in Yakima, WA sharing the Program Director and Prayer and Music Coordinator roles. There are lots of other ways we could those weeks. There are many other people in our lives vying for our time. We go because we believe Christ is calling us to go and because we firmly believe in the effectiveness of this program.
For more information or to inquire about sending a group from your parish, you can contact the national YNIA staff here.
Here is a video montage using pictures of outstanding young neighbors in action. The song in the video is the title track from our most recent album, “Mercy At Work”.