The diocesan Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministry held its first-ever "Give Back," a large-scale outreach effort for young people to engage in community service in the name of the Catholic Church. The event, which took place Sept. 10 and allowed dozens of volunteers to help out at a total of 11 service sites, was a success.
After meeting at a large covered tent at Canalside in downtown Buffalo, the volunteers, led by event coordinator Kaitlyn Buehlmann and the rest of the Youth and Young Adult Ministry team, heard some welcoming remarks before departing for non-profit organizations throughout the area. When they came back, all of the volunteers were treated to a food truck lunch courtesy of the event organizers.
"We had people at all sorts of sites that were fairly diverse, all across Buffalo," Buehlmann commented. "People worked with Catholic Charities, people worked with Vive la Casa (and) St. Lawrence Vineyard Ministries, doing everything from painting, to sorting donations, to serving all kinds of different needs. As the event coordinator, I reached out to these organizations and essentially invited them to be a part of Give Back. I asked them to let me know what they need, what their organization had, and we had young people who were willing and eager to help out with their sites. People were definitely willing and excited."
One site was the Kevin Guest House in Buffalo, where volunteers cleaned rooms for people undergoing advanced medical care and their families. They focused on ones for bone marrow transplant recipients. "We were cleaning bedrooms for the visitors there," said Hannah Benson, a 26-year-old volunteer who attended Give Back with her 36-year-old sister, Jessica Beal, as a family event they could do together. "It's an awesome idea to get young people to get out to do volunteer work, especially in the city of Buffalo."
According to Buehlmann, Give Back came about as the result of a survey the diocese conducted in May and early June of this year to see what programs young adults in this age bracket would be most interested in becoming part of for their ministry as Catholics. Since many people responded that they would like to be part of more service activities, Give Back was born, and with its success, will likely continue next year.
Kathy Goller, director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry, said the idea for Give Back also came about as the product of brainstorming as the department was applying for a grant to strengthen and support ministry for young people. According to Goller, the department was looking into beginning some additional outreach from the diocese to young adults in their 20s and 30s who are not necessarily strongly connected with their faith or the Church, but are still interested in the aspects of the faith that involve serving others. Participants were not required to be Catholic. If they were, they were not required to be weekly churchgoers.
In order to prepare for Give Back, the diocese used a variety of platforms, including social media, billboards, radio, church bulletins and word of mouth, to spread the word about the new event. This led to turnout of around 60 to 70 people between the ages of 18 and 39, Buehlmann estimated.
"Part of our work has centered around the digital outreach, with what is now known as the website HaveFaithBuffalo.com," Goller said. "We put a fair amount of time, planning and resources that came from the grant into developing HaveFaithBuffalo.com. There's an e-newsletter that people can subscribe to. We've got a good following on that, that we send out regularly, as well as a social media presence."
When asked for her thoughts on what she hoped participants got out of Give Back, Goller said she felt it was a good opportunity and an exciting day for people to come with a lot of energy, enjoy opportunities to socialize and meet with other like-minded young adults, and ultimately have a good service experience with an appreciation for the many organizations that help people in need in Western New York.
"I certainly hope they leave knowing that it was the Catholic Church who sponsored the event," Goller said, "and really having a positive experience of Church in action, or Church in the world today."
"It was a really fulfilling project to be a part of, because ultimately, for me, my faith is not just about Church, but about going out and doing work that is a way in which I can live out my faith. Being part of this project was really great because it helped myself, and other young adults, get involved in that sort of ministry by helping our own local community," Buehlmann concluded.
To find out what else the Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministry is planning for young adults in the diocese in the future, visit HaveFaithBuffalo.com for newsletters or an event calendar.