Building a youth group, one bierock at a time
by Jessica Langdon
LOUISBURG — The recipe is fairly straightforward, but it takes time and attention to make it turn out just right.
Start with a handful of kids. (Add as many as you wish as you go along.)
Fold in ample opportunity to serve others.
Stir in support from the community, families and parish leaders.
Sprinkle in as much music, laughter and friendship as you like.
Simmer it in faith and keep things cooking.
That, in a nutshell, has been the recipe for success for the youth group at Immaculate Conception Parish in Louisburg.
Plenty of people remember times when there wasn’t anything at all for the youth of the parish; others recall a group that tried to get off the ground, but just kind of faded away.
Now, they seem to have found a recipe for success.
Youth ministers started out with just a handful of teens about three years ago. Since then, the group has taken on a life of its own.
Yet when you try to pin down exactly which ingredient breathed such a spark into this active youth group, you likely won’t be able boil it down to just one thing.
Growing and serving together
For one thing, they all get along, and you can see that the moment you meet them.
“It’s really great coming to youth group because you know your friends are there,” said Lindsey Allen. “You know you’re going to have a fun time and learn about God and just grow with each other.”
“It’s a great thing to have all these people come together that share your faith and to help the community out,” said Katelyn Waldron. “I love it.”
One of the group’s first major undertakings brought together parishes from across the Southern Region of the archdiocese for a day of serving the community of Louisburg. They rolled up their sleeves and tackled projects from weeding to helping residents clean their yards.
Then in 2011, the Louisburg group traveled twice to Joplin, Mo., to help in the aftermath of the devastating EF5 tornado that ripped through the city in May. The group plans to return to Joplin.
“It was just like one giant family going down there and spreading our faith and love to the people,” Katelyn said.
“We’re all just a big family that loves God,” agreed youth group member Bill Strange.
Natalie Moore and Kallie O’Keefe, freshmen in high school, are among the younger members of the group. Age doesn’t make a difference here, though.
“Over the years that we’ve been together, we’ve just become really close,” said Natalie. “We know a lot of things about each other.”
From regular meetings to trips to the Kansas City area to help in a food pantry during the summer, they’re together a lot.
“It makes us feel really good on the inside to know that we’re helping out people that aren’t as fortunate,” said Kallie.
“We just like having fun and helping people at the same time,” agreed Bailee Moylan, who is a member of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in La Cygne.
She got to know Louisburg youth group members through a confirmation retreat. She liked the way the group operated, so she joined it.
“We just all get along really well and we try to make a difference,” she said.
The right ingredients
Bailee worked alongside her friends at Immaculate Conception on a Saturday in early November last year. The always-busy group that week was making 1,500 bierocks as a fundraiser. Sales of the meat-filled German pastries would help fund service projects — such as future trips to Joplin — and the group’s annual trip to the Steubenville youth conference in St. Louis.
Connor Waldron, president of the youth group, can’t wait to go back for his third trip to the Steubenville conference.
“The music is amazing,” he said.
In fact, music from the summer conference became the soundtrack for this daylong bierock-making party.
Youth group leader Linda Roberts contributed a family recipe. Because the bierocks were such a hit at the parish the first time the group made them, it expanded the operation this time, using a new convection oven to its capacity to fill the orders that flowed in.
A lot of the group’s members point to Roberts as someone who really got things stirring for the youth in Louisburg.
“She makes everything exciting, so it’s fun to come to youth group now,” said Ali Dover.
Jacob Dow, 19, has graduated from high school, but returns to help the youth group now as a sponsor. He has been a member of this parish his whole life and has seen the youth group basically start from scratch and really take off. It is a “newer and better and more involved youth group,” which is something that was needed, he said.
These young people are getting started on their lives, he explained, and they are learning a lot about how to serve others and get involved in their community through volunteer work.
Roberts quickly passes the credit for the strides the youth have made on to the kids themselves.
“They’re wonderful kids,” she said. “They have been so supportive of everything we’ve ever done, and they’ve been thirsty to know the Lord.”
Her granddaughter Kirstin Lowry is part of the group now and loves to see so many people enjoying it. The lessons in faith have real-life applications.
“I really love going to the meetings because you get to talk about everything that’s going on and what you need to fix,” said Kirstin.
Roberts was proud to see them all hard at work making bierocks, and she believes activities like this bring the group even closer.
“It helps us with our faith,” she said. “It helps us learn how to work together, how to love each other, and respect, and also give.”
Lots of support
And, Roberts said, the support of Msgr. Robert Bergman, pastor of Immaculate Conception, has been priceless. Since his arrival at the parish, he has done a lot to inspire the youth’s energy.
“The kids were needing something, wanting something,” said Roberts. “He has been in total, 125 percent support of our youth, as well as everyone in our parish.”
The pastor was there bright and early on this November Saturday as the volunteers browned beef, chopped cabbage, stirred in cheese, and assembled the bierocks.
Plenty of parents also pitched in.
Adult volunteer Mary Jo Shelton has driven this group on bus trips to different activities, and she was there working away in the kitchen to help with this project.
“I think it got a whole lot bigger than we thought it was going to get, and I think it’s awesome — I truly do,” she said. She wanted to see the food turn out to be a success, just as the recipe for building this youth group has been.
“I just think that they’re so hardworking and so outgoing and so involved,” said Shelton.
And no one took a moment of this day for granted.
“We don’t have to be here doing this, but we do it because we want to do it and because we have a lot of fun with each other,” said Ali. “It’s awesome that we have this many kids who come out of the kindness of their hearts because we want to, so I think that’s the coolest thing.”
Katelyn sees this as a big, happy group living life as Jesus called them to.
“We’re a good group of kids,” she said. “We’re just normal people trying to do good things in the community.”