by Olivia Martin
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — They never planned to spend time each weekend hanging out with kids. And they certainly didn’t go to college to be teachers.
But that hasn’t stopped young professionals around the archdiocese from volunteering with youth groups every Sunday.
For Jade Baker, a St. Agnes, Roeland Park, parishioner and new Catholic, motivation to get involved sprung from love of the faith — and an awareness of a need. When serving on the board of her college sorority, Baker noticed that young women seem to come to her for advice, even if they don’t know her well.
“It got me thinking about my own experiences growing up in the Protestant church and what youth group looked like for me,” said Baker.
“Oftentimes, it was male youth pastors or really old women leading youth or women’s Bible studies,” she said, “and I never felt like I had a young adult female who I could go to with real middle school and high school struggles.”
So, after getting in touch with a friend of hers who was the youth ministry coordinator at St. Ann Parish in Prairie Village, Baker began helping out with that parish’s middle school youth group each Sunday.
But she isn’t helping to lead it — the high schoolers do that. They plan and organize each week’s youth group and the adults supervise.
“The commitment that these high school kids have to the program [has surprised me],” said Baker, “and how confident and intelligent they are. They are really impressive young adults, impressive high schoolers.”
Though they are much younger, that’s how Gabrielle Siegler, a St. Agnes parishioner, feels about her kindergarten and first-grade School of Religion students.
“They’re quite a bit smarter sometimes than you think they might be,” said Siegler. “That has been one of the most exciting things for me.”
John Shaughnessey, also a St. Agnes parishioner and a School of Religion volunteer, agrees.
And he’s found that teaching his fifth-grade students has reawakened him to the mystery of many aspects of the faith.
“Some of the stuff these kids are learning is really complicated,” said Shaughnessy. “Lots of times, I just don’t even think about those things that much. Then, when the kids ask hard questions about things like the Trinity, it makes me think about why I believe it and how to explain it.”
It pays to volunteer
It’s one thing to volunteer every now and then, and it’s another to make a commitment out of it.
And Shaughnessy has certainly committed — he has been volunteering as a School of Religion teacher at St. Agnes for three years.
“I did it for the whole time, talent, treasure thing,” said Shaughnessy. “You’re not just supposed to tithe, but you’re supposed to donate time.”
The idea to donate time via teaching came from Shaughnessy’s mom, who has taught religious education longer than he can remember. And Shaughnessy finds himself going to her for classroom resources and tips.
Siegler’s journey to becoming a School of Religion volunteer was based on her experience as well.
“I taught Sunday school when I was in high school and I really liked it,” said Siegler. “It was the time of year Father Bill [Porter, the pastor] was talking about vocations [at Mass], and I just felt like I could do more.”
Siegler has, indeed, found sharing the faith with the youth to be very gratifying.
“My students are pretty young, so they’re still learning the Sign of the Cross and the Lord’s Prayer and things like that,” she said. “It’s been kind of inspiring because you really can be a part of helping shape their experiences in the church.”
And though it isn’t always apparent, Baker says she knows, too, that her service makes a difference.
“Sometimes, it just feels like you are hanging out with middle schoolers and high schoolers,” said Baker. “That’s the hard part; it doesn’t feel like you’re making an impact.
“[But] just my being here is important and I don’t need to have some groundbreaking conversation with them every time we get together for this work to matter.”
For Baker, the youth group itself has been a witness of faith and goodness to her.
“It is so good to see high school men and women interact with one another in a way that is building up their community,” said Baker.