by Moira Cullings
PAOLA — All it took was a simple activity to unite two unlikely groups of parishioners at Holy Trinity here.
When Luci Kennedy, a religion and social studies teacher at Holy Trinity School, took on the role of youth minister this year, she knew exactly what she wanted to do to boost the parish’s program.
“I wanted to start building connections,” said Kennedy. “That was going to be my mantra — ‘Build connections.’”
And when it comes to church community, she said, the connection “has to be the young and the old.”
That’s why Kennedy organized a senior and student luncheon to open up communication and bridge the gap between older parishioners and the school’s seventh- and eighth-grade students.
“At first, it was almost kind of awkward because you didn’t really know [the adults],” said eighth-grader Ben Timpe.
“But once you got to know them, you felt comfortable sharing stories,” said seventh-grader Seth Aistrup.
“My grandparents live kind of far away, so it’s nice to have them to talk to,” he added.
The first gathering was in September, and the seniors hosted.
“We all had fun,” said Marilyn Gray, a parishioner at Holy Trinity. “We met the kids and learned a lot about them.”
“It’s great because you get to know them,” she continued. “You see them at Mass, but you don’t really know their background.”
Marilyn’s husband Jim agreed.
“It’s nice to know and meet the kids, to see their personalities,” he said. “You kind of know the family, but you don’t have an opportunity to learn about the kids.”
“The thing that’s good about it is we can learn from the kids and the kids can learn from us,” he added. “It’s kind of a two-way thing, and so I think both benefit from it.”
Because the first get-together was so successful, Kennedy decided to have the students make the seniors brunch on Nov. 10.
The students were excited for an opportunity to serve the seniors, who they look up to as role models.
“We asked what kind of jobs they did growing up,” said Timpe.
“I think it’s pretty nice to hear their stories and listen to them talk, and it’s comfortable around them,” said Aistrup. “You enjoy their stories and they enjoy your stories.”
Kennedy believes that teenagers are often misunderstood and feel out of place.
“Only the negative is viewed a lot of times,” she said. “This is an opportunity for those seniors to see what an incredible age this can be.”
The seniors sometimes feel disconnected from their parish as well, so activities like this help them feel appreciated and included.
“As you get older, you kind of feel like maybe you don’t fit in or maybe you’re not involved anymore,” said Marilyn Gray. “But it’s great to be involved in the kids.”
Even in a short amount of time, the seniors are able to share words of wisdom with the students.
Like Jim Gray’s fundamental piece of advice: Life is learning.
“All throughout your life you have plenty of opportunities to learn new things,” he said. “And it’s important to have the attitude that, no matter how old you are, you can always learn something new.”
Marilyn Gray would remind the kids to stay in touch with their grandparents.
“Ask them questions, because once they’re gone, you’ll sit there and you’ll wish you had asked them this, or that you knew this about them,” she said.
Although there are only 11 students in Holy Trinity’s seventh- and eighth-grade, Kennedy believes they are “small but mighty,” and is proud of the way they’ve handled activities like the brunch.
“It feels like they’re starting to take ownership of their parish,” she said. “And to me, that’s huge.
“Having this, there’s a name to those faces that they see in church,” she continued. “And they’re able to talk with them.”
Activities like this give Kennedy hope for Holy Trinity’s future.
“I’m hoping that [the students] make a bond, and bonds develop that carry on into church, into their relationships, with how they view the seniors in their community and with their families,” she said. “I’m hoping that it opens up that communication between them.”