The parking lot of St. Charles Borromeo Parish, Fort Wayne, buzzed with excitement Monday, May 24, as College Crew launched its kickoff event. College Crew is an eight-week series focused on building communities and reigniting a spark of faith in college-age students for the summer. Speakers will include Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, Father Andrew Curry and a member of the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration.
“The summer is an opportunity not to just remain stagnant, but to keep growing their relationship with Christ,” said Stacey Huneck, youth and young adult minister at St. Charles.
Before the pandemic, Huneck’s role was to primarily focus on the youth of the parish, she said. That focus shifted to young adults during the pandemic, adding to her title.
COVID-19 forced her to cancel a retreat for high school students last year in March, then again in June. So, instead, high school students had a virtual gathering with only adoration taking place in person and socially distanced. To continue to minister to them throughout the pandemic, Huneck and her brother-in-law, Bishop Dwenger High School chaplain Father David Huneck, began using Zoom to meet virtually once a week with everyone. The students enjoyed it so much she started doing it every day and built unique and fruitful relationships with the young people, who were about to go off to college or enter the workforce.
Father Huneck and Stacey stayed in touch with the students as they went off to college, whether virtually or meeting up for coffee whenever they were in town again. They brainstormed how they could continue to minister to the young adults with whom they had built strong relationships. That’s when the idea of doing a College Crew series came up. Father Huneck already had experience running a College Crew series at a previous parish and thought it to be very successful in engaging young people.
Stacey reached out to young adults who might be interested in starting the group, and 30 participants later they were having their first virtual meeting and getting feedback.
The young people took ownership and ran with it. A task list was created to ensure the effectiveness and efficiency of the events, with everyone to be assigned to committees. Some of the various committees were snacks, logistics, marketing and welcome crew. Each committee was essential to the overall success of College Crew.
The college-age people worked hard to form a series that they could be proud of, she said. They came up with the name, created the logo and shirts and promoted the group on social media platforms. All the themes planned for this summer were shaped by the different individuals in the group.
To the first College Crew summer event, they wore coordinating bright green shirts with a logo. One of the volunteers brought in a stage. Several were at the welcoming table, greeting everyone and helping them sign in. Many conversed before the event started and caught up with old friends.
Jennifer Litchfield, another volunteer, and Father Huneck opened the night’s festivities.
Introductions included an icebreaker. A red dot was chalked into the parking lot, representing St. Charles Borromeo. Participants took a step for every two miles and stood in an approximate spot of where they lived in relation to the parish. This exercise showed who their neighbors were and encouraged them to make connections.
Knowing who your neighbors are helps “to build communities at home in Fort Wayne,” said Litchfield.
Following the icebreaker was the speaker of the night, Father Matthew Coonan, a Bishop Dwenger graduate and pastor of St. Therese Parish, Fort Wayne. His talk was focused on the longings of one’s heart and how to appropriately respond to these longings while at home for the summer. He gave the college students helpful tips for living a life of integrity.
Father Coonan’s first tip was to invest in relationships intentionally. He challenged the young adults to spend quality time with one family member and one friend once a week. Then he challenged everyone to spend one hour with the Lord once a week.
The next tip was to stop using social media by 11 p.m. He said this encourages a person to fall asleep earlier and have more time the next day. In hand with that tip went one about waking up at a consistent hour during the week. This helps get a body on a schedule and makes a person more productive, he said. The last tip was to enjoy and have fun during the summer, but to remember to live a life of purpose and significance.
Following Father Coonan, Paxton Simerman gave a witness testimony. She is a recent graduate of Indiana Tech and spoke about how she was constantly getting hit with the big question, “Why are you Catholic?” In response, she started learning more about her faith and built an on-campus organization called Catholic Warriors. She went from being shy about her faith to proud and outgoing. She wrapped up her testimony by saying, “Ask yourself what you’re going to do to grow your faith.”
The night finished with praise and worship from Natali and Caleb Perkins and seminarian Samuel Martinez. Afterward, people stayed to play outdoor games and socialize.
“This was very cool. I’m glad this is offered to everyone,” said one participant, explaining that she was a recent high school graduate with the intention of entering the workforce.
Other participants buzzed about how they couldn’t wait to go to the following week’s College Crew gathering.
College Crew takes places on Mondays at 7 p.m. at St. Charles and is open to all college-age people, whether they are in college or not. Bring a lawn chair.
More information can be found on the College Crew’s Facebook and Instagram pages.
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