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GREENFIELD—It was day three of summer camp, and seventh-grader Mary Peach was clearly enjoying her time as she smiled brightly and grabbed the hand in front of her.
Her smile was reflected back by the owner of the hand—an elderly woman in a wheelchair who lives at the Golden LivingCenter in Greenfield, where Mary and her campmates led songs, distributed flowers and cards, and spent time visiting with the residents.
“This was my favorite project—experiencing all the ladies, talking with them, having fun with them. It was nice!” says the youth from near Akron, Ohio.
Mary was one of about 30 girls from Indiana and elsewhere who participated in the “Girls Getaway” three-day summer service camp offered by the Challenge chapter at St. Michael Parish in Greenfield.
According to the Challenge website, the program is a “network of Catholic clubs for boys and girls in fifth through 12th grade who want to grow in their Catholic faith, friendship with Christ and make a difference in the world around them.”
The program is coordinated by Regnum Christi, a lay apostolate focused on “extending Christ’s Kingdom in full collaboration with the Church and its bishops,” according to the Regnum Christi website.
St. Michael parishioner Rosie Kube started a Challenge club for girls at the parish eight years ago when her oldest daughter, Megan, was entering fifth grade.
“I now have all four [of my daughters] in Challenge,” she says. “It has been a blessing for the family.”
The Challenge program consists of many components: weekly meetings, service projects and retreats or days of reflection during the school year, and camp during the summer.
The St. Michael Challenge group puts a special focus on service for their summer camp. From June 17-19, the girls made rosaries for troops, and care packages and cards for the children and elderly they would visit during the camp.
With Our Lady of the Apostles Family Center in Hancock County as headquarters, over the course of the three days the girls were shuttled to the Ronald McDonald House, Holy Family Shelter and Gleaner’s Food Bank, all in Indianapolis, and led songs and visited with residents at Golden LivingCenter in Greenfield.
Along with volunteering, they shared the cards and care packages they made.
“It’s not exactly work,” says Micah Yason, a member of St. Michael Parish who will enter Greenfield Central High School in the fall. “I see it more as a good way of helping people, of serving others, because that’s what we’re called to do.”
Mary also finds much reward in that call: “Mostly what I’ve experienced is that joy brings joy to others, especially just smiling and being able to talk with them.”
The focus on serving others was enriched each day through Mass, prayer time, Gospel discussions and the opportunity for the sacrament of reconciliation.
While the camp provides a connection for the Challenge girls during the summer, the weekly meetings during the school year form the core of the program.
“The girls are broken into teams by grade,” Kube describes. “They meet weekly for an hour, pray, read and discuss the Gospel, then do activities to help the Gospel come to life.
“Every meeting, they have a saint and a virtue they focus on. Then every two months or so, they complete a service project connected to the curriculum. Some are very simple, such as a prayer bouquet for someone in need or helping serve at a parish event, or more complicated like preparing breakfast at the local soup kitchen or helping out at the food pantry.”
Micah says she has learned much through the program.
“I feel like going to a Catholic school you’re close to God, but if you do something after school like Challenge you get even closer,” she says.
Maya Gutierrez, who will enter seventh grade at St. Michael School this fall, agrees.
“[The meetings] give us time to slow down, but we’re still having fun,” she says. “It lets us think about the Gospel passage a lot more than in church.”
The leaders of the weekly meetings and service projects pose another formative aspect of the Challenge program.
High school girls team up as leaders for each grade school/junior high group. In most cases, the team leaders are past Challenge participants.
“There’s a pair of team leads,” Kube explains. “They start freshman year and get the fifth graders, then have those girls for four years. They grow with the girls.
“The team leads handle the whole meeting. Adults chaperone, but they’re in the background. The team leads organize and lead the meetings. They have nice guide books that take them through it and suggest activities and projects,” adds Kube. “Plus they have formal training from consecrated women [of Regnum Christi] about three times a year.”
Margie Lademan is one such consecrated woman. After eight years of formation, consecrated women take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience to dedicate their lives to helping Catholics grow closer to Christ. Lademan lives in a community with four other consecrated women of Regnum Christi in Cincinnati.
“Maybe it’d be more efficient to have older people lead [the meetings], but it helps the younger girls to really want to listen and to learn because it’s someone closer to their age and yet someone they still look up to. It shows them it can be cool to be Catholic in high school.
“And for the high school girls, it can be such a grounder for them to have that responsibility and to keep doing something that keeps them involved and fervent in their own faith life,” Lademan adds.
Megan Kube, oldest daughter of Rosie Kube, appreciates the value of being a team leader.
“I think that by teaching virtue and by teaching all these different lessons, and showing [them to] the girls through service projects, I have learned them so much more for myself.
“It’s one thing to just listen to someone tell you, but as a team leader it’s more real to me. I’ve really taken my faith as my own,” Megan adds.
While the high school girls do provide the core of the leadership, Msgr. William Stumpf, pastor of St. Michael Parish, also recognizes the impact of the program on the adults who become involved.
“Mothers gain from the program and have their faith strengthened. There’s not just the role model of the older girls, but all the girls look to their mothers as role models.”
Msgr. Stumpf sees many other benefits to Challenge as well.
“I think it’s an excellent program. Girls have an opportunity to grow in faith—both younger girls who are participants and also the older ones who serve as role models,” he says. “And not just girls here in the parish and school, but also girls not in our school. It’s very inclusive.”
Abigail Chipps, a member of St. Nicholas Parish in Ripley County, appreciates being able to experience the service camp with the St. Michael’s group. As she heads off to East Central High School in St. Leon in the fall, she reflects on lessons that she has learned through Challenge.
“It has definitely brought me closer to God in a lot of ways. It teaches you a lot of things about faith, meeting other people, learning about different ways to pray, getting used to praying in the morning, and then in the afternoon and the evening. It really sets you up for life.”
And that, says Lademan, is the essence of Challenge.
“Challenge is very orthodox. It definitely follows the teachings of the Catholic Church. It complements a Catholic education through helping the girls to have an experience of the truth of the faith, making it fun and to their age group,” she says. “That will grow into something that they believe in and something that is meaningful for them, so they will go on to act upon it, share it and live out their Catholic faith in a more personal and deep way.”
As a pastor, this is crucial to Msgr. Stumpf.
“It gives them wonderful footing for the years ahead as they enter high school and college. It’s shaped them in their personal values,” he says. “It’s deepened their personal relationship with Christ, and given them a solid foundation of the teachings of the faith.
“It’s focused on charity and the command to love one’s neighbor, which is a very important lesson for all, but what a great lesson to learn at a young age.”
(For more information on Challenge, log on to www.challengeclubs.com.) †