October 25, 2013

Project SAFE passes on the faith to non-Catholic children and youths

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin greets Project SAFE students Jayonna Zinerman, left, and Mireya Benjamin on Oct. 3 at St. Andrew the Apostle Church in Indianapolis. Project SAFE (St. Andrew Faith Enrichment) is an afterschool religious education program sponsored by St. Andrew Parish for students of Andrew Academy, a public charter operated by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis on the parish’s campus. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin greets Project SAFE students Jayonna Zinerman, left, and Mireya Benjamin on Oct. 3 at St. Andrew the Apostle Church in Indianapolis. Project SAFE (St. Andrew Faith Enrichment) is an afterschool religious education program sponsored by St. Andrew Parish for students of Andrew Academy, a public charter operated by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis on the parish’s campus. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

Across central and southern Indiana, parishes pass on the faith to the next generation through religious education programs for children and youths.

In nearly all of the programs, the students are almost entirely Catholic.

But that’s not the case at St. Andrew the Apostle Parish in Indianapolis.

Its Project SAFE (St. Andrew Faith Enrichment) program has only one Catholic student among the more than 40 kindergarten through eighth-grade students who are also enrolled at Andrew Academy, a public charter school operated by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis on the campus of St. Andrew Parish.

Project SAFE is held on Monday through Wednesday afternoons after the completion of the school day at Andrew Academy.

On Oct. 3, Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin visited Project SAFE to see the students give a presentation about saints they had been learning about.

“I like that you can learn about God,” said Project SAFE second-grader Jason Gibson about the program. “You can get better about reading the Bible, so when you go to church you won’t be so confused about what they’re talking about.”

The more than 40 students in the program represent nearly 20 percent of Andrew Academy students. The enrollment has nearly doubled over the past two years, according to Benedictine Sister Pam Doyle, St. Andrew’s director of religious education.

This increase has occurred largely by word of mouth as parents and students have told other people about the program. Because Andrew Academy is a public charter school, it is not allowed to actively publicize Project SAFE.

“Ultimately, we’ve planted seeds to [help the students] develop a relationship with Christ,” said Sister Pam, a member of Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove. “We talk about different ways you can pray. Exposing them to different ways we can pray and encouraging them to deepen their relationships with God is what I’d like to see.”

Parents of Project SAFE students make a conscious choice to enroll their children in the program. Andrew Academy has an afterschool program operating at the same time as the religious education program.

Even though Katrina Walker is a member of Barnes United Methodist Church in Indianapolis, she wanted her daughter, Symphony Sales, to take part in Project SAFE.

“When I first heard about the program, I thought that it was a wonderful opportunity for her to be able to have religion incorporated along with her education,” Walker said. “I was very excited.”

When children learn about the Catholic faith through Project SAFE, they can pass on that knowledge to their parents.

That happened with Niya Guynn, the mother of Ashantii Guynn, the only Catholic student in the program.

“She learns a lot,” said Niya, a member of New Beginnings Fellowship Church in Indianapolis. “She teaches me things that she learns. She knows the value of prayer. We pray every day in the morning and at night.”

Project SAFE also provides Catholic students at Marian University in Indianapolis, who serve as catechists in the program, an opportunity to pass on the faith.

Sarah Groves teaches first-graders in the program. While in high school, she served as a volunteer catechist at St. Mark the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis, where she is a member.

At St. Mark, she taught the faith to children who were raised in Catholic families. Handing on Catholic beliefs and practices to non-Catholic children in Project SAFE is an enriching challenge for Groves.

“… I have to teach them everything,” Groves said. “They didn’t know who saints were. So I had to go through and explain to them who they are. That really helped me learn more and go deeper.”

Many of the students she teaches and other students in the program come from difficult family and neighborhood situations. Groves hopes that Project SAFE will also help the students in the future.

“I hope it makes them have a different perspective on their life and what they go through every day and, if nothing else, to seek out the positive in life and to look at what they have been blessed with,” Groves said. “If they come from a rough family, if things aren’t going well at home, they can pray if they want to and know that they can always talk to [God].” †

Local site Links:

Like this story? Then share it!