November 24, 2023

National Catholic Youth Conference 2023

Teenagers embrace volunteer opportunities during NCYC

Freshman Natalie Bixenman of the Diocese of Salina, Kan., displays the tote bag she decorated for Hands Across Haiti, a ministry of St. John Paul II Parish in Sellersburg. (Photo by Mike Krokos)

Freshman Natalie Bixenman of the Diocese of Salina, Kan., displays the tote bag she decorated for Hands Across Haiti, a ministry of St. John Paul II Parish in Sellersburg. (Photo by Mike Krokos)

By Mike Krokos

It may still be a month away, but the Christmas spirit was alive and well in an exhibit hall at the Indiana Convention Center during the National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC).

As part of an outreach effort for Catholic Charities Terre Haute, teenagers from across the U.S. spent time decorating brown lunch bags—many with faith-based messages—and making Christmas cards that will be shared with the less fortunate through the agency.

Jennifer Tames, assistant agency director for Catholic Charities Terre Haute, said the lunch bags will be used for the organization’s Fishes and Loaves’ soup kitchen when they distribute sack lunches on weekends and holidays. The Christmas cards, she continued, will be distributed to families who visit its Christmas store.

“It’s a great opportunity for the kids not only to be creative and to take a break, but then, to pass along that love they have for God and for Jesus to others in our community,” she said on Nov. 17, the second day of the three-day conference.

About 1,000 lunch bags and the same amount of Christmas cards were brought to NCYC, Tames noted, “and if we go through all of those, we will be astonished.”

High school seniors Julia Trainer and Taylor Roemmich of the Archdiocese of Omaha, Neb., were among a group who embraced the opportunity to make Christmas cards for their brothers and sisters in Christ.

“I think it’s really cool that through this conference we’re able to spread a little bit of holiday cheer to the Indianapolis [area] community,” Julia said, “and to make a difference.”

Added Taylor, “There are a lot of families out there that might not experience joy [during the Christmas season], … and I think it’s great that we’re able to do this.”

Taylor Vittecoe, a sophomore from the Diocese of Davenport, Iowa, and a group of her friends were all smiles as they decorated lunch bags.

A few feet away in the convention center, other teenagers were embracing the mission of Hands Across Haiti, a ministry of St. John Paul II Parish in Sellersburg. The outreach provides decorated T-shirts, school supplies, tote bags and backpacks, among other things, to its sister parishes in Haiti.

Natalie Bixenman, a freshman from the Diocese of Salina, Kan., used her artistic gifts to decorate a tote bag, because “I like donating to good causes.”

Dan Ohlmann, a member of St. John Paul II’s board of directors for Hands Across Haiti, has been involved with the ministry for several years and has attended NCYC in the past. He said the parish’s overseas outreach has become a staple at the conference because they want to get “the youths interested in what’s happening abroad.”

“Haiti is close to my heart … but we want to get the youths involved, and to bring awareness to what’s going on.”

The T-shirts, tote bags and other items provided to the sister parishes, he added, “are a way for them to communicate with our students that we sponsor in Haiti. … Our goal is to get people involved nationally [and] internationally.”

Further toward the back of the convention center, teenagers were helping put together meals for Pack Away Hunger, an Indianapolis-based organization that provides nutritious dehydrated meals to local food pantries throughout Indiana. They also work with international populations.

Lea Snyder, an event manager for the organization, supervised a group of young people as they worked tirelessly to put packaged meals together.

“We’ve sent to Hawaii, we’ve sent to Ukraine, Russia, Haiti. … It just depends on where the need is at the time,” she said.

The meal consists of soy and rice, a mixture of vegetables and a vitamin nutrient packet. The meals are sealed and have a long shelf life.

As in years past, NCYC participants again stepped up and took this volunteer initiative to heart.

“Oh my gosh, these young people, the past two days, they have been on fire!” Snyder said. “It’s amazing. They’ve done a wonderful, a great job. We have had some of them stay quite awhile. … A lot of them really enjoy it. …They’re doing something good for society.” †

Read more stories from our 2023 NCYC Supplement

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