Friday, March 11, 2016

Don’t underestimate our teenage citizens

We often hear those less than positive, disparaging judgments in society about the teen age generation of our times. 

The sweeping generalizations that our high school kids lack a keen sense of the importance of their education, respect for others, family values, morals, good citizenship and faith are truly out of step with reality.

We have all heard, particularly in the case of faith, (dare I mention the word in Politically Correct circles), "We don't see the kids in church anymore.  Back in my day..”

Well, in point of fact, sheer numbers support the assertions that there are too many adolescents absent from the practices and participation in their faith traditions, an alternate politically correct word for religion, or God, heaven forfend.

While I do not bluntly dismiss these assertions, my preferred focus here is on the innate goodness of our children in these areas of behavior, attitudes and respect.

I have personally been an eye witness to the activities of our teens and younger in Southington during my twenty years in retirement and reporting on the best in people. Furthermore, there are countless stories throughout our country of the basic goodness, decency, interest in others and in the proactive roles teens take in our communities... inspired by the virtuous aspirations of becoming better citizens of the world.

I’ve worked with hundreds of young people, visited them in their classrooms at Southington High School, our middle schools, elementary schools, our special education students, the Alta School and in our Southington Catholic school in Southington.

I have been privileged to be invited to multiple visits to the Literary Connections program at Southington H.S. as well as eight A.P. (Advanced Placement), classes and been astonished at the level of achievement and commitment of these kids in opening their minds to the sciences, technology, math, literacy and the arts. I have been humbled and seen the awesome turnaround, positive enthusiasm and genuine appreciation of students who found renewed life direction, raised self esteem and purpose in our Alta School preparing to take their post-graduation place in society. It was deeply moving for me to converse, one on one, with courageous students like Maegan, a beautiful young lady approaching 18 who is finding dignity and friendships at Southington High School, day by day, coping with and overcoming her challenges.

It has been one of the most uplifting and special experiences for me to have worked with teens and younger kids in the community coalition that is STEPS (Southington’s Town-wide Efforts to Promote Success),  the Youth Council, Youth committee and with a town-wide coalition dedicated to the prevention of risky teen behavior, e.g. use of illegal drugs, marijuana, tobacco, alcohol and any mind altering substances.

These youngsters are volunteering their time and energy, genuinely enjoying taking on projects to help them gather and collect food for the hungry, clothing for families living below subsistence levels and other needs of Bread for Life and Southington Community Services.

Our kids are Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, (several of whom I have followed on their way to the rank of Eagle Scout), Brownies, Girl Scouts, some reaching the top rank of Gold Girl Scout and then there are the Giving Back Girls who fill a bus or a truck with back packs and school supplies and the middle and elementary school kids initiating their own drives to help veterans and run toy drives for the youngest in need as well as the youth groups of many of our faith congregations attending pilgrimages to help the neediest in our world.

Yes, bad things are going on in this world of addiction, crime, shocking violence and all the rest, but the legion of kids I'm talking about are made of the right stuff!

We acknowledge and try to promote the role of good parenting, (see informational STEPS program for parents below),  teachers and others whose paths our children cross every day.  But somehow, many of us seem to shrink away from open public discourse of the role of faith in the positive development of our youngest citizens.

And, yet I know so many of diverse faith traditions who find great strength, spiritual nurturing and the discovery of their personal finest qualities through personal faith!

A Teen Mass and Mini-Retreat at St. Dominic Church of Southington.

Recently, I read an announcement in my church bulletin, (St. Dominic in Southington). The Youth Group of our parish and the Confirmation class of 2016 are planning a Catholic Teen Mass with an optional mini-retreat to follow.

Matter of fact, it’s set for this coming Sunday, March 13 at 3:30 pm.  I decided to look into it and was was pleased to be genuinely impressed at what I learned.

Bev Montana of St. Dominic Church has been deeply involved for decades as coordinator of the spiritual development of the Youth Group, the church’s Confirmation program and the religious education of high school students.

“Last year", Montana told me, "our Teen Mass was extremely successful. This year, I thought a lot about a new approach that would involve the teens not just for one Mass for one day but in an enduring  personal spiritual experience."

"When the idea came to me one night, I realized it was not mine.  It was inspired by the Holy Spirit. I talked to our kids about it and to our Lay Liturgy Minister, Mary Anne Plourde, Deacon Paul Kulas and our Contemporary Music Director, Lisa Carroll. Together, we began a Teen Liturgy Project that would be an educational and spiritual journey of several months for the kids.”

The 10th graders were organized in four groups each working, respectively, with Montana, Deacon Paul, Plourde and Carroll.  The result was the creation of a Mass by the kids who learned and understood the construction of the Mass and how it all comes together.  "They learned much more and were spiritually uplifted," said Lay Liturgy Minister Mary Anne Plourde.  Deacon Paul was inspired by the eagerness of the teen agers and that it became an interesting voyage of education in the traditions, symbols and significance of each part of the Mass.

Plourde worked with the kids on the development of the Liturgy, understanding the scriptures for the mass as they selected teen lectors and readers of the petitions and prayers.  With her guidance, kids developed a theme for the homily to be delivered by the celebrating priest, Fr. Alex Avendano of St. Joseph Parish in Bristol, a young priest ordained about two years ago.  St. Dominic Pastor, Fr. Ron May said “Fr. Alex has an excellent rapport with teens. This project really gets to the core of faith formation in youngsters who are quite excited about it.”

As for the Praise and Worship Music preceding the Mass, the kids planned it with Lisa Carroll who is renowned in Southington, Bristol and surroundings for her theatrical and musical work in developing the interest and artistic talents of teens in the Apple Valley area.

Meanwhile, Montana supervised the work of Youth Group leaders, James Brino and Justine Griffin, both SHS seniors, as coordinating planners of the mini-retreat starting at 5 pm following the Mass.

Brino said “We came up with the name: God Outside the Box for the retreat, where we see God in our non-traditional, everyday life, not just in church.”

 Griffin said: “The retreat will help kids to see God in their classes at school, at work and in their everyday activities.” Brino and Griffin are excellent A.P. students at SHS and are involved in many volunteer activities in the community.  Brino is an Eagle Scout and Griffin is one of the more active Youth Council’s representatives on the STEPS Board.

Parents and families will be in attendance on March 13th at 3:30 pm. All teens and families are welcome to attend the Mass, the mini-retreat and join in refreshments.

Personally, I see the glass half full rather than half empty when it comes to the teens in our communities. There are so many youngsters working in the right direction for their future and our society's. It is right for us, the parents, adult and senior citizens to recognize, appreciate and proclaim the good citizenship of our teens ... among whom there will be solid contributors to the world of the future and hopefully, an inspiration to parents and teens who can have a more positive future than they now see.

More about the youth in our story . . .

Justine Griffin, SHS Senior, Class of 2016,
Member of STEPS Youth Council, STEPS Advisory Board and Southington Dominic Youth Group. 
Speaking about STEPS:  "I really want to reach out to the adults of Southington and have them understand how dedicated and how hard the youth of this community work to promote lifelong success and leave lasting lessons for everyone, not just for us kids." Wherever Justine goes within the community, Justine's presence leaves a meaningful mark. 

James Brino, SHS Senior, Class of 2016 and member of the St.b Dominic Youth Group.  Shown at right of Rochambeau Monument on Oct 23, 2015 at the dedication of his Eagle Scout Project: The Rochambeau Monument honoring special place in the War of Independence honoring Washington's Army and the French General and his troops who planned the final battle in Southington preceding the surrender of the British in New York.   
Brino is shown at right of monument 

surrounded by Southington Town officials in the presence of his family, friends, fellow Boy Scouts and guests.

Scroll through our many past posts for stories about the great community that Southington is and the many teens and youngsters who help make it so. 

More about STEPS ...

Based on an article published in the Appleseed column in the March 11, 2016 edition of the Southington Citizen by freelance writer, Dick Fortunato. Comments welcome below or at

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