Iowa youth help California, Alaska teens get to national youth conference

DUBUQUE, Iowa (CNS) — The Archdiocese of Dubuque is once again this year sending the largest delegation in the country to the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis.

Youth from Iowa are seen at the closing Mass of the 2017 National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis. This year the Archdiocese of Dubuque is sending about 1,800 people to the Nov. 21-23 biennial event, and the Iowa youth are also helping teens in California and Alaska to attend. (CNS photo/Elizabeth Schlarmann, The Witness)

From Nov. 21-23, more than 1,200 teens and more than 400 adult chaperones from across the archdiocese will be attending the biennial event, which usually draws close to 23,000 participants.

While having a large number of NCYC participants is not new for the Iowa archdiocese, the effort by its young people to help their peers from other dioceses also attend is taking place for the first time.

Participants from parishes in the archdiocese have raised more than $5,000 for the Archdiocese of Anchorage, Alaska, and the Diocese of San Bernardino, California, to help offset travel costs for teens in those locations who wish to attend NCYC.

This funding help was the idea of Kevin Feyen, director of adolescent faith formation for the Archdiocese of Dubuque. While talking about NCYC with other diocesan directors from around the country, Feyen learned how expensive it was for dioceses in the western part of the U.S. to send their young people.

“The price for them to attend NCYC was three times more than it is for our teens,” Feyen told The Witness, Dubuque’s archdiocesan newspaper. “Most were only bringing 10 to 12 people.”

Feyen realized that if participants in his archdiocese were willing to chip in some money, even as little as $10 per person, they would be able to help offset some of the travels costs for distant dioceses and allow more individuals from those places to attend.

He took his idea to the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry, which hosts NCYC, and the organization suggested the Dubuque Archdiocese connect with Anchorage and San Bernardino.

At least 13 parishes in the Archdiocese of Dubuque have already made contributions to help these dioceses. Most parishes have sent in $10 for every person at the parish participating in NCYC, money earned through local fundraisers. Other churches have held second collections at Mass. Some chaperones have even made personal donations.

One of these parishes is St. Mary’s in Waverly, which is sending 35 teens to the conference. Julie Feldhake, coordinator of faith formation for students in fifth through 12th grades at the parish, said St. Mary’s students have been busy raising money to help young people in Alaska and California.

“Our students had a Valentine’s Day bake sale, we sold roses for Mother’s Day, we had a silent auction with items or services the teens made, and we also had a bowl-a-thon,” Feldhake said. “Each student was asked to donate 10% of their silent auction earnings.”

Feldhake said their efforts to help others attend NCYC have meant a great deal to her students.

“For those students who have been before, they know how meaningful a trip to NCYC can be. They want to help others to get to Indiana,” she told The Witness. “For those who haven’t been, but have had additional assistance due to extenuating circumstances, they know how grateful they are for help and are willing to try to help others.”

For their part, the beneficiaries of the archdiocese’s efforts are greatly appreciative.

“Anchorage is so blessed to have been provided with this gift,” said Matthew Beck, director of evangelization and discipleship for the archdiocese. “There are only a handful of teens at NCYC that will pay more to attend than a teen from Alaska.”

The cost per person for Anchorage delegates is about $1,450. “Taking a bus or train or driving are not viable options for us,” Beck explained. “So, we’re stuck with what’s a rather expensive airfare to Indianapolis at that time of year.”

While some of the 28 teens and adults traveling from Alaska to NCYC this year come from families that can afford the trip, “some of the teens that are coming are members of the poorest parish in town and couldn’t have even considered participating without the help from Dubuque’s solidarity fund.”

Twenty teens and adults from the San Bernardino Diocese also are going to NCYC this year. It’s the first year the diocese is sending a delegation. They raised their own funds, but the Iowa contributions have lowered the price enough to make the trip affordable.

In a video produced by the Southern California diocese to thank Dubuque, Berenice Villa, a coordinator of youth programs, said people in her diocese vary greatly in economic status and some just can’t afford opportunities like NCYC.

“This sponsorship,” she said, “will provide that opportunity for those teens that can’t (afford it) to have this experience that inspires them and fills them with hope to continue in their journey of faith.”

Feyen is pleased the archdiocese’s efforts are helping the Alaska and California teens get to NCYC, but also feels the fundraising project can provide Iowa youth with a valuable faith lesson.

“I hope our teens learn that even if each person does a small act of kindness, we as the church can make a huge impact,” he said.

By Jill Kruse-Domeyer, Catholic News Service. Kruse-Domeyer is on the staff of The Witness, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Dubuque.