Like so many things, it starts with a prayer and a theme. Cool Catholic Youth, a program created by Father Mike Polinek and coined by Megan Bevevino, is helping to get the youth in Warren County more involved with religion. Their meetings include youth from St. Joseph's, Holy Redeemer, and St. Luke's in Youngsville ranging from middle school all the way to high school students.
Fr. Polinek, who was at St. Joe's Church at the time, was charged with reviving the Youth Group programs that had suffered major decline, recalled Jen Wortman, facilitator of religious education at St. Joe's. Due to a shortage of priests in the area, there was a push within the diocese to combine resources that resulted in the formation of the now county-wide Cool Catholic Youth program.
After Fr. Polinek was reassigned to Erie, the staff at St. Joe's was left with the task of finding someone to take over where he left off. That's where Gannon graduate and Clearfield native, Caitlin Ryan comes in. A Google search and the right credentials led her to the Erie Diocese website and a short time later she found herself in Warren.
As youth director, Ryan is currently in charge of planning and organizing the meetings. The meetings start with a prayer and a central theme relating to a scripture verse around which many of the activities are planned. In addition, food is provided and members are able to play games in the gym. It all ends with a prayer and any intentions they might have.
"We want them to have fun and still have a Christian-based value system that they can share with each other," said Wortman.
"In order to do this," Ryan added, "the kids are encouraged to own the meetings." This can mean anything from planning skits to adding input about ideas for activities.
The most important thing that Ryan and Wortman want kids to know is that it is a safe environment. No one has to step out of their comfort zone. "It's really cool to see," added Ryan. "A lot of them go to the same schools, are on the same sports teams, and have a prior connection despite attending different churches. There are no divisions." Everyone is welcome even if they aren't Catholic.
Several events have been planned for the following months including a Basket Raffle during the Craft Fair on Dec. 1 from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at St. Joe's and Family Fun Nights that will feature a Christmas Dinner, a Super Bowl party and a trip to Washington, D.C. for the March for Life. In October, the Box City event outside of St. Joe's raised money and awareness for A Safe Place.
Cool Catholic Youth meets on the first and third Sunday of every month for high school students and the second Sunday of the month for middle schoolers. Anyone who is interested in joining should contact Ryan at either St. Joe's or Holy Redeemer's church offices.