WINTER SPRINGS | Jim Weir served as youth minister at St. Augustine Parish for seven years. During that time, he looked for a camp experience for his eighth through 12th graders that was “part conference, part service, and 100% Catholic.” Finding nothing, he and his wife, Heather, launched Alive in You, and on June 21-26 he brought the program home to its origins.
Weir said he wanted to bring it back because the Diocese of Orlando sends the most participants each year, and the most seminarians. This year, seven of the eight parishes participating in the program were from the Diocese of Orlando, and included 180 students.
Deacon Angel García, who will be ordained a priest next year, joined campers for the first time. Based out of Winter Springs this year, Deacon García noted, he was impressed “to see the teens working arduously at the work sites.” He said serving locally, “taught doing mission work does not necessarily mean you have to travel somewhere far, but the mission work begins in our own backyard.”
Among the locations served was House of Hope, a non-denominational residential program for troubled teens. The experience reminded the transitional deacon of Matthew 23:11 — “The greatest among you must be your servant.”
“It was truly a humbling experience, and especially for me as a deacon by exercising my role of diakonia equals service,” he said. “Here we were, doing grounds maintenance for some people we didn’t know, and it reminded me of how Christ calls us to serve one another.”
Bishop Grady Villas, The Sharing Center, Pathways to Care and 10 other sites shared the fruit of the students’ labor and care, being Christ wherever they went. Coordinating the service locations were two former participants, Julianna Nett, administrative assistant for youth and children’s ministries, and Chenele Shaw, youth director for Laity, Family and Life. In fact, much of Alive in You’s staff are former campers eager to return.
Nett said Alive in You is the “single reason” her faith exists. Her sister and brother-in-law are coordinator and musician, respectively, for the Catholic youth camp.
And that is what the Weirs are hoping for. Running five to six camps every summer since 2006 (in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina), the desire is for participants to have an encounter with Christ through service, daily Mass, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and Holy Communion, along with praise and worship while serving with their fellow parishioners and new friends in Christ.
Weir explained the camp focuses on youth in grades eight to 12 because that group is facing a crucial time in their lives. The theme “Legacy – Pentecost and the Power of the Holy Spirit” speaks to this moment. Many recently received Confirmation while others are in preparation. The theme harkens to the disciples who left a legacy of faith despite enduring difficult times. The parallel to the last two years brings home their mission to do the same and share their gifts within their community and beyond.
This was the first “bridge year” after the pandemic, and Weir wanted to offer the camp close to home. One of the participating parishes was St. Augustine in Casselberry, his former stomping grounds. That was a special joy for him and for them, according to Iliani Pérez, current youth director, who described the camp as “pretty awesome.”
Her group served at SALT Outreach, which has mobile showers and laundry for the homeless. Some teens did laundry and cleaned the bathrooms, and others prepared bags with snacks and sorted mail.
Weir’s own children are 12, 16 and 18. The two eldest assist with summer camps and the youngest is eager to start next year.
Holy Family in Orlando also participated in the program. Ellona Delac, youth minister, said one parent —Cindy Sykes — shared how the camp was a “transformative experience” that offered “phenomenal memories to last a lifetime.” She said her son returned from the six-day experience excited to talk to people about the events and adventures he had.
“He talked nonstop about the wonderful time he had, all the great people he met and how, while he was happy to be home, he wished it lasted a bit longer,” Sykes said. “The leaders were able to connect on a deeper level, relate to the kids and bring out the best of them.”
By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic staff, June 30, 2022