Emily Kwiatkowski returned to CLI 12 years after first learning the skills of a Christian leader. Now, a leader in her own right, she wants the young people of her parish to experience the learning, the challenge and the friendship she did.
The Christian Leadership Institute is a weeklong youth leadership training program hosted by the diocesan Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministry, held this year from June 24-30. Teen participants learn communication skills, planning skills, group dynamics, decision-making and sacrificing for the group - the basic skills in being a Christian leader.
The program launched Kwiatkowski into involvement in her parish and the Church as a whole. She now serves as pastoral associate and Youth Minister at St. Mary, Holley & St. Mark, Kendall.
"CLI was really the catalyst for leading me into parish involvement in our Church," she said during a lunch break. "I came to CLI at the recommendation of one of our faith formation teachers. Her daughter had done it probably 12 years before I did it, and she got a lot out of it. We didn't have a youth group. We just had religious ed. I think a lot of faith formation ends with confirmation, at least that is the mindset of a lot of people. CLI helped me engage in the parish community that I came from. It got me more involved. We started a youth group. I was on the parish council in high school. It was really the catalyst for me wanting to be involved in youth ministry and the life of the Church as a whole."
Sister Therese Chmura, CSSF, director of Lifelong Faith Formation for St. Mary, Lancaster, picks teens in her parish who seem to be good role models for younger kids. Last year, she found Jonathan Surdej fit the bill.
"Jonathan came back on fire with his faith, and much more self confident, and eager to see what he could do in the parish to share what he learned. I would like to send someone every year from our parish. We are the beneficiaries of what is done at CLI," Sister Therese said. "He came home with great enthusiasm for the program and his own faith. So, immediately we got him involved in the middle school program where he was a constant there. He led an icebreaker every single Monday evening with our middle school students. He helped this year with our confirmation retreat. He's just an excellent role model for our young people."
Surdej's ambition kicked in immediately.
"I think after the first day I was really motivated to make a difference in my community because, as a young person, you think there is only so much that you can do," he said. "Coming here for one day and meeting all these people, what I started to understand was that I can make a huge difference, not only in my own life, but in other people's lives by talking to them or being there for someone when the hard times come. CLI brought me as a person together because I was going through hard times."
This year Sister Therese chose Jonathan's sister, Natalia, to attend.
Through sports, jobs, hobbies and school involvement, teens today have plenty of opportunities to use the skills they learn from CLI.
"I think the biggest thing for me right now is just everyday opportunities that present themselves for engaging in leadership positions and changes for the better grow exponentially," said Carter Neumann from St. Mary's in Holley. "There are so many things that can be improved upon and so many ideas that will be staring us right in the face that just need the right people to carry them on. This week is going to enable people to step up and start making those changes for the better."
As a member of the youth group, the 15-year-old serves as an altar server and trains others to aid priests at Mass. Outside of Church he has a job at Ledgedale Airpark in Brockport leading youth into a greater appreciation for aviation. "In my own family, I'm the oldest of nine kids, so just helping to keep the family more together and lead them to greater success in life," he said.
Alexandra Judge's teachers at Sacred Heart suggested she attend, but the 16-year-old didn't want to commit to an overnight session. When she found out CLI is a requirement for Youth Board, she knew she was meant to be here.
"I was like, 'This is really a sign. I have to go. Everyone is saying I should go.' That's what ended up with me coming here," she said.
Youth Board is a group of young leaders in the diocese who work as advocates for youth as well as planners of youth events.
"We want them to have training and preparation to undertake that role. It's helpful for Youth Board members to have a common language to refer to the leadership concepts that we're learning and we're practicing, and use those to guide the year. Also, a large part of their work is planning, so to have them familiar with that process and what it really means to plan effectively and to plan for the needs of a group, whether it's their own group of 12 this year or the larger group of the diocese as we try to serve them," said Michael Slish. "We're the Diocesan Youth Board, so it's important that they know how to serve our Church."