Young Adult Outreach Is Where Community and Faith Meet

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One of the archdiocese’s brightest success stories in recent years has been the formation and development of its Young Adult Outreach, which uses a strong network and a personal touch to support the spiritual and social growth of young Catholics from ages 21 to 39 across the archdiocese’s 10 counties. About 100 young adult groups are connected with Young Adult Outreach through parishes, archdiocesan agencies such as Catholic Charities or affiliate career groups, especially in New York City, with many independently run by Catholic artists, finance and technology professionals. Colin Nykaza, director of Young Adult Outreach, leads the team that brings together the groups, activities and services for young adult Catholics. “Our job is to serve and support them in any way we can,” Nykaza told CNY in an interview last week. Nykaza had been a seminarian until six months before he began working for the archdiocese nearly eight years ago. At that time, Young Adult Outreach was part of the archdiocesan Family Life Office. When Cardinal Dolan upgraded Young Adult Outreach to a stand-alone office, other coordinators were hired. Mary Elise Zellmer is the office’s assistant director and coordinator of Region 1, which includes groups, programs and activities, in Manhattan and Staten Island. Region 2, which includes the upper counties of the archdiocese, operates under coordinator Luigi Manente, and Region 3, which includes the Bronx, much of Westchester County and all of Rockland County, will soon be hiring a new coordinator to replace one who recently moved out of state. Other staff members are Christy Vaissade, the senior logistics coordinator, and Kaitlyn Colgan, the office administrator. Although Nykaza said it’s hard to come up with an exact number of young adults who participate in the various offerings, he noted the office has “tens of thousands” on email lists when they are combined with affiliates. Its catholicnyc.com website is a must-check source of information for young Catholics on subjects from events to apartment listings to volunteer opportunities. The office’s Facebook and Instagram pages and Twitter feed are also popular. “We have a lot of portals where people can find out about stuff,” Nykaza said. Once young adults check in, they can benefit from a four-category system designed to serve them, and to help connect them to God and each other. The components are Disciple Events, which are sacramental opportunities; Friend Events, which are catechetical events; Acquaintance Events, for special events and volunteer opportunities, and Seeker Events, which are secular in nature. The Friend Events, to pick one of the categories, focus on giving participants an opportunity to learn about their faith through events like the weekly Love and Responsibility summer series now taking place at Immaculate Conception parish in Manhattan. Other examples of Friend Events include Theology on Tap, Catholic book clubs and Bible studies. Nykaza said the key is meeting the person where he or she is and inviting them to the right category at the start of their journey. That may mean beginning with a jazz night or helping out at a prom for special needs students and then moving on to a Young Adult Mass offered by Cardinal Dolan at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. “We have a good feel of where they are at in their faith,” Nykaza said. “By talking to someone you can tell where they are at.” Luigi Manente, the Region 2 coordinator, said many times young adults begin attending events because “they want to be in community” with other young people of a similar age and background. Because of the age range, participants may be single, married, widowed, divorced and single parents. A fair number are college-age students, perhaps attending a school without Catholic campus ministry or are not currently enrolled. “We love them where they are, and we walk with them,” said Manente, 36, a parishioner of St. Columba in Hopewell Junction who is married with three young children. Manente said he and the members of the leadership teams for the region he oversees are cognizant of “the way we act,” especially toward newcomers, so trust can be built. Monthly co-ed basketball and volleyball nights played at St. Columba in Hopewell Junction are great turnkey activities, especially for those not overly engaged with their faith at the outset. “We want them to know us as the disciples we are,” Manente said. The geography of the archdiocese’s upper counties is much more spread out than New York City’s, so there are four regional young adult communities: Credo Young Adults, for Northern Westchester and Putnam; The Catholic Corps, for Orange County; Revive Catholic Young Adults, for Ulster County; and Ignite Young Adults, for Dutchess County. Maribel Brenes, 28, has served as a leadership team member for Credo Young Adults, which is based at St. Patrick’s parish in Yorktown Heights. Now the communications coordinator, she formerly served as the group’s president. A graphic artist by profession, Ms. Brenes brings her expertise to design promotional materials and she also sends weekly emails and makes regular social media posts. She got involved with Credo five or six years ago after receiving an email from her pastor, Father Richard Gill, of St. Lawrence O’Toole in Brewster. “It’s helped me to understand how important it is to keep faith as part of my daily life,” said Ms. Brenes, who noted that observing the good practices of other members has been “inspirational” for her. She said she enjoys events with more of a religious flavor, such as monthly faith formation meetings, as well as social events, like the field day coming up Saturday, July 13, with sports games and hiking as well as a Mass and barbecue. Ms. Brenes received an extra special benefit from her participation. She met her fiancé, Michael Saccomanno, through Credo, and the two plan to be married in September. “It’s given us more chances to spend time together,” she said. “As Catholics who are committed to our faith, we always have that connection.”

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