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Opening My Eyes to Opportunities of Faith 
By Colleen Farris

Try to picture a place where you are comfortable finding your way around with a map. Now take the map away. Would you still be comfortable? How about if you were there with a friend? Church was my comfortable place, but I came to a fork in the road after confirmation. Then my friend and youth minister came along to help me open my eyes to the best path to my future. I opened my eyes and could not be any happier with what I found.

Baptism starts us on the journey of faith, and in confirmation we claim our faith so that we may begin the greater travels of our journeys. I failed to see this connection the year following my confirmation. Instead of becoming more involved within the church community I backed away. For most of my sophomore year I felt incomplete because I chose not to participate in youth ministry. If not for my youth minister noticing my talents and potential, I don’t think I would be the same person I am today. She invited me to be a part of the YouthLeader Camp, and now it is difficult for me to miss any function youth are called to be a part of.

Ever since I attended the Youthleader Camp, I have been able to relate the lessons I learned there to school, family and life altogether. (YouthLeader is a program held on the diocesan level designed to empower young people, aged 15 and older, for Christian leadership in the church and wider community.) This experience taught me not only how to be a good leader, but how to follow others, most importantly Jesus. I believe that I have participated in more church-related activities within the past two years than I ever imagined I would. These activities range from helping at the St. Francis Soup Kitchen and the I.M. Sulzbacher Center for the Homeless to heading up to Atlanta for the National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC). Each event had its own message; each one was a building block of faith that I picked up along my journey. I have sung with thousands of other youth and prepared 1,000 sandwiches. I have laughed, cried, danced, and prayed along my journey of faith, and I have met more people than I could count.
  Bishop Victor Galeone awards Colleen Farris a $1,000 college scholarship for her winning essay.

Back at our parish, the youth group presented the Stations of the Cross, and I was one of the speakers. I felt it is always good when youth are able to not only act out significant parts of our faith, but also share it with the wider community. Another instance where different generations interact within my parish environment is at our Fish Fry during Lent. It could easily be all adults dealing with the food but in letting a variety of people interact we are building a stronger foundation for the future of the church.

Speaking about the future of the church, I am not only one who is guided through our church teachings but one who tries to guide others. At the end of the summer break I had the joy of helping out at our parish’s Vacation Bible School program. This was a chance for youth, like myself, to help spread the lessons of faith to the children of our community. I am always overjoyed to see these children grow through a week of prayer and fun, but also saddened when they have to leave. This activity has been on of the greatest learning opportunities I have ever been apart of because it reminds me of how I should be thirsting for more about my faith and how the younger children will rise to fill my spot as I rise to fill those before me.

Another activity I participate in is what we call our Youth Ministry Core Team. In this group we, my youth minister and other students that attended YouthLeader Camp, organize events for the youth of the parish to take part in. This opportunity has opened my eyes to the ups and downs of organizing events. I am able to use my leadership and artistic skills at our meetings while getting to know more about my faith. We try to plan events all the youth can enjoy, and these events range from socials with other parishes to community service opportunities. Everything that I put into this group is reciprocated when I see the joy in the faces of the other youth of the parish.

When I am away from the parish I still try to apply the techniques I learned from YouthLeader and other church activities. At school, I am able to work well in a group; I can be a good leader or allow someone else to lead us through the project. I have also become more comfortable speaking in front of large groups of people. Through my experiences of faith I have claimed my gifts and put them to work in my church, school and family environments.

My personal faith journey started after confirmation; of course this was after a year of stumbling. Confirmation presented a fork in the road, but before I could turn down the wrong path a helpful hand opened up a world of possibilities. I do not know where I would be if it were not for my youth minister showing me the wide range of opportunities faith opens up. My faith journey is far from over, there may be more rough spots along the way, but now I know enough to search for the path that will strengthen my relationship with God - not pull me away.

Colleen Farris is a 2007 graduate of Frank H. Peterson Academies of Technology and an active parishioner at Most Holy Redeemer Parish in Jacksonville. She will be attending the University of Central Florida in Orlando this fall and plans to major in computer animation.