Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Youth Programs Find a Receptive Audience

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Youth Programs Find a Receptive Audience

Article excerpt

The number of young people joining youth groups at area churches is increasing, but the growth isn't just in numbers, Nassau County religious leaders say.

Father Mark Waters of St. Michael's Catholic Church in Fernandina Beach says he has noticed a difference in the sophistication level of students who attend his church's Sunday Night Live youth program.

"They don't really want to do fun things," Waters said. "They seem more interested in learning about their journey with God."

St. Michael's youth program director Jan Balota agrees, saying that young people also seem to be looking for explanations and solutions to the increase in violence they are exposed to by the media and elsewhere.

"Once it was social, but now it's more of a search for spiritual growth and getting some direction for life -- like 'what gives life meaning?' " Balota said. "I think their search is really about their gifts -- the gifts within themselves and 'how do I use my gifts?' "

Balota says 20 to 25 young people have been attending recent SNL get-togethers, compared to eight to 12 kids when she first came to St. Michael's six years ago.

Maggie Hill, a 15-year-old sophomore at Fernandina Beach High School, says it's all good.

"You just start realizing that God is more important than anything else in your life," Hill said. "We're all pretty serious about learning and finding out more.

"You don't have to go [to youth groups]; you go because you want to go," she said.

Hill said she especially enjoys group activities and discussions that help provide situational guidance for dealing with problems faced by most teenagers -- including their relationships with their parents.

"I've been gaining patience with them," Hill said. "I mean, like I realize that they're just doing their job."

Bert Way, youth program director at nearby St. …

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