Lent Challenge Sparks Interest in Community Service
Chris Ferguson knows community service can ignite and deepen faith in young people. As the chaplain at Archbishop MacDonald high school, he’s seen it happen.
But it doesn’t come from “collecting hours,” he says; it happens when students “take their passions and what they’re good at and do something with it to benefit others.”
That’s why yegSpark, a new service initiative backed by a group of local Catholic agencies, grabbed his attention, and why he launched a Lent challenge to get 80 percent of staff and students at his school to become members.
Since he posted the challenge on Instagram Feb. 19, almost 100 have signed up for yegSpark and several have contributed to the service opportunities on offer, including recording storytelling videos for the kids of Catholic Social Services.
yegSpark is backed by the Edmonton Catholic Agency Network, which is lead by Archbishop Richard Smith and includes the archdiocese, Edmonton Catholic Schools, Covenant Health, Catholic Social Services, St. Joseph’s College, the Ukrainian Eparchy and Newman Theological College. It matches volunteers with simple, creative, and COVID-safe tasks meant to ease isolation and loneliness or bring joy with encouraging messages, art, or other projects.
More than 300 people have joined yegSpark in its first year. They’ve crocheted hundreds of button bands to make masks more comfortable for workers; painted cheerful rocks and wooden hearts to brighten the outdoor visitors area at a long-term care centre; sewed aprons for a women's shelter kitchen and nursing covers for moms with babies in the NICU; and knitted twiddlemuffs to comfort those with dementia.
“I have watched yegSpark grow and it truly is a spark,” says Archbishop Richard Smith. “Our community is full of ideas and energy and through yegSpark, they can create connection within our community and beyond.”
Ferguson says yegSpark’s fresh approach “aligns perfectly” with the one at MAC, where they have shifted away from the model that sometimes found students just looking for the “easiest way” to get the volunteer hours they need to graduate. Grade 10 students are encouraged to explore service by completing 10 works of mercy. In Grade 11, they focus on a particular service area or activity, to advance their understanding of discipleship. And in Grade 12, they plan and lead their own service projects, supported by their peers in lower grades.
He sees yegSpark’s potential to help organize and inspire these service journeys, by connecting willing volunteers with local charities and non-profits, by offering service variety to the younger grades, and by hosting and promoting the Grade 12 projects.
For now, the goal is just to get them to sign up, he says. Maybe there isn’t a service opportunity that is a good fit for them now, but there probably will be in future.
The potential benefit to the community from engaging hundreds of young volunteers is huge, he says with excitement. He hopes that many more agencies will want to get involved and, though they often prefer older, more experienced helpers, will consider taking on yegSpark’s young members, too – and not just to stuff envelopes or mop floors. For example, he points to the skilled computer graphics students at MAC who could help with website design.
“The yegSpark movement is the inspiration many of our students are looking for as they answer the call to a faith-filled life of service. It’s a place to go to find immediate ways to give back and make a difference,” shared Chief Superintendent Robert Martin.