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WACY youth group continue diocesan leadership program


In the chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic, one parish made sure its youth didn’t miss out on the popular leadership program, the Christian Leadership Institute. The Wyoming Association of Catholic Youth, affectionately known as WACY, held their own version of CLI, formerly hosted by the diocesan Department of Youth & Young Adult Ministries.

CLI has been presented to large groups of high schoolers in the Diocese of Buffalo for over 40 years. This is the first time it has been taken down to a parish level. The WACY program taught the same communications skills, explained the different styles of leadership, and used the same activities to put the lessons into practice. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the WACY CLI was not a weeklong overnight, but comprised of five long days, July 22-26. The attendees used St. Vincent School gym in Attica, allowing enough space to keep a safe distance from each other.

“We used the same lessons. We had to fit a lot of it into a smaller time frame because we couldn’t spend the night,” explained Elijah Stringham, a small group leader for this event. “We did a lot of the same activities. Some of the more physical ones we couldn’t do due to COVID. I think the biggest difference was the size, because there weren’t quite as many people. So, the small-group size was three people instead of 10 people. Other than that, we did all the same leadership training.”

Stringham attended CLI two years ago and finds herself using the skills in many facets of her young life.

“I use the leadership skills in Student Council. I use them in our youth group to lead each small group and plan fundraisers. I’m a class officer at school, so I’ve been able to use a lot of the communication skills in that,” she said. “It changed my life a lot in a good way.”

The idea to continue the program for her youth group came from Jessica Scharlau, who had undergone the diocesan program in 2016.

“I felt that the leadership training was really important. It gives a lot of life skills. So, I figured why not help out,” she said.

Scharlau and Laura Fontaine presented the topics, with assistance from Michael Slish, former program director for the Diocese of Buff alo’s Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministries. Teens who had previously attended CLI served as small group leaders. Each day a lesson would be introduced, then explored through small group discussions and activities.

“I thought it was fun. We did lots of games. We did activities,” said Oscar Stringham from Immaculate Conception Parish in East Bethany. “We learned lots of communication skills and what kind of leaders there are and what leader you should be depending on the situation and basically, how to lead in the right way.”

Stringham, 14, is interested in becoming a small group leader in his parish youth group. At school, there are opportunities to use his newfound skills on student council and as a class officer. He feels the communication skills he learned can be useful in any situation.

Based in the Wyoming County town of Sheldon, WACY draws in people from 10 different parishes in Erie, Cattaraugus, Wyoming and Genesee counties. About 50 kids show up at an average meeting.

“These kids just want to be together,” explained Theresa Zielinski, youth minister for WACY. “WACY is a peer-led youth ministry. We have a lot of adult mentors, but everything we do is youth planned, organized and executed. We guide and direct them some. So, we have a Youth Leadership Team, sort of like the Youth Board. They plan all of our meetings; the topics we’re going to discuss; everything we do basically. So, we need leaders. Actually, this year, all of my leaders who have been trained through CLI will be graduating this coming year.”


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