Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Youth Get ‘Extreme Makeover,’ Atlanta-Style

Published November 3, 2005

As teen musicians hold a jam session on the nearby Catacombs Café stage, Hiroki Saotome, a high school senior from Michigan, huddles over a white binder with piles of Christmas cards and foam board before him. He has placed a yellow cross, an orange ichthus symbol and a picture of the Nativity on the cover of what will be a Christmas present for his mother.

“She likes this sort of thing,” he explains.

First-time rosary maker Becky Silvia says she has mastered the trickiest part of crafting maroon twine into a knotted rosary for her mother. “It’s the spacing,” confides the high school senior from Omaha, Neb. “My mom prays the rosary all the time and my grandmother always has one next to her bedside.”

Four Biloxi teens tie knots along the edges of blue fleece as they create a blanket that soon will swaddle a premature baby.

“I love this,” says senior Chaz Middleton, who added, “you’ll be able to tell the girls’ side (of the blanket) from the guys.”

Besides listening to keynote speakers and attending workshops at the National Catholic Youth Conference Oct. 27-29, youth accepted the challenge to experience an “Extreme Makeover—the Catholic edition.”

“We tried to touch base with youth ministers and teens,” said Janice Givens, manager of the NCYC thematic park. “Every single one said it was an amazing experience.”

The 2005 version of the thematic park, called Peachtree Corners, included four quadrants—mind, body, spirit and community—offering 25 “extreme experiences.” In the center of the large convention hall, the size of four football fields, stood a large tree, which participants decorated with their prayer intentions written on peach-shaped pieces of paper.

“We wanted to present the flavor of Atlanta, the flavor of the Atlanta Archdiocese—the eucharistic influence, the Life Teen influence, the praise and worship influence.”

With past experience in youth ministry and coordinating large events like Super Bowls, World Cups and the Olympics—but not having attended an NCYC previously—Givens along with other organizers began meeting in November 2004 to plan the area from scratch. They hoped to fashion three levels of activities.

“The top level was a place where (teens) could let their energy out, where they could run, jump, kick,” she said.

Youth played soccer, basketball and participated in Twister games on a Twister board that now holds the world record in size. To participate, teens donated a canned good. Seminarians from the Atlanta Archdiocese played putt-putt golf with kids, who also took advantage of air hockey and pool tables as part of the Master’s Clubhouse.

“The second level was for people who wanted to learn more about their faith, those who wanted to learn about Catholic beliefs,” Givens explained.

This level included experiences in all quadrants, whether it was playing pro-life jeopardy, learning about the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, Fair Trade or HIV-AIDS or meeting representatives from Catholic colleges and religious orders.

The last level provided an opportunity to “go deeper,” Givens said. Set in a quieter corner, The Passion of the Christ Prayer Walk allowed participants to view actual relics from Jesus’ last hours, which included a piece of His cross and part of a bone from several of the apostles. Youth also learned about the history of eucharistic adoration at the Spirit and Truth booth.

They “gobbled up everything,” Givens observed.

Vendors were also on hand selling popular T-shirts with Catholic messages, items crafted by cooperatives benefiting low-income workers, and music CDs with a chance to meet performers.

The success of the park would not have occurred “had it not been for eucharistic adoration and the prayer going on.”

“It was obvious to me that we had to have a prayer base,” Givens said. “We were just the front line.”

Those on the planning committee experienced “significant spiritual warfare” in the form of medical emergencies, lost jobs and other personal challenges.

“It just means it’s going to be good,” she observed. “We kept saying that if one heart, one life was changed that would make it all worthwhile.”

Givens admitted that there were many “Plan Bs,” such as when an exhibition soccer team canceled on her the night before they were to come. She quickly called Father Kevin Peek and his sister Christine, who plays on Givens’ soccer team, to fill in.

“God was in charge of the whole park. We just had to try to keep up with Him.”

She credited the wonderful volunteers serving as “the face of Christ.” These included 52 students from St. Pius X High School in Atlanta who dressed up as saints they had researched. The students roamed the hall during the conference.

“Their attitude and genuineness and their real desire to act in character was just amazing, just wonderful,” Givens said.

Leaders on the planning committee included: Joe Cruz, Michelle Basket, Michael Gagnon, Kelly Griffin, Victoria Haddad, Nickie Jantzer, Carol Kruskamp, Ralph LaMachia, Linda Urquhart, Sharon Machek, Kevin McCarron, John Phillips, Sally Scardasis, Bill Schreiner, Marisa Sierra, Marsha Thomas and Greg Willits.

Givens also recognized the generosity of the park’s sponsors: Southern Catholic College; “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”; Chick-fil-A; the Atlanta Archdiocese Vocations Office; Catholic Heart Workcamp; Walk Thru the Bible; friends of the Atlanta Archdiocese Office of Youth Ministry; and

The sponsors contributed $10,000 to the overall budget and in-kind donations valuing $50,000.

“We asked to be His hands and feet,” Givens said. “He took ordinary people and created an extraordinary experience.”

As the dust settles, Givens hopes there will be a little left in her budget to follow up with teens in six months.

“We wanted to create a little slice of heaven where everyone was happy and joyful and loving each other.”