By JANE WILSON, Special Contributor | Published November 30, 2006
Dressed in their finest and ready to have fun, young adults from across the archdiocese gathered at St. Ann Church in Marietta on Saturday, Nov. 4, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the archdiocesan Young Adult Ministry (YAM) program with a dinner dance and awards presentation. The event gave YAM leaders and participants the chance to look back on how YAM has grown and how the ministry has enriched their lives, as well as to consider what the future holds.
“Ten Years Young and Still Strong” was the theme of the evening, and approximately 220 YAM members joined together in high spirits to prove this slogan true. Masters of ceremonies Mike Judge and Nicole LeClair led the evening’s program, which included a blessing and address by Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, who, as always, expressed his pride in the young adult community of the archdiocese.
Attendees enjoyed a slide show and videos featuring various YAM activities and participants explaining their impressions of YAM, describing how YAM has impacted their lives, and thanking the many YAM leaders of the past and present. Awards were presented after a buffet supper, and then it was “time to boogie” as the DJs took control of the event and attendees made their way to the dance floor to dance the night away.
The awards ceremony honored the many people who have given their time and talents to making YAM the dynamic, vibrant organization it has grown to be over the past 10 years. Many of the awards had two recipients—one who is “10 years strong” in the group and another who is “still young” to YAM. Nominees were originally solicited from the YAM e-mail list and from past directors, and the final winners were selected by committee.
The dinner dance was the culmination of several months of hard work by YAM director Dorothy Polchinski, associate director Lisa Eberhardt, and program coordinator Ana Nagel, assisted by a host of YAM volunteers.
Eberhardt noted, “Ten years is a good time to look back at where we’ve come from and to thank those who were foundational and who have continued to be instrumental to the ministry throughout its 10 years. It’s also a great time to begin looking forward to the next 10 years.”
The young adult program is the brainchild of its group’s first director, Janice Givens, who was the recipient of the Archbishop’s Award at the anniversary event. In 1996, Givens was working in Atlanta for the Olympics; when the Olympic Games were over, she needed a job and began to look for opportunities within the Catholic community. As a youth minister, she recognized the need for spiritual community for young people who had left high school and were beginning their journey as adults—a need that was not at that time being met in the archdiocese.
Assisted by some well-timed interest in the young adult community on the part of the church, she ultimately convinced the archdiocese to give her a job to create the Young Adult Ministry. According to Givens, interest in the ministry was immediate and passionate among young adults in the archdiocese. The original YAM programs, To Encounter Christ (TEC) retreats and Theology on Tap, both of which are still going strong today, were instantly popular.
Looking out at the group gathered to celebrate the 10th anniversary, Givens observed that the most important thing that YAM has accomplished has been to offer young Catholics a connection to each other.
“People want to find each other,” said Givens. “Every one of these people has a story, every one has a need, and YAM can fill those needs.” She pointed out that a number of vocations, marriages and conversions have come from the YAM community. According to Givens, the program today is the best young adult program in the country.
This sentiment was echoed by both Polchinski and Eberhardt. Polchinski said, “It was very obvious to me during my interview with the archdiocese and during my first few months as the director of young adult ministry that we had an amazing bunch of young adults. As a young adult I’ve lived in Dallas, Los Angeles and Minneapolis. Out of all of those metropolitan areas I have not seen a group as vibrant nor as well as well-connected to one another as here in Atlanta.”
Eberhardt’s experience is similar. She’s lived in three other dioceses during her young adult years but was frustrated by their lack of attention to the young adult community. Two of them offered no activities for young adults, and in the third she found only a loosely organized group that she nonetheless adopted. She said, “Being far away from my own family, I needed that group in order to thrive as a person and as a Catholic. The ‘family’ that I fought so hard for a few years ago is already established here in Atlanta and is always ready to welcome new members. There’s always something going on—social and spiritual events sponsored by the archdiocesan YAM office and the various parish and affiliated groups, sports leagues, and community service projects. It’s a dynamic, active and involved community that eats, prays, studies, travels and plays together several days a week. With so many options, it’s possible for any young adult to join our community and participate as much or as little as desired.”
The appeal of the wide variety of YAM activities was mentioned by several of the participants at the celebration. Former director Kersti O’Farrell noted that YAM offers many different opportunities to “find a community in the church” and to “find Christ in life.” She singled out the Atlanta Catholic Sports League (ACS) and the TEC retreats as two of the biggest reasons that YAM has worked so well through the years. The ACS has offered many participants a low-pressure enjoyable way to get involved in YAM, and the TEC retreats have given many young adults the “chance to meet and fall in love with Jesus Christ.”
Susan Jenkins, an attendee who has been involved with YAM from the beginning, moved to Atlanta in 1993. Away from her family and friends, she looked to YAM to give her a community and has enjoyed the friendships she has made through the group. She compared the growth of YAM over the past 10 years to a “tree blooming—it starts off with just a trunk, and now there are many branches.” She went on to point out that YAM participation often leads young adults to other young adult groups and to community service.
Sarah Asbrey has come to YAM more recently but is just as passionate about the importance of YAM to her life. A recent convert, she states that in YAM, “I feel like I am home, and this is my family.”
Long-time YAM participant Larry Schauer, who was one of the recipients of the Outreach Award, echoed that sentiment. He explained that YAM has given him a “faith community—a family away from real family.” The organization “provides family, foundation and friendships … the opportunity for spiritual growth as well as social and sports activities.” He hopes that YAM will continue to grow in the next 10 years. He sees the chance to connect the various parishes, noting that “Atlanta is a big city but can also be a small community.” Schauer sees a huge potential for YAM growth in reaching out to young members and college students.
The future looks bright for YAM and its members. Former director Givens hopes that YAM will continue to seek diversity in its membership and foresees the time when “hub” YAM groups are scattered across all parts of the archdiocese. And the current director Polchinski also sees expansion in the group’s future: “I would like to see the YAM community reach out more to their peers and to continue to invite and welcome people into their various organizations. I would also like to see more young adult ministry developed at the parish level.”
However it develops, the group gathered for the celebration is proof that the young adult ministry is alive and thriving in Atlanta.