Youth helping the homeless

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Youth from St. James Parish are lacing up their walking shoes and raising funds to support the homeless.

The St. James Catholic Church youth ministry is collecting pledges to participate in the Coldest Night of the Year walk, which is made up of 2K, 5K and 10K routes in downtown Calgary, beginning at Eau Claire Market on Feb. 24. Last year the walk raised about $105,000 for organizations caring for the homeless. The fundraising goal for the Calgary walk is $80,000 this year.

“It’s a great thing for our youth to see that homelessness doesn’t have just one face or one age or one gender, that homelessness affects the working poor, those who live directly on the streets,” said Amy Heggenstaller-Boon, St. James youth ministry co-ordinator. “They’ll see people their own age, people older than them and younger than them, grandmas, grandpas, moms and dads, and it really helps them realize the needs that’s so local.”

Coldest Night of the Year is an annual, Canada-wide event. This year, two charities will benefit from the Calgary walk: Feed the Hungry and KAIROS.

Feed the Hungry is an international initiative sponsored locally by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Calgary, which provides dinner on Sunday nights to about 500 homeless people at St. Mary’s Parish Hall in the Mission area of the city. KAIROS Calgary is made up of 130 congregations from 10 Christian denominations and has an Affordable Housing Working Group that helps families at risk of or experiencing homelessness by volunteering and fundraising to pay off mortgages in affordable housing communities.

Heggenstaller-Boon said supporting both charities through one event helps serve both ends of the homeless epidemic – affordable housing and hunger.

The St. James youth decided to take on Coldest Night of the Year as a service project because it allowed them to research, plan, raise money and participate in something important, she said.

“We talked about what they want from youth ministry, what do they think their job is and what do they hope to get from this programming, and they said it’s being taken seriously and being active,” said Heggenstaller-Boon. “Then we had a conversation about what they want to talk about, what they care about. Social justice is really on their hearts.”

This is the first time a youth group has participated in the Coldest Night of the Year through the Catholic diocese, she said. To make it more of a community effort, the St. James youth have been setting up their booth at locations in town, including the Okotoks Recreation Centre, Sobey’s and an Okotoks Oilers game. As of Jan. 31 they had raised almost $2,000.

“They didn’t want to just go out and talk to friends and family, they wanted to be sharing the cause,” said Heggenstaller-Boon.

The youth participating in the Coldest Night of the Year are not necessarily involved with the parish’s regular youth group – some choose to attend youth group nights while others opt for service only, and some take part in both aspects of youth ministry.

“It’s about giving them opportunities to grow and challenge in a number of ways,” said Heggenstaller-Boon. “Our youth can make small actions that make big impacts, and they start to see the power of the now and the choices they make. It’s really important to how they are as people.”

For Ethan Keller, Coldest Night of the Year is the first project he’s helped out with, and he said he’s enjoyed working with his peers for charity.

“It’s really fun,” said Keller. “Everybody’s really nice and easy to talk to.”

Being involved is about more than joining with fellow youth from her church community for Amanda Johnson. When she was two-and-a-half, she was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome and had two bone marrow transplants as a toddler.

“I’m a cancer survivor,” said the Grade 7 student. “I want to give back to my community as they gave to me. That’s one reason I’ve joined.”

Johnson said she’s grateful to the community and wants to give back by helping charities and other people who are in need.

“It’s nice to help people who don’t have as much as we do,” she said.

For more information or to donate to the St. James Youth group campaign, visit https://cnoy.org/location/calgary.

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