BATESBURG-LEESVILLE—While many high school and college students spend their summer working, visiting the beach or just hanging out, the youth who are counselors at the diocesan Christian Leadership Institute take weeks of their vacation to help others learn about God’s love.
The institute is sponsored by the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry and is held annually at Camp Kinard for both junior high and high school students.
This year’s junior high session took place June 21-25, and the high school session will be July 12-16. Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone will celebrate Mass for the high school students on July 14.
The institutes started here in 1997 and their popularity grows yearly. Young people from every corner of the state spend time together learning ways to strengthen their Catholic faith and live out its message.
Each session is staffed by adult volunteers and student counselors, who are also members of the diocesan evangelization team, known as the E Team. Students must apply for the jobs and go through special training to learn how to reach out to other Catholic youth.
Most of the counselors attended CLI when they were younger, and are prepared for the challenges of days that begin with prayer at 7:30 a.m. The rest of the day features a full roster of Scripture study, recreation, sports and worship until around 10 p.m.
The counselors must prepare discussion topics for small groups, and lead sessions for young men and women only. Many of them also speak to the group as a whole on issues such as modesty, discipleship and Christian witness.
The work is more than worth it for Wendy Smits, 18, a sophomore majoring in nursing at the University of South Carolina in Columbia.
Smits is a member of St. Mary Help of Christians Church in Aiken and has served on the E Team since her sophomore year in high school.
“It’s great to see how the kids respond to what they learn at CLI, and to see them grow and get to know their faith during the week,” she said in a recent interview with The Miscellany. “I feel like my faith has grown in watching how they grow.”
She was taking a break from leading a group of students through volleyball and kickball games during the junior high session on June 25.
Smits said CLI is challenging for counselors because they have to learn how to deal with vastly different personalities and life experiences.
“You have to see past their exterior and realize that God loves them, and they need to be shown that love,” she said. “As long as the kids leave knowing God loves them, and we love them and we’ll be praying for them, I’m fine with that. I’d like them to remember that they had fun and experienced the church in a positive way.”
Another counselor, Andrew Fryml is a member of Jesus Our Risen Savior Church in Spartanburg. He said he started attending CLI in eighth grade and has been a counselor for three years.
The 20-year-old said the lessons he learned have been helpful on his journey toward a vocation to the priesthood. Fryml, who has attended Presbyterian College for the past two years, will begin studies at St. Andrew’s College Seminary at Seton Hall University in the fall.
“The work here is essentially just spreading God’s love,” he said. “Everyone becomes one big family through sharing God’s love. We see all the struggles the young people go through, and you see that sometimes they don’t have hope. Our job is to present the Lord’s hope. If one person says yes to the Lord and makes a relationship with Him while they’re here, the whole week is worth it.”
On June 25, students reflected on the spiritual lessons they learned during a session led by counselors Rachel Edmunds from Our Lady of the Hills Church in Columbia and Michael Mayeaux of Precious Blood of Christ Church on Pawleys Island.
Claire Kent, 13, of St. Gregory the Great Church in Bluffton, said she discovered how important prayer can be and how God’s hand touches everything.
“Now I understand how powerful prayer is,” Claire said. “I really feel how important prayer is and how much it can do. I now know Jesus and God are my best friends. I feel like I have a sturdy foundation underneath me for when I go home.”
Kevin Foley, 12, of St. Mary Magdalene Church in Simpsonville, said he has further developed his faith.
“Understanding your relationship with God helps you to grow, to build on the foundations you already have from home, and helps you in reaching your full potential as a Christian,” he said.