Growing up in a Salesian parish has been a tremendous blessing. When I moved to Orange, N.J., I was 11 years old, and I started to attend the youth center on Friday nights. I was a very shy and timid kid, but the brothers always made me feel so welcome and somehow knew that I loved food. As I started to get to know them, I quickly got involved in many of the parish’s activities. I loved attending camp in the summers, youth group, the soup kitchen, altar serving, and even receiving my Confirmation.
The years quickly went by, and before I knew it, it was time to apply to college, but I knew exactly where I wanted to go: Seton Hall University. Not only did I want to attend their intensive nursing program, but I also knew that I would see my brothers there, and it provided an environment that would enrich my faith.
Now at 23 years old, I have known the Salesians over half my life, and they have had a tremendous impact on me. I have grown immensely in my faith, I’ve grown into a servant leader, and I’ve undertaken tasks I never thought I could do. For example, in the summer of 2014, with the help of Fr. Vince [Paczkowski] (may he rest in peace), I created the Don Bosco soccer program for high school students. The youth center provides a safe environment where students share their love of soccer, but it is also a place where they practice how to be good Christian role models. I never thought I could quickly grasp the attention of high school students, and I learned that I had an amazing ability to interact with kids, which led me to become more involved in our youth ministry program. I clearly remember the wonderful experiences I made when I went to SLR and Gospel Roads, which is why I love taking our OLV students. We’ve even had some of them go twice and participate in leadership roles as young team members.
Because of my parish, youth ministry has been instilled in my blood. Two weeks ago I graduated from Seton Hall University with my Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree, and I’ve never felt so free! I am currently studying for my boards, but I’m also in the middle of helping plan for our summer camp and our youth ministry programs. There’s always a lot to do in Orange, and I am thankful for the Salesian Family God has given me.
My journey at Our Lady of the Valley Parish began about 12 years ago. I began with going to Spanish Mass on Saturdays at 7:00 p.m. with my sister and mother. I wasn’t familiar with Mass, and I didn’t understand why we had to go to Mass; I went because my mom went.
Fall came, and one of the brothers from the house of formation told me about the activities that take place on Fridays at the youth center. I went the next Friday and fell in love with it. I started going every Friday. Eventually I found myself being more interested in the Salesian Family and who Don Bosco was. So my mother signed me up for Sunday school, where I eventually made my first Communion and Confirmation.
Our Lady of the Valley Parish means the world to me. I have participated in many activities such as field trips, I went to summer camp, and eventually I became a volunteer for the summer camp. I joined the youth group and went to Salesian retreats. The brothers took me to my first-ever basketball game. So I have many memories with the brothers of the parish. The OLV community became my second family, my home away from home, and a place I loved to be because I felt loved by the Salesians.
That unbreakable love is one of the many reasons why I am still there today. They’ve taught me about a great man named Don Bosco and how he spent his life helping the less fortunate kids who didn’t have much or didn’t have families. Don Bosco inspired me to help out as much as I can when I can—which is the reason I participate on Salesian retreats so I can learn to spread Don Bosco’s love and joy to those in need!
This summer I am part of Gospel Roads in New York. It’s a great pleasure, honor, and blessing to be part of the Salesian community of Our Lady of the Valley Parish! Now it’s time for me to go away to college and put into practice all I have learned from the Salesians of the valley of Orange.
Source: Salesians SUE