After college I wanted to gain some experience before entering the world of work. I looked around for some volunteering opportunities and found SPEC; a Catholic retreat centre for young people. I had never been to SPEC before nor had I ever heard of it, but, when I came to visit, it felt like home. At that point in my life I was quite shy, and talking in front of big groups, which was a main aspect of volunteering at SPEC, seemed daunting, but I had a feeling it would be ok.
My visit was two weeks before the year was to start. So, two weeks later, I hopped back on the train with my suitcase and went to start the year at SPEC. Throughout this year I experienced different ways of praying and learning who this man is that we call Jesus and what He desires to tell me about the love He has for me. The big way God spoke to me was through other people and their acts of love and appreciation for who I was and what God could do through me if I let Him. I saw throughout the year many teens come and witness the living God. To see hearts open to a God who wants to be a part of their lives. Looking back at my time at SPEC, it was a invitation from a Father who was so excited for me to finally know about the love that He has been pouring out on me since creation.
I stayed at SPEC for two years and, after my time there, I joined an American organisation called Life Teen. It is an organisation based in the United States. I lived in Georgia, where the main base is located. When I first moved there it was a bit of a shock. Everything was so much bigger – the roads, the cars, the buildings; so different to what I was used to. The people there were so friendly and, during my year, I met such great friends with whom I still keep in touch. I enjoyed hearing all the different accents, from the deep southern accents to the New York and Boston accents, then comparing those with the west coast accents of one of my friends from California.
At weekends, the place I worked at was called Covecrest, and was filled with teenagers who were on a weekend retreat with their schools and parishes. When they found out I was British they were so intrigued by my accent and found it comical when I tried to imitate an American accent, which always came out as a valley girl from California. From all the American films I watched growing up.
The year was full of new experiences and one of them was visiting Haiti; seeing the joy of those living there, even though they were so poor. They found joy in such little things. One of the projects we had whilst out there was to make a table. Now, this was a very modest table, about a metre-wide made of thin wood, but when we showed it to the lady for whom we made it, she acted like we had just bought her a house. She was so excited that now she could eat her meals on a table.
Seeing the difference that these weeks made to thousands of teens brought so much joy to my heart, because they left at the end of the week with an experience that they will remember.
Another experience was summer camp. It’s three months of week-long retreats where teens would experience fun through climbing on a high ropes course or getting covered in mud in a bunch of messy games, as well as experiencing what faith to them means, through evening sessions, live music, Mass and more. Seeing the difference that these weeks made to thousands of teens brought so much joy to my heart, because they left at the end of the week with an experience that they will remember. I was blessed to witness so many teens that shone with joy after their week of camp.
A year which I, too, will always remember.