Local youth groups unite students through faith, fun and friendship

by Olivia Paladino
According to pewforum.org, one in four Americans ages 18-29 say they are not affiliated with any particular religion.
As national interest in organized religion declines, church and temple youth groups are uniting students of shared faith by providing a space for teens to both expand their religious lives and create friendships through service and social activities such as mission trips, leadership conferences, and weekly meetings.

St. Bart’s Youth Group
The goal of many youth groups is to provide a safe outlet for teens to have fun. “Teens will make new friends, hang out with old friends and have the opportunity to let off steam from the pressures facing them today while exploring their faith,” said Elaine Coupe, youth minister at St. Bartholomew the Apostle Roman Catholic Church. “It is a safe place to be who you are and forget about your stresses for a few hours with friends, and ultimately get closer to God.”
Members go on church retreats and participate in icebreaker activities to bond with each other.     Many students report that joining a youth group can be extremely rewarding in creating lifelong friendships and developing a strong religious identity.
“Youth group is a lot of fun and it brings me closer with a bunch of people who have the same belief and faith as me,” said sophomore Anthony Pares, a St. Bart’s youth group leader.
St. Bart’s youth group meets on Sunday evenings from six p.m. to-eight p.m. in the youth room at St. Bart’s, located at 2032 Westfield Avenue in Scotch Plains. Youth ministers Elaine Coupe and Paul Kobliska can be contacted through Facebook at StBart YouthGroup or by email at [email protected]
Young Life
Many students join youth groups to find people with the same religious interests. Young Life is a “non-denominational Christian ministry that reaches out to adolescents through volunteers, staff, club meetings, and camps,” according to the mission statement on its web site (www.younglife.org).
“I  like going to Young Life because it’s a great opportunity to learn about Jesus,” said junior Daniel Velasquez.
There are two weekly meetings, club and campaigner. Club meetings are held in downtown Westfield at 105 Elm Street, and campaigner meetings are held at a member’s house.
All are welcome at club meetings, where members participate in activities such as relay races and dancing. The activites are based on the theme of the meeting for that week.  Members also listen to lectures on the Gospel.
At campaign meetings, members study the Bible with their peers and leaders.
“The thing I appreciate most about Young Life is that everyone can come as they are.  It’s open to everyone so you’re always making new friends, ” said junior Kyndal Scobee.
These meetings are run by Central Jersey Young Life leaders Melissa Montalvo, Peter Montalvo, Lynda Lloyd and Jim Lloyd. Area director Jim Llyod can be reached at 973-615-6881 for more information.
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B’nai B’rith Youth Organization (BBYO)
BBYO is a youth group that aims to encourage Jewish teens to develop  religious identities. Throughout its 87-year history, the group has brought leadership training, community service opportunities, and Jewish education to thousands of Jewish teens around the world. To date, there are more than 40 active members of BBYO from the high school.
Junior Tracey Katz was recently elected to the international board for BBYO, and plans to visit Bulgaria and Israel through the group this summer.
“Joining BBYO has changed my life significantly. Through spending my summers with teens from around the country and around the world,  my leadership capabilities, knowledge, and people skills have been expanded. BBYO has allowed me to become a better person,” said Katz.
The Scotch Plains chapter of BBYO is a part of the Greater Jersey Hudson River Region BBYO. The Scotch Plains branch meets twice a month at the Jewish Community Center, located at 1391 Martine Avenue in Scotch Plains. These meetings are run by the Scotch Plains chapter president Zachary Goland, a junior at the Academy for Allied Health Sciences. People interested in joining BBYO can contact junior Jillian Lindenberg via Facebook.
Youth groups are providing students with the opportunity to participate in community-service activities, learn more about their religion, and make friends to share their faith journeys.
At a time when religion is not always celebrated, youth groups aim to help students to take pride in their faith.