My Experience as an Intern at the OYM

by Erin McClanahan

When I originally emailed the Archdiocese of St. Louis in February about a possible internship with the organization, I had no idea it would lead me to the experience that I have had this summer. What was supposed to be a little bit of experience in administration with a non-profit organization has turned out to be a complete personal and spiritual metamorphosis.

I am entering my senior year at Saint Louis University, with a major in Political Science, a minor in Theological Studies, and absolutely no youth ministry experience. However, I feel like the past two months here at the OYM has given me valuable experience in case I ever want to venture down the youth ministry path. From Project Life 2005 to Steubenville St. Louis Mid-America, I now understand the behind-the-scenes work that goes into a non-profit organization function. But more importantly, I understand now that pure faith can drive people to perform tasks that others may say are impossible. I watched this office staff of four put on the Steubenville Conference at Southwest Missouri State University, with thousands of teenagers in attendance. After all of the hard work and long hours put in, it was so rewarding to look back from the first row at the Juanita K. Hammonds Center at SMS and see so many teenagers worshipping with joy. That sight alone makes everything worthwhile.

But back to my duties here at the OYM. I started my internship on June 6th, which happened to be the week before Project Life started, so needless to say, I did not get a chance to dip my feet in, I jumped straight in. That whole week consisted of putting together supplies that we needed for the service retreat, such as gardening and cleaning supplies, food, production equipment, and all of the necessary information that the site leaders would need, like release forms and insurance copies of all of the teens participating. Then, the Friday before the retreat started, we took everything over to St. Mary's High School, which was our dorming facility for the week. That entire day we unloaded everything and set up for the retreat, which was a TON of hard work since we have a small staff and only a few volunteers, but afterwards the gym looked amazing!

The next week was Project Life. This was by far my favorite event of the summer. Everyday teens were broken into groups and taken to different work sites, where they would perform service until around 2:30 in the afternoon, then head back to St. Mary's for mass, an evening session, music, food, and—FINALLY--bedtime. A couple groups worked to clean and rehab apartments in Kinloch, which is in North St. Louis. There, they found a diary of a woman who had lived there before the apartment caught fire, sometime in the 1980's (if I recall correctly). Just reading her life and learning what she went through made me appreciate and thank God for all of the blessings I have in my life, and it re-energized me to go out and perform service for the less fortunate.

After Project Life was over, it was planning for the Steubenville Conference, which was held at SMS in Springfield, in order to facilitate the two thousand (plus or minus a few) teenagers in attendance. This conference was put on by Franciscan University of Steubenville, so they brought the speakers and Fr. Dave Pivonka, who gave probably the most powerful homily that I have ever heard in my 20 years of going to mass.

This conference required much more administrative work, since it was on a college campus and had roughly 20 times more participants than Project Life had. The various work that I did was: assemble roommates for the dorms, put together passes for each individual who would be attending, send out letters to everyone attending, gather and pack up production equipment, and put together packets for all of the group leaders. All of this sounds relatively simple, but when there are over 2,000 people signed up, these tasks become long and complicated!

I felt that on registration day I was given the most responsibility yet in my internship, when I was responsible for printing up nametags for teens at SMS. When I practiced making the tags at the office before heading down to SMS, it was an easy task. No problem, I thought. Then, that Friday, I was overcome with confusion when group leaders would come up to me saying things such as, "Well so and so called and said that they couldn't go this morning, but so and so called and said they wanted their spot, so they aren't registered but they're here and need a nametag" or "Church A didn't fill all of their spots, so they are giving up two of their extra spots, and Church B is giving up three of their spots, so we have five extra kids that need nametags." Situations like that overwhelmed me because I had never dealt with anything like this, but Rosanne was calm and cool, and after watching her handle these situations, I slowly learned how to handle ANY situation a group leader would give me (ok, maybe not any, but if I didn't know, I would just smile, nod, and print off a nametag).

After registration was over, the hard part was done for me. Then I tagged along with Katie Lucchesi, my fellow intern and good friend, who usually was going 100 miles an hour, talking to Rosanne on her radio head set. We performed various tasks, ensuring that the conference ran smoothly, which it did, and, looking back, I would go through the stress of putting together Steubenville all over again, if I could see the looks on the teenagers faces when they were gathered together at Hammonds Hall, one more time.

Now that Steubenville is over, the office has quieted down significantly. The last event during my internship is going to be sending the groups from the archdiocese off to Germany for World Youth Day. However, with only 174 people going from St. Louis and this office not needing to take the amount of stuff that was needed for Project Life and Steubenville, the work load for us interns has decreased slightly.

These days, my work load has consisted of more generic administration tasks, such as: calling every parish in the archdiocese and finding out information about their youth ministers, if they even have one, and discussing financial information about the different events of the summer with the Archdiocesan Finance Office, and learning how to use excel in order to create databases.

My time at the OYM has been extremely valuable. Not only have I learned how non-profit organizations are run and administered, my spiritual life has improved, and my faith strengthened. While I think that government administration is what lies ahead in my future, I have learned, from the four staff members here at the OYM, that with any task you take on, pour your entire heart and soul in it and it will be successful. With whatever avenue I take after graduation, I am going to give it my all, and trust that God will be there to help me along the way. And that is something you cannot learn in a classroom, you have to experience it for yourself, and the OYM helped me experience that this summer.