STONE BANK – Calls of “Cheese” from the summer’s campers greeted Ben Wolf as he waited in the TYME OUT youth center hall. A few of the older campers recognized “the Big Cheese” as their former summer camp director as there are not too many 6-foot 10-inch men wandering those halls. Hugs and handshakes made the rounds before campers continued outside for another class. In addition to working as a summer camp counselor for three years, Wolf completed a twoyear internship in TYME OUT’s regular retreat program.
“Going away for my first two years of college, being on my own without a faith support group, drew me back to Milwaukee and my faith,” Wolf said. “Working here (at TYME OUT) has allowed me … to keep a better understanding of youth and where they are in their faith,” said Wolf.
Emma Janssen heard about TYME OUT’s internship program from Wolf, a fellow student at Cardinal Stritch University, Milwaukee. Both are part of the Religious Scholars Vocation Students, a Lilly endowment to foster ecumenical endeavors in 80 to 100 universities across the country. Marquette University is also part of the program.
Celebrating its 30th year, the TYME OUT Youth Center hosted more than 8,000 students in more than 100 retreats during the 2008-09 school year. Retreat director Marc Puechner also heads the internship program established in 2001 by Notre Dame Sr. Kieran Sawyer, who realized the strength of the program depended on a solid faith base. In that vein, the program funds a theology course each semester for the interns. Puechner said the interns learn how to plan and run retreats, attend training sessions and have a passion for sharing their faith.
“Education or youth ministry majors are a plus. We are always looking for people to share their faith with teens,” he added.
“The TYME OUT intern program, one year with an option for a second year, fits the undergrad schedules Ð eight retreats a year, mostly on weekends, which greatly helps alleviate staffing issues. The relationships we build are really cool. There is an injection of more youth in the building. It keeps the full-time staff plugged in to the teen culture to bridge the gap by hiring (interns) closer to their age. Interns are fun and bring in energy. They bring new ideas like Facebook that help us keep a pulse on what’s happening. They are encouraged to create prayer services, reconciliation prayers, work out the bugs,” said Puechner.
Learning to work with a large group is often the biggest initial challenge. For many, this is the first experience they have to get up in front of 60 or more kids to share their faith with them.
“It’s quite an eye-opener,” Puechner said. “By the end of the year, they’re all doing a great job. They are exposed to the archdiocesan requirements, the core pieces of a ministry program and use surroundings to find information.” At the end of the first retreat, Wolf recalled how Puechner asked him to share his experiences in mission trips and other service projects.
“I’m standing outside the circle (they have all formed), behind Marc. He says, ‘Get IN here. Get up HERE.’ The experience has helped show a lot about who I am, leadership skills, talking in front of a large group,” said Wolf.
It also prepared him to speak to the 400 students at St. Robert/Holy Family parishes. He has one more semester at Cardinal Stritch, but in July started work as a youth minister at St. Robert Parish in Shorewood. His family influence is strong, as his dad is a youth minister at St. Agnes, Butler, while an uncle and cousin work in the youth program at St. Gabriel, Hubertus. Janssen also attributes her family’s influence and its strong faith, plus her Catholic education, as elements that compelled her to serve the church as a payback for the rocky times when the community in Green Bay was there for her family.
Wolf jokingly referred to the “free meals” as the best part of the program, but on a more serious note, said the most beneficial part to him was the intern orientation retreat in the fall.
“It is the great building and bonding experience that we had,” he said.
A similar bonding experience takes place at the confirmation retreats that involve different parishes, where students come not knowing one another. Seeing the bond they make over two days and the closeness from being here is exciting, he said.
“We try to keep a positive attitude, keep it fun, keep it light,” Janssen said. “Thirty complete strangers are all separate on the first night. But then, as the retreat progresses, they want to sit by each other and share.”
Janssen’s favorite part of the program is the one-on-one sessions with Puechner where “he gives us an objective look as to where we are going. Working with kids always has surprises, which is good. I plan to work with middle and high school students. Working with retreats helps me with that venue but in a different setting,” she said.
Calling it a “great, well-rounded program overall,” Janssen said the background planning, mentoring, and work with students and small groups are key components in making it successful.
“As I got my feet wet, I knew how comfortable I’d be here. I could go to Marc with my questions. In a recent summer school class (at Cardinal Stritch), I used the curriculum from TYME OUT for a mock year-long curriculum for middle school building,” she said.
Intern candidates have come from a variety of fields. One was a recent intern with a neuroscience/ biology major who is now doing a year-long service program, then medical school.
“She had the drive, the passion, since a confirmation retreat. Her faith has grown. The theology classes really helped her faith. Their faith (also) gets challenged in the questions the teens ask,” said Puechner. “It gives them a much larger view of the church.”
In addition to Cardinal Stritch, interns have come from Marquette, Alverno College, Mount Mary College, the University of Wisconsin Ð Whitewater and Milwaukee campuses, St. Norbert College, Carroll College and Marian University. Funding for the theology courses and other costs of the internship program and general staffing are raised through the annual SpringTYME fund-raiser in May.