Going for the ‘gold’ through celebrating faith

Photo courtesy of Ali Buck

Photo courtesy of Ali Buck

Ali Buck has been involved with St. Matthew Catholic Church since she was a small child. So, it seemed natural for the 17-year-old to dedicate her Girl Scout Gold Award project to the church when the time came.

Ali recently received her Gold Award, the highest merit a Girl Scout can achieve, and a large part of the honor revolved around a weekend church retreat for middle school girls held last year over Labor Day weekend. The goal of the retreat was to increase middle school girls’ participation in church activities, and Ali and church leaders say it’s working.

The inspiration for Ali’s Gold Award project came after she spoke to church leaders and discussed how attendance at the church’s high school program had dwindled down. Ali, a rising senior at Charlotte Catholic School, believed involving students at the middle school level was a key to boosting the high school program.

“(I chose to) do a retreat for middle school girls to try and get them hooked on the program,” Ali said. “That way, when they get to high school, they’ll want to keep coming.”

The retreat took an entire year to plan. Ali took the reins for the project, but she knew the retreat wasn’t something she could pull off on her own. One of the toughest things was figuring out the volunteer roles she would need – adult chaperones, people to cook meals, people to lead discussions, etc. – and delegating those tasks to peers and adults willing to help.

Other elements included planning the schedule for the weekend, developing discussion topics and incorporating a “global” aspect to the project – one of the requirements for the award, Ali said. She ultimately chose to have the girls make rosary bracelets to send to youth in Haiti.

“It was cool, because none of (the bracelets) were the same because (the girls) had never done it before,” Ali said.

Ali and fellow volunteers gave four topic-based talks and led a variety of large and small group discussions and activities. Participants also cooked a meal, participated in an outdoor worship and prayer sessions over the weekend and attended Sunday early morning mass followed by a breakfast, which concluded the retrerat. Ali’s favorite part of the weekend was the evening worship and prayer time.

“All of the girls helping stood out in the courtyard (and had) participants come up to us and tell us something they needed prayer about,” she said. “That was my favorite part about the retreat – praying over the girls.”

Ali surveyed all 29 participants after the retreat to receive feedback about the event – and the comments she received were overwhelmingly positive. She also received rave reviews from parents, who expressed their gratitude for the opportunity their daughter had to become involved in church activities.

“Later that day, I got on Facebook, and one of the moms had messaged me and said she loved seeing the Holy Spirit in action,” Ali said. “(She said) her daughter came back a new kid. That was one of my favorite parts – seeing that the parents enjoyed it.”

Claire Kuechle, St. Matthew’s faith formation leader for middle school students, said she’s seen a change in the middle school program since Ali hosted the retreat.

“What was great is that she saw the need to get the middle school girls involved, and she kind of took that and ran with it,” Kuechle said, adding she has seen a handful of girls who were new faces during the retreat continue to attend middle school activities at the church. “It’s important at the middle school age to get them excited about their faith, and one of those ways is through example. Ali is a great example.”

A key element of the Gold Award project is sustainability, so Ali and St. Matthew Catholic plan to continue hosting retreats for middle school girls.

“I definitely want to make this an annual thing,” Ali said.

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Josh Whitener

About Josh Whitener

Josh Whitener has been with the Carolina Weekly Newspaper Group since 2010, currently serving as the Features Editor of South Charlotte Weekly. Josh graduated from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in 2009 with a degree in communication studies. In his spare time, he enjoys playing and writing music and spending time with his wife, April; sons, Caleb and Aiden; and two beagles, Annie and Dori. Have a story idea or question for Josh? Contact him at josh@carolinaweeklynewspapers.com.

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