“I slept and I dreamed that life is all joy. I woke and I saw that life is all service. I served and I saw that service is joy.” ― Kahlil Gibran
In the spirit of the season, Group Delphi’s blog is profiling some of the many ways in which its staff members serve the community through the gift of their time.
Peter Celauro, Brand Journalist
Volunteer Work: High School Ministry at Christ Church of Oak Brook, Illinois
Every Sunday evening in Chicago’s western suburbs, approximately 100 high schoolers gather in the basement student center of Christ Church of Oak Brook to explore the power and responsibilities of faith and community. They sing, share testimony, discuss the week’s scriptural theme, examine issues particular to the life of the high schooler, and plan out service projects.
To be sure, there is plenty of time for purely fun things (not least of all the Drama/Improv group, of which Group Delphi’s Peter Celauro is the enthusiastic adult leader). But their fundamental focus is creating a community based on strengthening the students’ faith, mutual support (of each other and of others), and dedication to the principle that Peter calls “doing right.”
Life in Community
For the past five years, Peter has served as an adult leader for “Koinonia,” a youth group named for the Greek word describing “a life lived in shared community and fellowship.”
When he was growing up in nearby Hinsdale, he was himself a member of Koinonia, but, following graduation, drifted away from the church. After college and living abroad, he returned to the area and was encouraged by his future wife (herself an alumna of his high school class and the youth group) to return to the church — and eventually, to begin volunteering.
The results were life-changing.
“There were a number of years where I was very self-centered,” he recalls, “and returning to this church and volunteering with this high school ministry really transformed me. I found my own heart changed by the experience and am a much more fulfilled person than I was before.”
Hearts for Service
An important part of Peter’s volunteer portfolio involves fostering the students’ own sense of public service. He has participated alongside them on summer projects that included working at a children’s center in the Dominican Republic, building homes in Tijuana and serving underprivileged people in West Virginia, and he ranks those experiences among the highlights of his life.
“It’s as fulfilling for the staff as it is for the students,” Peter said. “We grow personally and in our faith from working with the students. There’s so much fun and vitality in the kids, so it’s a blast working alongside them. And being abroad on these service projects — building homes, investing in communities and getting to know the local people — has been like nothing else in my life.”
For the students, these projects provide what Peter calls “a transformation of the heart.”
“At first, some of the younger students haven’t given much thought to the world outside their high school lives,” he reflects. “But somewhere in the midst of the experience, they realize, ‘Wow; I have a heart for service, and life can be so much more when I’m working for the welfare of others.'” Some of the students develop a lifelong commitment to volunteering, while for others it’s a meaningful but transient experience. “But,” Peter said, “it’s still planting a seed that might blossom later in life, as it did for me.”
A Safe Space
One of Peter’s most important responsibilities lies in creating a safe space for the students to share their problems and receive counseling.
“Surprisingly — or maybe it’s not surprising,” he says, “for a relatively affluent community with really great high schools, there’s a lot of brokenness. Some kids have trouble at home, or not much of a home life at all. Others are dealing with drug issues or depression. Today’s teens seem to have more stress and angst, more brokenness than the previous generations — certainly more than my own did when we were their age.
“For some,” he continues, “this group is an intimate and impacting source of counseling, where there’s someone who really loves and cares for them and is willing to spend the time to help sort out their issues. To those who have been coming for a number of months or years, it feels like a home. We are their people. We’re not schoolteachers or authority figures. We’re friends and mentors and we’re walking through life with them.”
This description is emblematic of Peter’s relationship to the young people he serves. At the close of their Sunday meetings, the teens and leaders break into small groups to discuss what they think of the current scriptural message or what is going on with their lives. When he began volunteering, Peter’s small group was composed of sophomore boys. Now those boys are college upperclassmen, and he continues to stay in touch.
“You grow really close to these kids,” he observes. “Then they grow up and become cherished friends.”
Speaking with Peter, it’s impossible to miss just how much joy he has received through his work, and how much it has enriched his own life. It testifies to the adage about giving as a source of receiving.
“For me,” he says, “it’s been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.”
Peter Celauro is Brand Journalist for Group Delphi and lives outside Chicago.