“You are the hope. We are the change.”
That was the mantra heard time and again at the 2019 Seeds of Hope Felician Youth Leadership Experience, and it exemplifies the intention of the program: to bring about positive change in the world by nurturing the next generation of leaders.
This was the 6th annual Seeds of Hope, the first one being held in 2014. The event brought eighteen young women entering their sophomore or junior year of high school to Maryville Retreat Center in Holly, Michigan. They came from Texas, California, New Jersey, Virginia, New Mexico, and Canada to embark on an exploration of what it means to be an effective leader.
Throughout the week, Seeds of Hope participants were given opportunities to learn, reflect, worship, pray, and have some fun. When they were not engaged in dialogues with speakers or working on group activities, participants, mentors, Felician Sisters, and Father Michael Greg, OFM, who has attended the event every year, could be found boating on Lake Elliott, swimming, roasting marshmallows, playing cornhole, or simply enjoying the beautiful scenery.
Participants celebrated Mass daily, seeking guidance and strength as they opened their hearts and minds to new experiences and possibilities. They also had time for personal prayer, meditation, and reflection.
Speakers, including Felician Sisters, ministry leaders, and peer mentors, shared their stories and reflected on different aspects of leadership, such as humility, motivating others, and decision making. Special guest speaker Erricka Bridgeford, one of the cofounders of the Baltimore Ceasefire movement, encouraged participants to believe in “the power of one”. She spoke of her own outrage at the violence that took the life of her brother and how it motivated her to become involved in the Ceasefire movement, saying, “I kept saying they should do something about this. Then I realized I was the they.”
With these inspirational words still weighing on their hearts, the Seeds of Hope participants began planning service projects to implement in their own communities. They collaborated to develop plans to address issues such as homelessness, mental illness, racism, and abortion.
Participants also had an opportunity to put Felician values into action with a day of service in Detroit. They worked at a food pantry, community garden, and a soup kitchen, where they learned about the ministry of presence by sharing a meal with those they served.
Seeds of Hope closed with an Agape feast, a Christian tradition that involves a communal meal to celebrate friendship. Participants left the experience with blessings from the Sisters and seeds to remind them to be the “seeds of hope” in their own communities.