MOUNTAINSIDE, NJ -  There’s a group in Mountainside for high schoolers to meet others with a common passion for community service, make friends, and just hang out. The Mountainside Local Youth Group meets every Wednesday night at 7:30 in the rectory of Our Lady of Lourdes Church. Although it is run through the church, high schoolers of all faiths and backgrounds are welcome. 

Many students are active members in the group. Sophomore Toby Pasternak, who joined the youth group last year, said that he enjoys youth group because “it’s a place for community”. His favorite event is the annual ski trip the group takes as part of the Catholic Youth Organization.  The event allows the members to meet people from other youth groups, while enjoying a weekend on the slopes. 

Although the group fundraises for its trips, the members also raise money for philanthropic ventures. For the past seven years, they have collected money to buy school supplies, clothes, and toys for a boy in the Dominican Republic. Each year the youth group receives a picture and a letter from the boy, who have they have sponsored since he was three years old, expressing his thanks. 

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The members are able to see the person they are helping and to connect with a person from a different part of the world. The experience allows members to see the difference they are capable of making.

The group participates in an annual event called the Homeless Sleepout sponsored by the Bridges Outreach Organization. Members sleep outside the church in cardboard boxes to help raise awareness about homlessness with the goal of putting an end to people having to sleep on the streets. They also make sandwiches for the organization.

Through this event, the members learn youth group leader Kevin Donahue’s lesson “while we eat plenty, plenty don’t eat.” They also learn to appreciate what they have and be inspired to help the less fortunate. 

Ally Schwartz, co-President of the group, said this event is her favorite one to participate in. “We get to raise money for the homeless and it’s a really fun event.” 

All of these events aim to serve the community, both locally and globally. It is important for students to get involved in community service, to enrich their perspective, and let them know that they can make a difference in the world.