A Sense of Community for the Youth
“No Matter Where You Are On Life’s Journey, You Are Welcome Here”
Theresa Striedl-Gibilisco is a force in the North Middletown community, and in particular at The Church of Saint Catherine Labouré. Theresa is the head of the youth group, Venture, at the parish. I met Theresa at the Venture CAFÉ, located in the parish school building. The CAFE is a welcoming place for the students to gather, or a Comfortable Area For Everyone as she calls it. The room is filled with plenty of seating, a pool table, a computer and a small coffee station. She has always been involved in the parish, most recently with the youth ministry, but in the years past with the annual Parish Carnival. Four years ago, Theresa saw a need and wanted to create and maintain a safe social experience for the youth in the community — an experience of inclusion, positivity and an intrinsic feeling of success, built upon the successes of those in the position in the previous years.
They created a mission statement — (1) to build the community with awesome teens; (2) to have fun in a social environment and (3) to put faith into action with respect. There are rules and standards which are built on an underlying core value of respect. Each student knows that when they walk through the door, they understand that choosing to come there they are wanting to be part of this group, they understand the mission and they know the rules and standards. They all are made aware of, and are expected to maintain, three levels of respect — Respect for self, Respect for others, and Respect for property.
The Venture Youth Group truly encompasses all ages since they hold many family events throughout the year in the parish. However, Venture (9th-12th grade), and Venture Junior (6th-8th grade) students meet weekly on Sunday evening in the Venture CAFÉ and St. Catherine’s Gym.
The space dedicated to the group was transformed by a vision of the students involved. They dreamed of a pool table and a coffee bar and Theresa was confident she would get it done for them. Theresa found a pool table offered for FREE! on Facebook Marketplace. She responded to the post, which, unsurprisingly attracted over 50 interested takers. The owner of the pool table, knowing it was going to go to a worthy cause gave it to St. Catherine’s for the Venture CAFE! Also, on Facebook, couches were listed for sale for $250. The owner promised Theresa, if they didn’t sell by a certain date, the couches would be hers. The donations kept coming. The dream of a comfortable and inviting space for teens to hang out, spend time together or study came to be a reality.
When I asked Theresa who is the most interesting person she ever met, she paused, and said, “Honestly, I have to say it is me. I say that because it took a long time for me to finally figure out who I was. I never knew that I was capable of doing this. Anything is possible, impossible is only the reason not to try.” This was not a boastful statement, this demonstrated why she is so passionate to help the teens she works with figure out where they are going and who they are.
Just for Fun:
Q: Where do you see yourself and the group in 5 or 10 years?
A: “When I was in high school, I attended CYO. There has always been a youth group here. A lot has changed in the last 10 years. We want teens to have a safe place to hang out and just be themselves. We want parents in the community to not have to worry for a change about what their kids are doing or who they were with. A place where kids can just come and remove the “mask” they wear most of their days, we want to see who each is on the inside, we want them to come as they are, knowing that when they leave, they may surprise even themselves as being the most interesting person they might meet.
So in 5 to 10 years, I would love to see a weekly social program for even the 3rd to 5th graders. Right now, we don’t have enough hands to handle that age group. Also, I’d love to see more families come to our events, more involvement and more people in the community coming and volunteering at the events. According to policy, all volunteers must be fingerprinted and undergo training in the Protection of Children and Young People. This involves criminal background screenings and training certification programs that advance the safety of our children. It is mandated to have 2 adults supervising for the first 10 students, then 1 adult for every 10 after that. We have a core of volunteers, but as more teens come, more trained adults are required to grow our programs.”
Q: How long have you lived or worked in Middletown?
A: “I was born in Middletown, baptized in this church. Except for college, I’ve been in the Middletown area, or really close to it my whole life, I have always tried to be active in the Parish community. I was married in this church.”
Q: What is something interesting that most people don’t know about you?
A: “This is a really tough question for me, I tend to keep my life transparent and open because that is who I am. One thing that people may not know and might find interesting is that online people think “Catherine Labouré Middletown” is me because I do not have a personal facebook profile and I post for that one. Catherine Labouré Middletown was created when I was the Entertainment Coordinator for the fair, it is now used to keep the Community up to date with St. Catherine’s Parish events and activities for the Bayshore Community. However, I am not Catherine Laboure Middletown, there is no one person who can be because behind every successful group event or activity is a team of people working together for the benefit of others, and there is no “I” in the word TEAM.”
Q: What advice would you give a crowd of people?
A: “Don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone. Life is a series of stepping stones, you’ve got to step outside your comfort zone. Dream of things you want to do and believing will make dreams come true. It’s a song lyric that I’ve always loved.”
Q: What current/former local business makes you the most nostalgic about Middletown?
A: “It would have to be the Polar Bear Ice cream on Route 36. They’ve been there forever and when I was a kid I would go there many times and it’s the place we would go after our softball games for ice cream, I’d often ask if I could get a butterscotch Sundae!”
Q: What is your favorite thing or something unique about Middletown?
A: “There’s so many different and smaller communities within the larger community.”
Q: What 3 words or phrases come to mind when you think of the word HOME?
A: “Family. Love. Acceptance.”