Ciara Hanley recounts her first 12 months as an Animate gap-year team member.
My earliest experience with the Animate team came during my first month of high school. The St John Fisher tradition (still ongoing today) is to bring the Year 7s to Lowe House as part of their induction into secondary school. To this day, it still amazes me that the diffident 11-year-old version of myself that visited Lowe House that day is now the outgoing Animate team member that the last 12 months has produced. This huge boost in confidence, enthusiasm and self-belief has to be accredited to all of the opportunities that have opened up to me over the duration of this gap year with Animate.
My familiarity with the work of Animate Youth Ministries came about through experiencing day retreats, a mission week, Youth Alive Masses and my summers as a volunteer on the annual Archdiocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes. It meant I thought I knew what to expect when it came to joining the Animate team. However, after the first few days here, I realised that it involved so much more than spreading the word of the Gospels to young people. It was a community. A family. Work didn’t end when the young people went home but instead spread into everything that I did – whether that was cleaning the house and cooking tea or simply watching a film with the rest of the team in the lounge.
The togetherness of living in a community was something I had given little thought to but it has grown to become one of my favourite things about the past 12 months. It’s amazing to be surrounded by other young adults who share the same beliefs as you and who can educate you with stories and experiences from their own lives. Being able to discuss faith openly and without judgement was something that I hadn’t really experienced before and something that now I would find difficult to live without.
But it’s not serious all the time at Lowe House. In fact the community is always full of laughter and a fair few adventures too. Together, we’ve travelled to places near and far – from Blackpool to Krakow … and even IKEA!
Of course, living in community is only part of the Animate experience. Needless to say, the real reason that this gap year has been so amazing is because of the school pupils I’ve been lucky enough to spend time with. Each school that we’ve worked with – whether they came to us or we went to them, whether they were primary or secondary, easy or challenging – has a special place in my heart. It’s amazing to see traits that I possess myself in the youngsters with whom we work; to be able to relate to them over common interests always impresses me. But the best thing of all is to be able to watch them open up and develop over the short time that they spend with us.
I firmly believe that I have learned just as much (if not more) from these young people as they have learned from me. Due to them, my confidence has come on leaps and bounds, my people skills have upgraded and, most importantly, my faith has deepened each and every day. This has been a really eye-opening year – one of the best of my life – and I thoroughly look forward to what the 2018/19 Animate experience has to offer me. If it’s more of the same, then I can genuinely say that I cannot wait!