St. George’s and Grace Church (St Catharines) merged in early 2018. Their vision was that together they could do more than they could do separately. That vision was confirmed in a big way with the official opening of the Supporting Teen Empowerment with Purpose (STEP) Youth Support Centre.
STEP provides individualized support to youth in peril. “This program was born out of a love for our Community and those within it, the pain in our hearts with the increasing number of youth on the streets and the belief that supporting our youth today to choose a constructive path will, in turn, create supporting citizens of our Community in the future” said Suzanne Court, principal of the RRPC Innovation Foundation that funds the program. St. George’s worked with the foundation to design the program.
STEP resides in a purposely renovated 1000 square-foot area of the church complex. An earlier decision by the recently merged congregation to reserve space for an undetermined future ministry, rather than extend an existing lease, meant that there was room when the vision of STEP was presented to the church.
“It is inspiring to consider how our acting in faith, and our intention to be available for God’s purpose, have been used by God” says Rev Michael Mondloch the Director of Social Justice and Outreach at St. George’s and former Rector of Grace Church.
Mondloch draws on a broad network of connections to tap into what God is already doing in the community. One connection is with Mike Lethby, the Executive Director of The RAFT, a local agency focused on responding to, and the prevention of, youth homelessness. When Lethby heard the germ of an idea for STEP he immediately lent his support. “I encourage you to be the church and to bring your natural supportive community and spirituality into the program” said Lethby.
Supporting youth in peril is challenging and complex. So St. George’s and the RRPC Innovation Foundation were selective in hiring a lead counselor to head the program. Louis Muscat was chosen from a field of over 100 applicants. Muscat has extensive knowledge of addictions, wisdom born from helping people in recovery, and a warm and approachable demeanor. Muscat feels called to the work of mentoring young people. “Without mentoring a young person becomes a wanderer in a strange part of their young life. The STEP program is here to guide them to improve their quality of life, personal well-being, body image and self-esteem.”
STEP is unique in several ways in the field of working with youth in peril. STEP has a parish lending it support through prayer and volunteers. Spiritual conversations are welcome and encouraged. And STEPs want to work with other agencies and sees itself as a part of the wider community’s response to youth in peril.
Adrianna Cervoni, a StreetWorks Outreach Worker recognizes what STEP has to offer. And so she has referred clients to the STEP program. She states the program “provides a safe comfortable space where youth are treated with respect and kindness and where support meets them where they are at.” She also says that “as a service provider, it is helpful to have a youth focused centre where we have the opportunity to connect and meet the needs of the young people in our city, particularly those whose opportunities are limited and whose wellbeing is at risk.”
The STEP program is open from 8:30am to 4:30pm from Monday to Friday. STEP has its own entrance so that young people can simply “enter through the rust door”. While the target age is 14-24, STEP doesn’t check IDs.
When Mondloch looks back over the last 6 years he recalls reminding some anxious people at Grace Church of Jesus’ instruction to seek first the kingdom of God. “We’ve tried to do that. Now as I see lives being transformed through STEP, I think God has done an amazing work, one step at a time.”