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Keishla Espinal

A Place of Welcome for Teens

June 27, 2023 | Eighteen-year-old Grace Knauff served on the Leadership Team for this year’s Good Samaritan Project (GSP) June 19-25, 2023. But last year, she attended as a high school senior and it changed her life.

Grace grew up attending a non-denominational Christian church. However, when her boyfriend and friends started talking about GSP, a week-long summer program for youth offered by the Diocese of St. Petersburg, she felt a desire to attend.

“I remember we were all sitting at dinner, and they were talking about their funny GSP memories, and I felt jealous," Grace said. "They told me about the program and how it involves hard work and service but it is also rewarding, and I knew I definitely wanted to go.”

So, she joined her friends and registered. Then, during Mass in the Bishop McLaughlin Catholic High School Auditorium she had a moment of realization. As she watched everyone process towards the altar to receive Holy Communion, she felt a strong connection with the community around her.

“I saw everyone go up for Communion, and I was just sitting there praying, and it made me realize how amazing it is to see people so grounded in their faith and unified,” Grace said.

When the week-long program was over, Grace knew that there was something more out there for her.

“I went back home and asked my friend if I could go to Mass with her. I then joined the Youth Group and knew that becoming Catholic was the next step I wanted to take.”

Grace received the Sacraments of Baptism, First Communion, and Confirmation at the Easter Vigil on April 9, 2023, at St. Michael the Archangel in Clearwater.

Grace said, “I felt a sense of peace and acceptance when I received the Sacraments.”

She is grateful for all those at St. Michael the Archangel who walked with her on this journey. She wants to give a special thanks to Deacon Paul Koppie, who agreed to give her and her friend weekly classes since they had missed the start time for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults class.

Her parents have been supportive. Her mom, who was a non-practicing Catholic, has returned to the Church. Her father, who is Lutheran, is also supportive.

GSP has left a lasting impact on Grace and her family, and she wants others to know the joy of the program.

The Good Samaritan Project is organized by the Diocesan Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry. The first program was held in 2013. This year, there were over 400 youth and young adults in attendance, representing 18 parishes.

“Upon arriving at GSP, I was shocked by the love and welcome I received,” said Grace. “I want others to experience that love and joy I felt when I attended GSP for the first time.”

Grace wants everyone to know that the program welcomes everyone with open arms.

“The program is very rewarding, and it doesn’t matter if you aren’t Catholic. No one here will judge you; we all welcome you with open arms.”

The Good Samaritan Project is made possible thanks to contributions to the Catholic Ministry Appeal.


Pictured from left to right is Fr. Tom Anastasia, pastor at St. Michael the Archangel in Clearwater. Grace Knauff, Ella Hodyl, her sponsor and Deacon Paul Koppie. Courtesy Photo
Grace Knauff on June 23, 2023 praying at Bishop McLaughlin Catholic High School in the chapel. Photo by Keishla Espinal
Grace Knauff on June 22, 2023 giving a witness talk at the Good Samaritan Project. Photo by Keishla Espinal