Katie Camario

Over 300 Good Samaritan Teens Are Making a Difference in Tampa Bay This Week

Teens from around Tampa Bay are choosing to spend part of their summer vacation serving others as participants in the Good Samaritan Project organized by the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg, Youth Ministry Office June 20-25.

The teens represent 16 schools and parishes in Tampa Bay and will be serving at locations in Pinellas, Pasco, Hillsborough and Hernando counties bringing smiles, energy and service to local charities.

To learn more about this wonderful outreach made possible by various Catholic churches in the area, we spoke with Ryan Phelan, Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the Diocese of St. Petersburg.

How did the Good Samaritan Project begin?

Ten years ago, we had several large service programs stop coming to the Tampa Bay area and our youth groups found themselves without ways for their kids to get service hours. We also realized agencies were left without volunteers and we were very quick to act. We put together this one-week program and had 50 kids from across the area volunteer at four different locations for a whole week. We had a lot of fun in the process. The next year we had 125 Kids, and so from there our numbers started to blossom.

Who can participate in the program?

The program is for students entering eighth grade all the way through their senior year of high school. Some attend one year or some come for five years. When they graduate high school, we invite them to come back and serve as part of our leadership team. Every year, I have between 20 and 30 college-age students helping to facilitate our program for us.

What will students be doing this summer?

Every year, we return to some of our favorite sites, while also trying to find some new sites. We try to give our students a wide variety of service opportunities. We’ve partnered with, believe it or not, horse ranches. They use the horses to provide specialty assistance and rehabilitation for children with autism, those with other types of special needs, even in some cases, veterans returning from war with PTSD. We go there and paint fences, pull weeds, plant gardens, and take care of the barns in some capacity. It allows the staff to focus on their mission, which is to provide that rehabilitation.  We’ve also partnered with the Homeless Empowerment Program in Pinellas County. Our volunteers will be sorting and tagging items in the thrift store and preparing meals for the homeless in the kitchen.

Have you seen an increase in need recently?

Absolutely. As we come out of the pandemic, the need is there for young people to be present, to help to feed and help clothe, to share with those who are less fortunate.

How can people find out more about the program and how can they help?

Follow Good Sam Project on Instagram, where we're going be posting a lot of videos, a lot of pictures, some of the craziness that our kids are going to be experiencing. While you might not be able to join us in person, we do ask that you join us in prayer because we need it. We have 375 people that are going to be gathering together for God and for service for our community. The devil is going to be trying to creep its way in and he's going to be trying to ruin our program, trying to tempt our kids to turn our eyes from Christ. We need all the spiritual warriors praying for us to make this program strong and successful.