Written by Karen Mahoney, Special to your Catholic Herald Thursday, 20 September 2012 16:28
On a balmy Thursday evening in spring, Jonathan Neustifter joined his fellow Tech Club members to rehearse for the group’s latest video.
Like most middle school students, he enjoys listening and moving to the latest popular music. Being in the Tech Club allows the Neustifter, now a sixth-grader from Racine’s John Paul II Academy, to blend his love of music and acting with strengthening his relationship with God.
“The club sounded interesting because acting is my profession and since I did a play at First Stage in Milwaukee last year, I was looking to get into something else,” he explained. “And I love computers, too. I was not really convinced at first, but Mom (Gail) convinced me.”
The group of 25 students in grades four to eight from John Paul II Academy and Our Lady of Grace formed the Tech Club with coordinator Richard Sosa as a means of sharing the Gospel. Since February, the group has met during the school year on Thursday evenings to pray and learn how to use cameras, lights and computers. To date, the club, with the help of Kevin Gordon, a teacher at JPII, has created six videos to evangelize the Catholic faith. The videos are posted on You Tube, Catholic.org and Gloria.tv.
Watch the Tech Club videos
“Since Good Friday, when the videos were uploaded to Catholic.org, they have taken off – over 50,000 views and counting,” said Sosa, a professional video producer and catechist.
“The videos have been seen all over the world and even some schools are incorporating the videos as part of their liturgical celebrations. Kenosha St. Joseph Academy played one of the videos on reconciliation during Stations of the Cross. The blessings that have come from this group are immense and still growing,” he said.
For Neustifter, the opportunity to pray with other students, ask God for guidance and create videos based on that prayer has deepened his faith.
“My faith in God has always been strong, however, Tech Club burrowed into my faith in a positive way,” he said. “I interact with God more often and I enjoy the prayer before and after Tech Club. I also have more friends because of the club because I have more opportunities to talk to other kids and we help each other. I don’t feel ashamed to reveal my faith to anyone.”
The videos, set to music, have themes such as “Prayer and Encouragement for the Suffering and Brokenhearted,” “Confetti Easter Eggs: How to Make Cascarones” and “My Catholic Show: Lesson on Gossip and Words,” and appeal to all ages.
For seventh-grader Madeline Sosa, daughter of Richard Sosa, and student at JPII Academy, Tech Club is not only fun, but helps her learn more about faith.
“We have lots of fun and goof around sometimes,” she said. “The Tech aspect is cool, too. I like learning how to take pictures using an HD (high-definition) camera. It’s very fun and I feel good knowing that we are bringing people to the faith. I love praying together with my friends because it makes me feel like we’re one in Christ.”
In addition to having fun and learning new technology, Madeline has gained confidence in her faith and the courage to share it openly with others.
“The videos we put online help us share the good news and that makes us more confident in our faith,” she said. “So, if I show kids who aren’t Catholic, they get more interested in it.”
At Tech Club, it is cool to love God, explained Madeline.
“It’s cool that some of the older kids like seventh-and-eighth graders are hanging out with the younger kids in fourth or fifth grades,” she said. “It helps them because they will put God first and they will begin to know God more than they did before. They start to pray more often and they realize that you can honor God, you can praise God and it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s boring. Kids in Tech Club look forward to coming every week. We do a lot of cool things. I think the kids that are part of Tech Club never realized how much fun it can be to say yes to God.”
For Tonya Baumstark, now seventh-grade daughter Chloe joined Tech Club to learn how to operate cameras, lights, and learn editing, but after the first meeting, she realized it was so much more.
“She learned so much about herself, her deep love for our God, her desire to walk in God’s presence and to put God first – to know him, serve him and love him,” said Tonya. “I also believe that her being in the fellowship of friends and being able to share her hopes, her fears and beliefs has drawn her closer to God and to her friends.”
In observing her daughter and the other club members reflecting on why they love God, discussing the sacrament of reconciliation, and having fellowship has initiated Tonya in reflecting on her own journey to Christ.
“Am I putting God first? Am I doing enough to spread the Word of God to others,” she asked. “I feel really enlightened by all they have done and have begun spreading their work through social media and email to friends and family. I have been able to reflect and learn something from every video they have done. I am astonished by their love of God, their desire to evangelize and their simple love of each other.”
For more information on Tech ClubContact Richard Sosa at firstname.lastname@example.org
By bringing the videos into the public eye, Tonya said the group is doing a service to young Catholics around the country.
“I think those messages become a little more clear when it comes from your peers or someone you can relate to on a different level,” she said. “They may be more apt to listen to the message coming from a peer rather than an adult. In this media age, I also believe it is being presented in a format that the kids can relate to and makes it something the kids really want to watch and are genuinely interested in.”
The popularity of the videos – some of them have had nearly 20,000 views each – and the Tech Club is edifying to Sosa, who is in awe of society’s fast paced lifestyle.
“Everything is available on the Internet and on TV when you want it,” he said. “Most of it isn’t good. If you want to reach young people, how are you going to do that? Where are you going to engage them? This is a direct result of John Paul II’s call for a New Evangelization.”
Sosa described the effort as a way to bring new life into the church and school.
“I didn’t really have a clue as to what effect this would have on our school. I just figured, ‘Do it, start it and let God do his work.’ Like Mother Teresa says, ‘I’m just a pencil’ ... God’s writing his truth, his Gospel, through us. So in reality, we had to put a lot of trust in God for what we were going to do. That’s not easy for a self-proclaimed control freak like me.”