I see a revolution happening in Birmingham. It’s a revolution for youth and its goal is the salvation of today’s younger generation. The momentum is growing and so is the number of people involved. I have heard people all over Birmingham saying, "We need to get the kids off the street and involved in organized activities." We have seen too many children growing up without direction and being led astray by the guidance they find in the street. The time has come for everyone to do their part, and many individuals and organizations are already making the necessary sacrifices in order to help our youth.
One organization trying to make a difference is the Salesians of Don Bosco. The Salesians have been in Birmingham for forty years at Holy Rosary Church in Gate City. Their presence here is based on their work with the poor urban youth in our community. Throughout their history, the Salesian brethren have offered a variety of activities for the children of the Mark’s Village housing project. However, for the last two years, the Salesians have operated an intensive youth program that is open to children seven days a week. We call our program a Youth Oratory. It offers a variety of structured activities where children can learn and pray, while still leaving plenty of time for play. Literally hundreds of children have passed through our door looking for a place where they feel safe, welcome, loved and at home.
Due to the success of the oratory at Holy Rosary, the Salesians expanded and opened two more oratories on January 31, 1993 (the Feast Day of Saint John Bosco). One of the oratories is located at St. John Bosco church in Woodlawn and the other is housed at the Salesian Center in Ensley. The Salesian Society recognizes that all children need to have access to places where they can develop into good Christian citizens. We see the oratories at places where this can be accomplished. The Salesian religious have dreams of opening at least two more oratories in the near future with more to come. We need the help of dedicated volunteers, however, to help us in our mission.
The difference in the program of the last two years at Holy Rosary and the opening of the oratory at Ensley can be partially attributed to the arrival of Salesian Lay Missionaries. (SLMs). SLMs are dedicated young people who come from all over the United States to serve children. SLMS are trained by Salesian religious and learn the methods and the teachings of Don Bosco. I am a SLM and have been serving in Birmingham for one year. I became a Salesian Lay Missionary because I wanted to work with youth.
Currently, there are two SLMs working at Holy Rosary and two at the Salesian Center. Even though the oratory in Ensley is new, there have been thirty to forty children coming by each day. We could do so much more for these children with the added talents of dedicated volunteers or SLMS from the Birmingham area. God has given each of us talents that can be used to benefit others. As an SLM, I have been called upon to do a number of things I had no prior experience doing, but as a priest once told me, "Perfection is the enemy of goodwill."
Holy Rosary has a successful bicycle club where the children ride bikes and also learn how to repair them. Don Bosco oratory offers music lessons and the Salesian oratory offers special arts and crafts. Earlier this spring, all three oratories participated in the St. John Bosco intra-Oratory Basketball League. What a success that was – introducing children from all over the city to one another.
The Salesian community has been blessed with dedicated people and successful programs, but we need your help to improve, expand and reach as many children as possible with activities that they enjoy. Each child comes to the oratories for different reasons and many are still looking for the activity that makes them feel at home. You might be the person who can offer that activity. You may be the individual who can bring more children into our loving environment. You may be the person who has a smile and an ear to lend to a child who has no one else to listen. You may be the person we are looking for, and the Salesian oratories may be the place to put your faith into action.