Fr. Joseph Purpura Reflects on Eventful Summer


The Chairman of the Department of Youth and Parish Ministries, V. Rev. Dr. Joseph Purpura has been creating and implementing youth training programs across the United States and Canada since the late 1980's. He has held numerous appointments over the years and is currently overseeing a number of programs, both established and new. Over the summer he coordinated SOYO Diocesan General Assemblies, elections, the Leadership Conference, Bible Bowl Festival, Oratorical Contest and Special Olympics Sports Camp. Antiochian.org asked him for an update as he looks to the Archdiocese's fall youth schedule.

1. What is the Healthy Youth Initiative? In general, can you update us on the progress of OCCHY (Orthodox Christian Coalition for Healthy Youth)?

The Healthy Youth Initiative offers Orthodox Christian communities the opportunity to heighten awareness of substance abuse issues and to recognize and respect the sanctity of the human body. By developing local community networks, parish leaders are able to establish healthier living conditions for our youth. Local coalitions promote substance abuse solutions through policy change, environmental design modification and substance abuse prevention strategies. Orthodox Christian Coalitions also encourage healthy sexuality and righteous living through awareness, education, mentoring and by developing Youth Task Force Advisory groups.

The national office for the Orthodox Christian Coalition for Healthy Youth, OCCHY, works with Antiochian Orthodox Christian parishes developing local coalitions to serve the geographic area of each parish, each diocese and with other jurisdictions. We are currently conducting an extensive survey on drug use amongst our Antiochian Orthodox teen population to better understand the issues and needs facing our youth. While the survey continues to be administered, we have collected enough data to recognize the positive impact of OCCHY in our coalition areas. We have also collected enough data to know that parents need to be proactive with their children by age 12 and 13 in references to alcohol, tobacco (cigarettes and the water pipe [Argileh or hookah]), and marijuana. Parents may want to read further on these issues here.

We have one federally funded coalition known as OCCHY – Cicero/Greater Chicago. The Tucson, Arizona coalition is very active and we are working with Louisville, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Boston, and Greensburg Pennsylvania. Several OCCHY leaders have received federally-funded training and our federal partners provided a wealth of resources for the 2012 Clergy Symposium, the Youth Worker’s Conference, and the SOYO Leadership Conference.

We built a new Healthy Youth website with resources for Clergy, Parents, Youth Workers, and Teens towards preventing alcohol and drug use and abuse in youth. For more information check the website.

2.  June, July and August were busy months for youth leadership in the Archdiocese! Tell us about the recent Bible Bowl and Oratorical festivals and Special Olympics.

The summer months were busy for Youth Ministry across the Archdiocese with Parish Life Conferences in every diocese bringing about SOYO Diocesan General Assemblies, SOYO Elections, SOYO Leadership Conference, Bible Bowl Festivals, Oratorical Contests and SOYO Special Olympics Sports Camp.

First, our Diocesan and NAC SOYO organizations held elections and elected twenty-eight outstanding new officers to serve on the diocesan level, along with each diocesan Spiritual Advisor and Youth Director. July brought about the North American Council of SOYO Summer Meeting and Leadership Conference. Elected this year to the North American Council of SOYO were: President, Laney Wagoner from the Diocese of Wichita; Vice President Laura Eisenbrei from the Diocese of Toledo; Amy Wallace from the Diocese of Wichita; and Jordan Kurzum from the Diocese New York and Washington DC.

Each Diocese held Bible Bowl and Oratorical Contests. The Bible Bowl this year focused on St Paul’s Letter to the Romans and resulted in an outstanding, room-filled Bible Bowl at the Antiochian Village Heritage and Learning Center with the Diocese of Ottawa (St Elias Cathedral – Maria Fakhoury, Milad Hamwi, and Amanda Salibi) winning the competition with an almost perfect score. Next year the text will be from the Gospel of Mark. Study guides are already online at www.OrthodoxYouth.org/Mark . The Oratorical Festivals on the diocesan level produced seven excellent Diocesan Oratorical winners who gathered and competed on the North American level this past July at the Antiochian Village Heritage and Learning Center. The attendees gathered for the North American Oratorical competition listened to outstanding orations on the importance of the Scriptures in the daily lives of our young people. The 2012 Oratorical winner was Peter Joseph Somi from the Diocese of Worcester and New England. The 2013 Oratorical topic can be found at www.antiochian.org/festivals.

The 32nd SOYO Special Olympics Sports Camp held this past August at the Antiochian Village Camp, funded, sponsored and staffed by Teen SOYO from across the Archdiocese was an outstanding success. On the Third Sunday of each October our teens raise over $50,000 needed to fund this worthy ministry. The Order of St Ignatius grants our teens an additional $8,000 to allow them to bring more Special Olympic Athletes to the camp each year. Our SOYO members provide at least half of the staff for the week of Special Olympics training. This premier Special Olympics program and ministry of our teens is life-changing both for our teens and for the Athletes. Our teens come to serve and in so doing fulfill the Gospel message and in turn learn so much more about themselves and their own capabilities. For more information: http://www.antiochian.org... .

3. In July, you met with the SOYO leaders as well. What projects did you discuss and what were your overall impressions of the meetings?

During the first portion of Leadership Training, the officers learned about the different components of SOYO and the various programs it has adopted throughout the years. One of SOYO’s largest programs has been OCCHY (Orthodox Christian Coalition for Healthy Youth). This initiative works toward substance abuse prevention and intervention across America. In addition, this initiative encourages respect for the human body and works to build strong leaders in body, mind and spirit. The teens are taking an active role in this program in hopes to establish coalitions in their own dioceses. More information about OCCHY can be found at www.HealthyYouth.com.

There are several committees that NAC has decided to adopt this year. One of the major committees is the Unity Committee, which was established at the last Leadership Training in Chicago. This committee focuses on uniting teens from different Orthodox Christian jurisdictions. Each diocese was given a specific task this year to help encourage the teens in their diocese to take part in this movement of unity. This idea of unity has become a very popular subject amongst our teens. Myriam Zakaib, Treasurer of the Diocese of Ottawa stated the following: “I think Orthodox unity is important because we are all here to serve Christ. We are all brothers and sisters in His name and we should be working together to serve Him. It does not matter whether you are Russian or Greek, or anything else; you are first an Orthodox Christian."

Another committee that the officers decided to adopt is the Transition Committee. During the business portion of our meeting we had the pleasure of hearing Jennifer Nahas speak to us about OCF (Orthodox Christian Fellowship). This is an organization that Orthodox Youth may join during their college years. Since teens usually join OCF after completing their SOYO years, the officers wanted to help graduating high school seniors learn more about OCF during their transition to college. Under the leadership of the NAC board, the teens put together a committee which would coordinate the transition from High School to College with OCF. “OCF is so vital to ensure college students still have their faith to rely on.” – Hibbah Kaileh, Treasurer of Diocese of Wichita.

Following the business portion of Leadership Training, the officers took part in small-group activities led by various speakers and small-group leaders. During this time the teens heard several talks about how to be leaders in the Orthodox Church. Nicole Tokatli, The Diocese of Worcester Secretary stated, “I learned so much from all of the great speakers that came, like how to use the Divine Liturgy as a model for leadership.” Laura Eisenbrei, NAC Vice President and Diocese of Toledo President, stated, “The speakers provided us with insight and knowledge on how to become successful, not only in the positions we hold, but in our everyday lives.” The speakers showed the teens not only how to be leaders, but how to dress and act like leaders. The officers would like to sincerely thank each speaker for taking the time to come and speak to them.

During the week, the teens had the pleasure of having His Grace, Metropolitan Silouan of Argentina present during their meetings. He listened to each diocese’s report and gave insight about the youth in Argentina. The teens became inspired by his stories of the poverty and illiteracy rate in the country and wanted to help in any way they could. As a group, the teens presented a check for $1,500 to Metropolitan Silouan in hopes of providing necessary resources to help improve the lives of the teens in Argentina.

A large component of SOYO is fellowship. The teens participated in various activities that helped bond them together and helped them learn how to work as a team. After celebrating hierarchical liturgy the Sunday of training, the teens went out on a low element challenge course. “The challenge course was probably the main reason I bonded as close as I did with everyone. It taught us how to work as a team, and really brought us together in the end,” stated Hiba Khouri, President of the Diocese of the East. The challenge course pushed the teens in different ways. During one of the elements, the officers were told to keep quiet and were not allowed to communicate while doing a team building activity. Dylan Fahoome, Treasurer of the Diocese of Toledo said, “We were told to be silent on one of the elements, which worried us at first. Though after a few seconds in the silence, we were able to hear God's voice. And that was much less worrying, because we all heard Him, and His wisdom brought us closer to completing the challenge.” The challenge course brought the officers together and taught them to remember to hear God’s voice through all loudness of the world around them. They learned to apply this in their work this year. Although they may be surrounded by the loudness of the world, they have to step back and hear God’s voice, and remember that they must center themselves on Him.

Leadership training was a time for the officers to meet and gather, both in fellowship and in Christ. Peyton Powers, DOWMA Secretary gave his impressions of Leadership Training: “The friendly introductions set you up for a week of growth, transformation, love but most importantly--Christ. Being in an environment of leaders who share your faith is not only comfortable, but also comforting. As the week progresses you begin to construct life-long relationship with your fellow peers, and strengthen your relationship with God. Leadership Training provides you with the skills you need to become a successful leader on your diocesan SOYO board, but also in your church, school and community.”

Jordan Kurzum, NAC Treasurer and Diocese of the East Treasurer also gave his impression: “The experience was indescribable. I was able to meet other Orthodox teens that share my passion for working hard and leading others. I was inspired by all of the fantastic people and lectures and learned to bring everything I was taught back to my own dioceses to share with the teens.”

Ultimately, “Leadership training has such a remarkable impact on us that we all want to go back,” NAC SOYO Vice-President – Laura Eisenbrei.

4. As our youth head back to school in the fall, what advice do you have for parents who are committed to helping their teens stay in the Church?

For Teens headed to High School

Today there is constant pressure on all of us to succeed and demands to keep busy. When we as parents feel overwhelming pressure, some of the stress falls on our children. Colleges and societal influences pressure our youth to be perfect, while media, peers, and other outside influences pressure our youth with drugs and alcohol, to gain wealth, to gain fame (or infamy), to accumulate material possessions, engage in pre-marital sexual relations, to smoke, and to look a certain way. To combat these negative influences, we need to surround our children with the Church, family, mentors, and substance free activities. One of the most valuable aspects of raising healthy children is the respect they see with and between their mother and father. Another important piece in youth development is the example we set by our own Christ-like lifestyle through participation in the life of the Church, stewardship, humanitarian efforts, respectable careers, time for family activities, nutrition, exercise and healthy living. In addition, we need to provide mentors to our children to help them recognize and develop their talents.

Raise a Generation of Leaders - Raising a child with confidence and leadership skills gives a child a lifetime of support:

• Keep or start open communication between parent and teen (We can do this by making a positive comment while on a car ride and then just listening; or while cutting our child’s hair; or choosing a time with our child just to talk about a topic of their choice).

• Find new venues for open communication.

• Build self-esteem by using teachers, aunts, uncles and other mentors to assist.

• Encourage participation in team sports, church youth groups, and music ensembles to meet new people, build strong bonds and gain new proficiencies.

• Support and encourage teen to find part-time work.

• Volunteer in the community and encourage teens to volunteer using their own talents (Sing or play piano for Senior Citizen Center, help decorate or plan activities for Children’s Hospital Holiday Parties, play chess with nursing home residents).

Alert Your Teen to Peer Pressure Risk Factor Traits – You are more likely to be negatively pressured if you fear a bully, have low self-esteem, lack close friends, fear losing a friend, feel lonely, experience academic failure, or you are going through family trauma or instability.

Know Where Your Teen Is – Keep your home a happy, fun place to be so that neighborhood friends congregate there. Recognize when teens are choosing a house that does not have a parent home after school and make changes immediately. Just as in Middle School, keep track of who has carpool duty to and from sports events and other after-school activities.

Give Your Teen a “Text WORD” – Choose a WORD with a special meaning to help you remove yourself from an uncomfortable or dangerous situation. Parent and teen can choose two favorite words or Biblical phrases to mean “Call me now” or “Pick me up ASAP.”

Websites to offer your high school student:

www.HealthyYouth.com; www.TeenSOYO.org; www.YesNorthAmerica.org; www.ocf.net;

www.teens.drugabuse.gov; www.thecoolspot.gov; www.abovetheinfluence.com

www.stopbullying.gov;

For Young Adults headed to College:

The most important and effective support you can give your teen who attends college is by planning some talks and offering specific strategies. Take time to choose simple, abbreviated literature about the problems you envision for the college-town he/she is enrolled. Make a list of healthy living websites which include church affiliation, OCF chapters, health and nutrition sites, local or school-related sporting events, respectable “sports-bar type” restaurants (meaning grilled foods and sports TV’s not stripper-poles and lap-dancing), upcoming substance-free events, etc.

Tell your child to:

• Think Twice - When other students decide to do something, you will have the reminder to Think Once about what “everyone else” is doing and then Think Again!

• Resist Being Bullied by Peer Pressure – Follow your own choices not someone else’s.

• Be a Leader - By showing confidence in your opinion or decision, others will follow the good example.

• Imagine yourself in 5 Years - what would you think of the person, situation or decision you are confronting?

• Make Good Decisions in Your Freshman Year – The choices you make in your Freshman Year of college can impact your academic and personal success throughout your college years and beyond.

• Network with Positive People – Get to know motivated, mature classmates, successful professors, and campus chaplains.

Give your child survival tactics. If your child feels overwhelmed by peer pressure to drink, remind your child there are options:

• Remove yourself from harmful situations. This may include the dangers of underage drinking or the criminal consequences of being associated with others involved in criminal behavior.

• Know that it is a valuable trait (one of maturity and leadership) to be strong enough to say no to peer pressure.

• Be aware that some college students drink every day of the week and many students binge drink. You can have candid talks with your friends who may pass out from drinking in the middle of the week. If you are strong enough to steer another student in the right direction you are already a leader.

Remind your child of the consequences of substance use and abuse:

• Alcohol is linked to premarital sex, sexual assaults, and date rape.

• Alcohol and other drugs are linked with addiction/dependence.

• Alcohol and other drugs are linked with traffic crashes and deaths.

• Alcohol and other drugs are linked with violence by teens and domestic violence.

• Alcohol is a gateway drug to other drugs, criminal behavior, and dishonorable behavior.

• Alcohol and other drugs are associated with school failure.

When it comes to dating:

• Before you leave for a date, think about your future family life in ten years and if you would be proud of your behavior on this date night.

• Look for someone that has a strong faith in God, is motivated to succeed, serves the less-fortunate and is respectful to others.

Websites to offer your college student:

• Learn the Facts about Substance Use and Abuse - www.HealthyYouth.com

• Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese parish locations - http://www.antiochian.org...

• Orthodox Church in America parish locations - http://oca.org/directories

• Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America parish locations - http://goarch.org/parishes/

• Orthodox Christian Fellowship - http://www.ocf.net/

• YES: Youth Equipped to Serve - http://www.yesnorthameric...

• Read Literature:

Marijuana: Facts for Teens - http://www.drugabuse.gov/...

Marijuana: Facts Parents Need to Know - http://www.drugabuse.gov/...

College Drinking Prevention - http://collegedrinkingpre...

National Institutes of Health - www.drugabuse.gov

NIDA for Teens - www.teens.drugabuse.gov