INDIANAPOLIS — Zoey Dennler was intrigued as she came upon one of the most popular areas of the Interactive Village of the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis.
The teenager from the Diocese of Davenport, Iowa, saw a crowd of youths flowing through the area where a series of small walls were marked with a few red “I am” stickers, stickers that were surrounded by numerous white notes that completed that thought:
— I am … lonely.
— I am … beautiful.
— I am … more than my anxieties.
— I am … loved, but I need to remember how much.
Zoey soon learned that all the descriptions on the hundreds of white notes were written by the youths attending the conference, anonymously sharing their insights on their feelings, their joys, their challenges, their lives.
Asking how she could write one of the white notes herself, she was told that all she needed to do was to enter one of the four blue-curtained booths for privacy, write whatever she wanted to share, and then place her white note in a box on the inside of the booth. Later, one of the organizers of the area would empty the box of new messages and put them on the walls.
— I am … not perfect (and that’s OK).
— I am … the quiet weirdo who expresses themselves and cares for others.
— I am … trying to fit in.
Coming out of the booth after she wrote how she felt about herself, Zoey said she was grateful for the opportunity.
“I saw the stickers with the ‘I am’ and saw the different things people wrote,” said Zoey, a member of St. James Parish in Washington, Iowa.
“It’s really cool that they’re letting people have a voice — without getting in front of a lot of people — and doing it anonymously,” she told The Criterion, newspaper of the Indianapolis Archdiocese.
The “I am” effort was offered by Ablaze Ministries, a ministry focused on connecting youths, parents and youth ministers to deepen their relationship with each other and with God.
“It’s not too often that teens get asked how they’re doing. And sometimes it’s in large groups where that can be intimidating at times,” said P. J. Lozano, an Ablaze staff member who was helping to oversee the area. “We wanted to give them a safe place to say who they are.”
— I am … not who I want to be.
— I am … strong, beautiful and deserving of your attention.
— I am … struggling but finding my way with the strength given me by God.
Lozano said that there have been many times when the youths were waiting in line for a booth to become available, so they could write their thoughts about their life.
“Some of the kids are spending a lot of time in there,” he said. “It’s amazing what happens when we really give teens the opportunity to express themselves.”
After every day of the Nov. 18-20 conference, Ablaze staff members prayed over the notes, praying for the youths who wrote them.
— I am … a child of God, never perfect, and always striving for a better relationship with God.
— I am … not someone you can just forget about and come back to. I am here to stay. I am loved. I’m me.
Shaughnessy is assistant editor at The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.