ANTIGO — Antigo teen-agers are living their faith and making the Advent season a bit warmer for northwoods residents.
ACE, an acronym for Accepting Christ Everyday, is a religious education group representing the tri-parish community of Ss. Mary and Hyacinth, St. John and St. Wencel, and it is making a difference in the community.
“We are all called to be a beacon of light for the community to be drawn to,” explained Tracey Minish, religious education coordinator and youth minister. “That is what we hope to be.”
The group, made up of a couple dozen high school-aged teens, has created 11 coat collection boxes for the Salvation Army’s “Keeping Our Community Warm” campaign, placing them at local businesses, various churches of all denominations and city offices.
They are doing more as well, regularly collecting the donated coats, jackets and other winter gear and preparing and delivering the items to the Antigo AmeriGas office. There the coats are placed on racks in a central display area, where families can browse, try them on and take home what they need.
ACE was approached about the project by Nick Salm, one of the coat program’s coordinators, after another youth group bowed out following a year of service.
“We jumped at it,” Minish said. “The students immediately embraced it as a way to give their time and talents.”
The boxes were provided by Sears, which operates an appliance store locally, and there were a few left over from previous years. But they were bland, nondescript containers and ACE members were soon brainstorming ideas to make them stand out and attract attention and donations.
“The idea was to make them so they were very visible, so people could see where to get a coat if needed,” Minish said. “They also wanted to make sure the boxes said ACE, giving them a sense of being a part of the community.”
The project has worked, plumping donations at a time when the winter winds and snow have arrived early.
“It is gratifying,” Bill Kelly of the Salvation Army said. “It has been great to see. They added additional boxes and the turnout has been tremendous.”
“They are a valuable asset to the program,” Julie Brandt of AmeriGas added.
ACE was formed two years ago as an outlet for high school students “to learn more about their faith in a very relaxed setting,” Minish said. “This is a fun-filled environment where they can come and socialize and use their talents.”
The group meets every Sunday evening in a former parochial school classroom that has undergone a bit of redecorating, including the addition of couches and comfortable chairs.
It’s no secret that the teen years can be difficult, with youth questioning everything from authority to their faith. ACE hopes to fill that void, Minish said.
“The group is very open and willing,” she said. “They take care of each other, too.”
The boxes were ACE’s first large community project and Minish predicts there will be more to come.
“I’ve heard wonderful things,” she said. “We’re already planning for the future.”
Prior to joining the Keeping Our Community Warm project, Minish researched local economics, reviewing the vital statistics of the community and sharing the results with the ACE members.
“They were very naive to the demographics of the community,” Minish said. “Now they know that there is a need out there.”
Kelly said that understanding is key.
“It’s a good lesson for them and as they become adults, they will understand the value of volunteering,” Kelly said. “These young people, who are involved in programs such as this … are going to be the ones who lead us in the future.”