FREEDOM — Like her favorite saint, Thérèse of Lisieux, Eve Vanden Heuvel has been finding little ways to bring joy and hope to people around her. She does it through social media and through a special outreach to veterans that she started earlier this year.
Vanden Heuvel, the daughter of Don Vanden Heuvel and Michele Hepfler, is a senior at Xavier High School in Appleton. It was a Kairos retreat during her junior year in high school that inspired Vanden Heuvel to begin putting her faith into action.
“I started making TikTok videos about a year ago, after I went on (the Kairos) retreat,” she told The Compass. “I felt like God was really calling me to talk about my faith on social media.”
She explained that TikTok is a popular mobile video app that allows people to share funny or inspirational one-minute videos on their smartphones. The profile on her TikTok account reads: “Just trying to make heaven more crowded one tik tok at a time.”
“I really utilize TikTok as a way to share God’s love and spread things that he’s revealed to me in my life in order to help others find that love and joy and peace that God has given me,” she said.
Vanden Heuvel said she has posted close to 200 videos on TikTok.
“I have a little over 90,000 followers on TikTok, which is absolutely crazy,” she said. “God is good, allowing me to plant seeds in my life. I think it’s one of the best ways to appeal to our youth, because that’s the future of our faith.”
Vanden Heuvel’s interest in youth ministry began after becoming a religious education instructor two years ago at her parish, St. Nicholas. (Her family also attends St. Thomas More in Appleton.) After a request was made one Sunday after Mass, she signed up to teach kindergarten religious education.
“I really like helping little kids and being around them,” she said. “They have such great positive energy. It really helps me see that child-like faith in action. They soak up all of the information that we are giving them. It’s one of the things that inspired me to want to pursue teaching theology.”
Vanden Heuvel will attend Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., next fall to pursue degrees in theology and secondary education. She hopes to become a Catholic high school religion teacher.
Using social media to share her faith has been one way for Vanden Heuvel to prepare for a career teaching religion to young adults.
“I think (social media) is one of the best ways to appeal to our youth,” she said. “Not everyone has the same views that I do, and I understood that, but it gave me an opportunity to be able defend my faith … and say, ‘OK, this is what I believe.’
“It also allowed me to go beyond and say, ‘This is why I believe what I believe’ and really just do more research on my faith,” she said. “It inspired me to want to help others … and teach that to our high school and college-level students.”
Vanden Heuvel’s skills with social media benefited another passion in her life: honoring American veterans. She created a Facebook page called “Thank You from the Heart – Thanking Our Veterans.” In anticipation of Veterans Day, Nov. 11, the Facebook page features a 40-day “Countdown to Veterans Day.”
“I have been posting like a quote about veterans, a freedom that we have (thanks to veterans) or a veteran’s story to help make the public more aware of what goes into Veterans Day and why we should thank our veterans,” she said. She has a similar campaign on Instagram.
“My family and I attended Arlington National Cemetery two years in a row over Memorial Day weekend and it was such a profound experience to see the rows and rows of graves of those who wanted to protect our country,” she said. “These people have sacrificed so much so we can have the freedoms that we have. It really inspired me to do something.”
Vanden Heuvel began visiting elementary and middle schools two years ago to talk to students about veterans. “At the end of the presentation, each student makes a handmade thank-you card, which I then deliver to veterans homes across Wisconsin,” she said.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced Vanden Heuvel to turn the project into a virtual outreach.
“I created a YouTube account where teachers can go to view my presentation,” she said. “I broke it up into about six short videos about who veterans are and teachers can present this to their students in this COVID-friendly presentation.”
Last March, Vanden Heuvel organized a “bucket drive” for veterans at the Wisconsin Veterans Village in Appleton. Working with local businesses, she filled buckets with cleaning supplies, a dental gift bag, $10 gift card to Christiano’s Pizza and handmade cards from children. About 50 buckets greeted veterans as they moved into the new facility earlier this year.
Vanden Heuvel said that all of her activities are inspired by faith and aimed to honor God.
“One of the greatest things you can do is allow people to know who Jesus is, know who God is,” she said. “God put us on this earth in order to further his kingdom and help people to discover his love. There really are no words to describe how much he loves us. … We are here in order to help people get to heaven, and there is no gift greater than spreading God’s gift of love.”