Thursday, May 19, 2011

In Praise of the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO); 81 Years of Serving the Youth and Poor of the United States

NY Archdiocese CYO logo.
Beginning at the age of four I lived with my family in a small village on Long Island called Lindenhurst. Lindenhurst was part of the larger town of Babylon but by itself had several public grammar schools, a junior high and a high school. There was also a Catholic grammar school (Our Lady of Perpetual Help) where my sisters, brother and I attended. In the summer our town ran a youth program open to all children who would register and attend 'summer school' in the public school closest to your home. It was free, so of course we were enthusiastic participants in everything that was offered from arts and crafts, knock hockey, theater and swimming lessons. Lindenhurst was a great town to grow up in and had almost everything any family could want.

But one thing that was not available to us was a CYO or Catholic Youth Organization. In our teen years, when my sister and I attended high school in Manhattan, we became aware of the existence and benefits that the CYO afforded. It seemed we were the only girls in our school who did not know how to play basketball! It wasn't the worst thing, after all we did know how to do the 'dead man's float' but I wondered why the CYO never made it's way out to the 'burbs'.

Bishop Sheil in 1952.
After marrying and moving to Staten Island, the CYO became an important part of our family's life. All three of my children learned to play and participate in organized basketball games, cheerleading competitions, swimming, track and field and softball teams. My husband coached basketball for many years and became involved in serving on Staten Island and Archdiocesan advisory boards. Last evening, he received an award for his community service to the Staten Island CYO organization and it made me think about posting a brief history of this nationwide organization and all of the good it has done in it's 81 years of existence.

First and foremost, the CYO is an organization for young Catholics. Meetings may be held in individual churches or in a main center that the organization maintains. It was founded in 1930 by Bishop Bernard J. Sheil of Chicago.

The main purposes of the CYO is to serve as a guide for young Catholics to live a Christian life from a young age, developing trust and living positively through activities that might include prayer, singing, charity and organized sports for which in the United States the CYO is mainly known. Sports might include boxing, basketball, baseball, track and field, cheerleading and volleyball as well as marching bands. Its athletic contests are competitive and are part of the fabric of an athletic oriented family or community.

On the New York Archdiocese website it is noted that..."CYO promotes the total spiritual and personal development of youth and young adults through various ministry centers, community centers, scouting programs, summer camps, athletic leagues, art and essay contests, leadership training programs and other religious, social and education activities in parishes."

That pretty much sums up what the CYO does for children: it gives them purpose, teaches them about competition and fairness and prepares them to be responsible adults.

A CYO girls basketball tournament in 1936.
On a personal note, this year our parish collected gifts for children in less fortunate parishes that were distributed through the Staten Island CYO offices. When we got to the center to deliver the gifts, we observed young mothers with children in baby carriages, selecting coats, hats and other warm clothing from bins in the lobby of the CYO building. In addition to providing winter outerwear, this same CYO serves Holiday meals to needy families on Thanksgiving and Christmas courtesy of a dedicated volunteer staff.

While it was very nice that my husband received the award last night, an organization like the CYO should be recognized for it's dedication and steadfastness to the youth and the less fortunate members of this country.

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