“The more things change, the more they stay the same.” We have a summer program in rural Connecticut, rather like a camp for inner-city families, which we’ve been running since 1972. In many ways, the Trinita Family Life Development Program has continued in its original format all this time. Don’t mess with success! There have been a few practical adjustments over time, but the essentials continue untouched. Peer group, arts and crafts, family blanket time, the pool, mass, an evening gathering: it all looks very much like it did in 1972.
“Week Zero” is what has continued to evolve and change over the decades: the orientation we provide for new volunteers. I first experienced Orientation Week in 1984, and we spent well over half of the week just getting the property ready: everything from painting cabins to preparing lesson plans. What time we had left included some training for the program and some input on cultural sensitivity.
I just completed my twentieth Week Zero! (Well, maybe nineteenth.) More than ever, I could see this year how much better Orientation Week now reflects our Missionary Cenacle spirit. These days we have staff to maintain the property and many diverse friends and volunteers who prepare the lesson plans. We have the luxury of time and energy we never had in earlier years. How do we use that gift?
We still do work on cultural sensitivity! But we’ve added time for personal reflection, allowing volunteers to pray with the themes for the summer. There are presentations and discussion on what it means to be a missionary, and what spirituality actually is. There are activities designed to build community life and communication skills. We do apostolic reflection. There is even training and practice on how to use Christian Prayer, the prayer of the Church. So many ribbons!
The fact is, Week Zero is not a mere tool designed to prepare volunteers to run the “real” program for the families. More than any other work I have done as an MSBT, I see Trinita’s Orientation Week as a fulfillment of our mandate to develop an apostolic spirit in Catholic laity. We are training our volunteers with a view beyond our summer program. We’re training them to more effectively carry out the work of the Church when they leave Trinita. We’re training missionaries.