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Christmas comes early for Hispanic youth program

The Hispanic Apostolate was jumping with excitement Oct. 21 when scores of adults and children stopped by to meet New Orleans Saints players and the Saintsations dance team, execute football drills and try out more than $20,000 worth of exercise and game-room equipment as part of the 16th annual NFL-United Way Hometown Huddle.

“It’s been like Christmas,” said Carlina Doubleday, the new director of pastoral youth ministry at Hispanic Apostolate, while watching youths simultaneously getting exercise and having fun. “It’s for the kids. Now when we get together, they have lots of activities.”

The equipment was donated and installed at the apostolate through an agreement between the United Way and the New Orleans Saints in Hometown Huddle, an NFL-United Way community service program that began in 1999 to encourage youth health and fitness.

The Saints and the NFL collaborated at the Hispanic Apostolate to stock two youth rooms – one with video electronics such as Xbox Kinect and a plasma television, ping pong and pool tables, and another with hydraulic fitness equipment, exercise bikes, a punching bag, exercise balls, ropes and more.

“We are thrilled to be here today and to continue working with the New Orleans Saints to help children and our community thrive,” said Michael Williamson, president and CEO of United Way of Southeast Louisiana.

Representatives from the Saints organization helped outdoors with three fitness drills from the NFL Play 60 Junior Training Camp. Youths checked out how high they could jump in the Vertical Jump Challenge as compared to current New Orleans Saints players; learned defensive moves in the defensive back drill; and caught footballs in the wide receiver drill, with former Saints wide receiver and ambassador Michael Lewis acting as quarterback.

Other Saints demonstrating exercise equipment or playing ping pong were tackle Terron Armstead, center Tim Lelito, safety Vinnie Sunseri, practice squad tackle Tavon Rooks, along with Saints mascot Gumbo and Sir Saint. Play 60 T-shirts also were distributed.

Grown since August
The Hispanic Apostolate recently reformed its youth and young adult ministries and has been readying two rooms dedicated to youth with new carpeting, lighting, sheetrock and paint in advance of the donation.

“I had been looking for financial aid to put the rooms together,” said Dominican Father Sergio Serrano, director of the Hispanic Apostolate. “Through the United Way, I was able to make the contact with the Saints.”

Doubleday has big plans to get youth involved in their Catholic faith and the community through service projects and education. She brought 20 youths to World Youth Day held in late October.

Another anticipated improvement is leveling the outdoor fields at the former St. Lawrence the Martyr Parish campus to make them safer to play organized soccer. Right now, youths compete in unofficial soccer matches on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Doubleday said Saints representatives offered to return to teach both parents and children how to properly use the donated exercise equipment. They also want to encourage football safety by teaching proper tackling and blocking techniques, since the majority of children from Latin American backgrounds are more familiar with soccer than American football, Doubleday said.

The changes at the center help make it a welcoming and fun environment conducive to children, Doubleday said. It can only increase attendance at future youth and young adult functions.

“I think it will drive more people here,” said Christian Soriano, 16, who regularly attends the young adult group. He said he’s learning about God every week.

The Hispanic Apostolate is located at 2525 Maine Ave. in Metairie. Youth group meetings are held Fridays from 7-9 p.m. Call Doubleday at 467-2550.

Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarion

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