Men discerning religious life devote summer to helping troubled youth

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NARRAGANSETT — Three months living along Scarborough Beach sounds like an opportunity to kick back and relax, but three young men found that their summer vacation living on Ocean Road has been both challenging and a time of great blessings. For Moses Peña, Brian Bernard and Pablo Muñoz, who are all discerning religious life, motivating and working with the youth of Ocean Tides School made for an unforgettable summer.

The De La Salle Christian Brothers, whose South County residence serves not only as a home for underprivileged youth, but also as a school, educating and mentoring up to 35 young men at a time.

The students at Ocean Tides participate in a combination of academics, counseling and skills programs, such as culinary training, guided by the brothers on a daily basis. But working and learning from young men their own age has been invaluable, said Brother James R. Martino, FSC, President of Ocean Tides School.

“They see a nice, positive role model from a peer group closer to their age,” said Brother Martino. “The brothers are pleased to have more helping hands.”

Director of Vocations for the Brothers of the Christian Schools District of Eastern North America Bro. Francis Eells, FSC, explained that at first, the new faces may seem like a curiosity for the students at Ocean Tides, “normal young men considering a vowed life of service.”

“In time there is a respect and gratefulness that guys not much older than themselves would offer a helping hand,” Brother Eells said. “The Contacts come face-to-face with very needy young men. The work is hard, but the experience challenges their goals and ideas of service.”

Moses Peña, 20, who attends St. Francis College in Brooklyn, N.Y., said that working with the young men who participate in the Ocean Tides program, has been a positive experience for him, but not without its challenges.

“They have been through a lot. Many of these kids come from tough neighborhoods,” said Peña. “Sometimes they don’t have role models or parents to give them support. They need people like us who actually care about them. It’s important for these kids to have someone to look up to.”

This experience of helping youth who need guidance is new to Peña, and has made him reflect on the blessings he has received in his life.

“This has been the first time that I worked with children like this, but they are just regular kids. In the afternoons we play basketball and do regular stuff. It’s been interesting and positive and it has made me more humble. A lot of these kids don’t have the normal things that I have been given throughout my life.”

A typical summer day at Ocean Tides begins with classes, followed by lunch and then an afternoon of work such as prepping the gym to be painted.

Compared to the busyness of New York City, Brian Bernard, 19, who attends the College of Mount Saint Vincent in Riverdale, N.Y., was happy to live and work with the brothers this summer in the seaside town. He added that joining the religious brothers in daily prayer and living in community with them has been a wonderful experience.

“To be here is very calming,” said Bernard. “The brothers have tons of wisdom and stories. We are always laughing and having good conversation with them. It’s a community here so we are all praying together. There is nothing to worry for when you’re praying to God.”

And that is the attitude Bernard hoped to share with the young men of Ocean Tides.

“We can relate to them,” he said. “They can see where we are coming from and see that there is another side to what they are used to. They don’t have to be a tough guy on the streets with us.”

Pablo Muñoz, 19, grew up in Chihuahua, a Mexican state bordering the United States once known as the most violent city in the world. Now living and attending school at St. John’s University in N.Y.C., Muñoz brought his understanding from his childhood experiences to Ocean Tides.

“A lot of these kids come from really rough places. They were always looking behind them,” he said. “That’s how I grew up, with so much violence in my city — you gotta watch your back. You can’t go outside without fear.”

Muñoz said that despite the troubles of their past, he knows that they are good kids, who need guidance and friendship.

“They are normal kids,” said Muñoz. “Something has happened in their lives that they lost innocence or direction. They got stuck. We are all here to get them unstuck.”