Alyssa Boppell thought that Archbishop Nelson Perez of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia might be a pretty good source of advice for her senior seminar project about how to run a nonprofit youth ministry. Still, she was surprised when he agreed to her request for an interview.
Boppell, a 23-year-old Liberal Arts major from Glenolden, had a very practical reason for choosing her senior seminar topic.
“I run my own youth ministry through my parish, St. Gabriel’s in Norwood,” she explained. “I have been doing it for three years.”
After she graduates on December 20, she plans to continue her work with youngsters at St. Gabriel’s and beyond. Her motivation is rooted in her personal history. As a young girl, she was part of a Lutheran youth group with her best friend and loved the experience.
She knows that many nonprofits fail and wanted to get some tips from the archbishop about how to make hers successful. “I follow him on Facebook and see how he interacts with kids left and right,” she said.
They met in his Center City office on October 26, and Boppell was heartened by the archbishop’s emphasis on children’s mental health, especially after the isolating experience of the COVID pandemic.
She vividly recalled several tips that he offered: to continue doing research on the topic and pay particular attention to “getting people out of their comfort zones and away from their technology.” She was impressed with the archbishop’s insight that youngsters can exhibit personas on social media that don’t match their real personalities.
Boppell’s youth group is on board with that approach. She works with her board to “get kids off the streets” with activities like a haunted maze at Halloween and regular “hangouts” at which the youngsters can interact with each other in person.
She describes Archbishop Perez as someone who “understands the challenges kids are facing.” She found him to be very personable and understanding.
When the archbishop asked where she attended high school, Boppell confessed that she had “battled” her education and had been advised not to consider college. She ignored that advice and now speaks with pride about having earned her degree from Neumann.
In addition to continuing her nonprofit youth ministry, she also landed a full-time job at Springfield Opticians, where the staff will train her in the field.