Once teenagers enter high school their world gets bigger. For some teens, high school becomes the first exposure to a highly diverse environment. Where what was once familiar now becomes questioned or challenged as one encounters people of different backgrounds, values and religions. In a new environment where one can encounter more diversity, and new levels of discrimination against their beliefs, students must use religious groups or retreats to stay true to their faith.
Senior Kimberly Kopplin has been a member of the Life Teen group at Ahwatukee Foothills' St. Benedict Catholic Church for the past two years. At Mountain Pointe High School she is a member of the school dance and track team, and had the honor of being voted as a member of 2010 Homecoming Court.
On top of that, Kopplin values Life Teen because it has given her many leadership opportunities.
"Over the past summer, I attended a Life Teen Conference at Benedictine College (Kansas) with five other teens," she said. "It was so inspirational because you got to be at a college on your own and meet so many people. It was like a big Life Teen meeting. There were 400 people all in a college auditorium and we had different inspirational speakers who work for Life Teen and some are youth ministers as well.
"Mark Hart, who has written a couple (spiritual) books and is one of the original Life Teen people attended as well," she added. "It was really great."
Kopplin volunteers with Life Teen in the community by working at Andre House once a month and by attending charity events such as Relay for Life once a year. They have had events in the past, such as a kickboxing fundraiser, where all donations were given to the St. Vincent De Paul Society.
"The best thing about Life Teen is being able to learn about my faith without it being boring," Kopplin said. "I like to go learn about my faith and talk to friends about it. We build strong relationships, and get to learn about God better."
According to Kopplin, Life Teen made her feel more confident about her faith. After transitioning to public high school after graduating from St. John Bosco Catholic School in Ahwatukee Foothills, she said people would sometimes criticize her religion and tell her that some of her beliefs are "weird."
"I like having a solid faith and being able to share with people, because at public school people ask me specific questions pertaining to the Catholic religion," she said. "I'm glad that I'm active and able to share my faith and knowledge with them."
Kopplin plans to pursue her faith in the fall at the University of Arizona by joining the school's Newman Center, in order to attend weekly Masses, and by joining a local youth group.
Her advice to teens struggling with their faith: "Go to church. If that makes you uncomfortable, then start praying on your own by looking up prayers online. I would say to find people you are comfortable with talking about your faith. I'm not saying that you shouldn't be friends with people who don't share similar beliefs, but find other people to share that with instead of getting shot down."
Ellen Hill, who is also a senior at Mountain Pointe High School, has attended missionary trips with the youth group at Desert Foothills United Methodist Church in Ahwatukee Foothills. She has been a member of the group for the past eight years and took a missionary trip to Peru last July with seven other members of the group. They were able to work for the Refuge of Hope in a small town called Pucallpa, Peru, which helps people with disabilities learn life skills that can help them enter back into the workforce.
"One of my favorite memories was when we played soccer with the kids," Hill said. "We were able to play fun (physical education) games that you usually play in elementary school. That was the day I made a Spanish error, which I shouldn't have said in front of the kids. They laughed and smiled at me in return."
After all the memories, Hill said she was also able to gain life lessons from her trip.
"I'm just so thankful for what I have," she said. "We worked to help them build a farm and a little bit of a camp area so that local churches can go there for retreats and make money, because right now they rely on donations. They create farm areas to harvest to be more self-sufficient.
"From my perspective, I may be unhappy at times, but I should be grateful because there are kids that have such difficult disabilities to live with," Hill added. "I don't know how they do it, because they always have smiles on their faces. I never saw a sad kid there that had on a frown on his or her face."
The youth group at Desert Foothills United Methodist Church has many activities that members can participate in. While in junior high, Hill was part of the church volleyball team, where she got to play against other Methodist churches around the the Valley. When she was in the sixth grade, Hill and the group took a trip to Navajo Four Corners, where they helped a vacation Bible school build houses. During Labor Day weekend, the group joined a 30-hour famine to support kids in Haiti.
Since Hill is one of few Methodists who attend Mountain Pointe, she finds comfort with her church youth group, which shares similar beliefs.
"My favorite part of my faith I think is (the fact that we) have something to believe in," Hill said. "Just knowing that there is a higher power who is watching over you and something to believe in brings me comfort. The best advice I can give to other teens is to be yourself. Be true to believe in and if your friends aren't cool with it, then they're just not good friends."
Whether it's participating in missionary trips or through simple player, teens around the community are finding new ways to stay committed to their religion. Despite the discrimination and diverse environment, students continue to stick to their faith past graduation.
Ahwatukee resident Anna Carlos is a senior at Xavier College Preparatory and plans to attend the University of Arizona next year. She is interning this semester at the Ahwatukee Foothills News.