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ULSTER PROJECT Returning, as friends



Published: Tue, July 31, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The visiting teens from Northern Ireland are departing in the spirit of ecumenism.

By PETER H. MILLIKEN

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

BOARDMAN -- Twelve teen-agers are returning to Northern Ireland today, having learned some enduring lessons about teamwork, community service and life in the United States during a one-month visit here.

The teens, traveling with two adult counselors from their homeland, were here to participate in the Mahoning Valley Ulster Project, which annually brings Protestant and Catholic youth from Northern Ireland to host homes with American teens here.

On the eve of their departure, participants gathered for an ecumenical service at Westminster Presbyterian Church, which was symbolic of the tolerance and harmony the Ulster Project and the ecumenical movement espouse.

Impressions: Leanne McCaughan, 15, of Carryduff, said the participants formed friendships quickly and she learned the importance of teamwork. "Everything works better if there's a group," she said. "Everything's bigger than at home," she said, referring to the size of American supermarkets and shopping malls.

"Everyone's very friendly, and I'd love to come back," said Christine Sloan, 15, of Bangor, adding that highlights of her visit were "working as a team and helping with underprivileged children.'' Asked to sum up the most important lessons she learned from her visit, she said, "Trust in God, and work as a team, and always be there for each other.''

"I've learned to accept people for who and what they are," said Gerard McGourty, 15, of Kircubbin. "The people here are really kind and try to help you," he said of the Americans he has met here.

Among other experiences, the visiting teen-agers practiced teamwork at the CHAMPS ropes course in Church Hill Park in Liberty, volunteered their time in the Jubilee Gardens urban vegetable gardens project and at the Mill Creek Child Care Center in Youngstown, and enjoyed a field trip to Cedar Point amusement park in Sandusky.

Karen Shuttleworth of Canfield, who housed Leanne and Christine, said accommodating the visitors from North Ireland helped her daughter, Ashley, 14, to learn about another culture.

The program: The Ulster Project, now in its 14th year, seeks donations from churches and conducts mail fund-raising appeals and fund-raising events to pay travel expenses for the visiting teens and their counselors. The host homes donate food and lodging for the visitors.

The project, which has survived through some of the periods of highest tensions between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland, will continue next year, said Sally Murphy Pallante of Canfield, project founder.

"I hope they'll gain understanding. I hope they will continue the friendships they've made. I hope that they will look at things with eyes wide open now and not carry the prejudices that some families a long time ago passed on to their children, and that they're thinking for themselves as young adults," she added.

milliken@vindy.com




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