In the summer of 1973 Rev. Kerry Waterstone, a Anglican priest, the paster of St. Catherine’s in Tullamore, Ireland, exchanged pastorates with Rev. Steve Jacobson of Connecticut. During their seven weeks in the United States, Rev Waterstone and his wife Edie, observed a profound effect that freedom and ecumenical spirit of the American society had on their sons Aidan, age 15, and Mark, age 11. Following his return to Ireland, Rev Waterstone, received a request from Manchester, Conn. asking him to form a plan for cooperative efforts to help ease the tensions in Northern Ireland. Now more than thirty years later, the Ulster Project has successfully grown to more than twenty host cities across the United States. The Mahoning Valley has hosted teens from Belfast, Northern Ireland in successful Projects since 1988.
“The Ulster Project is a Bridge of Peace” once quoted by Rev. Waterstone which the teens can cross and re-cross with the hope that the Ulster Project can bridge the divide.
The teens who arrive each summer from Belfast are matched to American host teens
whose ages range from 14 to 17 years of age( Belfast teens are 15 years of age upon arrival) and are of the same approx age and gender and who share similar interests and lives. Each day of July, The Host teen and the Host family are important ingredients in this experience for the Northern Irish teens.
During the month of July the Northern Irish teens and American host teens are provided with a variety of spiritual, social, and service opportunities. The teens gather to engage in group discussion and dialogs to help to begin to understand that they share much common ground. They also participate in many community service projects including working at inner-city day care centers, renovate at Jubilee Gardens, car washes and the like. There are also many opportunities for fun as the teens gather for picnics, swim parties, dances and golf activities. The ecumenical services and Time of Discovery sessions focus on the theme of Faith, Love, Hope and Peace and the Underground sessions are discussions in an atmosphere of tolerance building the bonds of friendship, trust, and understanding.
Families of Christian faith may take part in this Ecumenical Project. The only requirement is that the family have a teen between the ages of 14 to 17 who will commit to a month of activities including social events, service projects and group discussions. All expenses for the host teen and Northern Irish teen will be paid by the Ulster Project, except for the host family contributions such as room, board, local transportation, and family outings. The Northern Irish teens bring their own pocket money and monies to purchase gifts to take back home.
The Protestant and Catholic American teens who have participated in the project agree that the friendships and activities of the month make it an exceptional experience that they will never forget.