Teen cherishes hat swap, other NCYC moments

Jacqueline Vonderhaar, right, traded hats with Tiffany, from Philadelphia, during the National Catholic Youth Conference in Kansas City, Mo., held Nov. 19-21.

By Jacqueline Vonderhaar

(National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC), a biennial event that brings together thousands of Catholic teens, was held Nov. 19-21 in Kansas City, Mo. About 700 youths from the Diocese of Davenport participated. One of them, Jacqueline Vonderhaar, a member of the Diocesan Youth Ministry Committee (DYMC) shares her experience in this story.)

NCYC changed my life and the way I allow God into it. Through this outstanding opportunity, I met so many people and had a life-changing experience. The people at NCYC made NCYC truly amazing.

In my group we wore hats that looked like a bishop’s miter. My group would not have met as many people as we did if we had not had these hats. We could not go anywhere without being stopped and asked, “Do you want to trade hats?” We got asked this about 10 times an hour. Luckily, we could not trade until Saturday, because we used the hats to keep our group together. I had some pretty interesting offers for mine. One girl offered me her jacket and shoes, and someone else offered me $600,000. You are probably thinking: why did you not take that offer?! I can honestly say I do not regret rejecting it, even if it would have been a serious offer.

Instead of worrying about what we got in return, two girls in my group and I were determined to make a difference and bring a smile to someone’s face. One of the girls gave her hat to a priest who had set up a church in a third-world country. Another gave hers to a deaf boy. He had a deaf friend who really wanted one, too, but there were no more hats to trade. So, phone numbers were exchanged in case there was a miter to be found. 


I had been other places that day and had carried around my hat and hid it so that I would not have to say no to trades with a lot of people. When my group rejoined for dinner, I still had my hat. I heard about the deaf girl wanting a hat and I agreed to trade hats. I met her before Mass and traded hats. The smile on her face was worth the price of the whole trip. I took a picture with her so I could remember the difference I made in this girl’s life just by trading hats. After that experience, I no longer cared if I could have made a better trade, because nothing could top that.

I had another great experience. I had the opportunity of being an ambassador, a youth leader for the conference, along with Quinn Montgomery (DYMC’s chairman this year). We represented Iowa in the ambassador group. We each led a prayer at a breakout and we closed one breakout together. We decided to make our closing an amazing experience in itself, so we made up a rap and rapped our thank you while one of the presenters beat-boxed for us. It was a lot of fun and a good and entertaining way to thank them.

NCYC was a life-changing experience for me. I could feel Jesus’ presence everywhere I went. The energy from all the singing and dancing was indescribable. Having 20,000 other kids my age praise Jesus along with me is the coolest thing I have ever experienced. All the talks touched my heart. Having Mass with everyone at the end of the conference was perfect, because we all got to share the body and blood of Christ. I have come back with a new perspective on life and I am now closer to God than I have ever been before.

I encourage every high school student to attend NCYC and experience how awesome this trip is. Talk to your youth minister and start planning for NCYC 2011 in Indianapolis! I have traveled all over the country and nothing has come close to this experience. I would not trade it for anything!

(Jacqueline Vonderhaar is a junior at Ottumwa High School and a member of St. Mary of the Visitation Parish in Ottumwa and DYMC.)

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