Grace and peace. I want to thank you for all the work you are doing to engage youth in your community. I greatly appreciate all that you are doing.
Thank you to those who have followed the link below and filled out the form. We want to keep you informed of what is happening in the district, but the list that we have for youth leaders, paid and volunteer, is not complete. We are missing about 1/3 of the churches in the district. I understand that not every church has a youth ministry but if you do, even if you have received an email from me, please follow the link below and input your information. We would like to have the most up-to-date contact information for each of you. Pastors, if you have a youth ministry at your church, please pass this link along to the leader(s). https://forms.gle/aCYiuEhx4JqcoC1SA
I have completed work on creating district sub-groups, so watch your email (the pastor will receive this email if we have no youth contact listed). Also in the email will be a link to the form for youth to fill out for the District Youth Leadership team. If you are willing to help with district youth, fill out the form at the link above.
I am still looking for stories of youth in action. If your youth group has a project that they have been doing, I would love to highlight it in the newsletter. Send me an email or give me a call.
The dates for conference events have been posted on the conference youth website https://nccumc.org/youth/events/. Also the district youth have a Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/FairwayDistrictYouthNCCUMC), an Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/fairwaydistrictyouth/), and a website (https://fairwaydistrictnc.org/youth/). I invite you to follow and like the social media pages and bookmark the website.
If you have any questions, concerns, comments, or ideas you can send me, Justin Wells, an email at email@example.com or call me at 910-591-8156.
If you would like to view past editions of Youth News You Can Use, follow this link: https://fairwaydistrictnc.org/category/youth/
Saint Francis United Methodist Church Blaze Youth: “Making Our Mark”
In spite of everything that was going on the world, this year, BLAZE Youth decided that this would be the year of “Making Our Mark.” God left His fingerprints on the hearts of these teenagers when He created each one of them, and in that spirit, they were going to continue to leave their own fingerprints on their community, whether there was a pandemic or not.
Three years ago, BLAZE Youth fell in love with Oak City Cares (OCC) when they cooked their first meals and served Sunday brunch at the OCC facility, and they have supported them ever since, by “adopting” them as their official youth mission. (Oak City Cares is a coordinated care facility that is part of the Raleigh/Wake partnership to end homelessness. For more information about OCC, visit https://oakcitycares.org )
Every summer, our student-leaders meet with Oak City’s volunteer coordinator to discuss the specific needs of the OCC guests, and to come up with a coordinated plan for supporting those needs throughout the academic year. According to Payton, one of BLAZE’s high school student-leaders, “We think it’s important that we’re not just doing things that make us feel good. Everything we do has to have purpose for them.” In the past, they’ve served meals, collected items for “give-aways” at meal time and donations, and last year, they even built rocking chairs to provide respite for parents with little ones in OCC’s peaceful indoor family space.
This year has been a lot different. The pandemic has made life hard for many, but after speaking with volunteer coordinator, Laura Martin at Oak City Cares, the youth learned that for those living at the poverty line, it has been catastrophic. Jack, another student-leader shared, “The numbers of individuals who have lost their jobs has increased homelessness in Wake County exponentially, and at the same time, because of COVID restrictions, the area shelters have only been able to accommodate one-third of their usual guest capacity. [That meant that the main focus for this year would have to be] keeping the homeless guests of OCC warmer, safer, and drier while they are living outside, waiting to be accepted into the shelter system.”
Because BLAZE couldn’t just go in and serve, they had to find creative ways to be the hands and feet from afar –not an easy feat with all the restrictions. This made the youth more determined than ever to help. Throughout the fall, they coordinated a collection for cold-weather items like hats, gloves, socks, hand warmers, lip balm, etc., and as a result, they were able to make and drop off 120 Winter Wellness Kits in November. After the holidays, they continued collections through their Souper Bowl of Caring Drive. Thanks to our generous congregation, they collected nearly $1400 in cash as well as dozens of waterproof backpacks, tarps, blankets, hand warmers, fast food gift cards, and other items to help OCC’s outreach coordinator make outdoor living a bit more comfortable for those stuck outside this winter and spring.
The last weekend in February, Youth Director, Vicki Meigs-Kahlenberg, helped the student-leaders organize a build event called BLAZE C.U.E. (Community Understanding Experience). She said, “In talking with Laura from OCC, we discovered that there was a huge need for outdoor seating.” Because of COVID restrictions, they could only allow a few guests indoors at a time to receive services, so they needed a place for their guests to sit and wait outside. “As a youth group, we wanted the seating to provide more than just a place to sit. We wanted to beautify the campus and make it feel more welcoming. At the same time, I needed to think about the safety and logistics of a group of 6 working on a single piece of furniture. I decided that planter benches made the most sense, so that teams could spread out and work on separate sections at the same time. Laura was excited about the idea and asked if we could make one more modification: add a trashcan to one side. That’s just what we did!”
During this event, youth and adult “build captains” learned about homelessness in Wake County, and the services that Oak City Cares provides guests. And, at the same time they learned how to measure, cut, safely use power tools, be good stewards of materials, and work as part of a team –valuable skills that will help them on future Appalachia Service Project Mission trips! All in all, they spent twelve hours working tirelessly in ASP-style build teams with two adults and four to six youth per team. The middle school crew completed a beautiful planter bench with the help of their adult build captains making all of the cuts with the chop saw, while the three high school teams made all their own cuts and built their planter benches with comfortable back supports.
Both the youth and adults had such a positive experience. They loved that fact that we were able to get together (safely) in small groups to make big things happen for others. Carol, one of our adult build captains was so impressed with the teens, “As I pulled up on Friday evening of the build, it was so cold and rainy, and everyone was wearing masks and warm layers. I thought for sure morale would be low, but it was the exact opposite! It was amazing to see all of these kids and adults coming together, not thinking twice about the weather or the fact that we had to work around the pandemic. Everyone was just so excited to be together doing this work!” And they genuinely were excited to be there. Grant, one of our middle schoolers said, “It just made me feel so good to be able to do something to help others. While I was building, I felt like I was doing something that was making a difference and that what I was doing really mattered. I know that these skills will help me continue to make a difference for people in need in the future.” Becca, one of our high school youth agreed, “I felt so fulfilled! It was empowering to me to learn to use power tools and other skills that I never really had a reason to learn, all while being able to serve and give back to a community in need. After not being able to do anything for so long, it meant so much to do something that wasn’t even for me.”
The following week, the BLAZE crew rallied together again and recruited a few pickup truck drivers to deliver five planter benches to Oak City Cares. While they were there, these awesome teenagers planted flowers, strawberries, and cooking herbs in the bench planters and helped clean up the grounds. “It made me so happy to be there and to be a part of this delivery!” said Alli. “I loved seeing the reactions of the staff, and hearing how genuinely grateful they were, so I knew how much it would mean to their guests. I loved seeing how the plants brought so much warmth and life to their outdoor space, it just made me smile.”
BLAZE Youth have developed an incredible relationship with Oak City Cares over the years. And the fact that the youth continued to serve, however they could, even through this pandemic, means the world to the Oak City staff. The staff has come to know many of the youth by name, because they serve so often (and make such an impression). “Throughout the pandemic, public space got really small, really fast,” Laura from OCC told us, “which meant that the spaces where homeless folks could be became very limited. Being able to be out on our patio, which provides shelter from the elements and the heat, makes a world of difference for people who have nowhere to go. These teens helped make that space more usable, and also more welcoming and more beautiful. I felt thankful that we were able to stay open during this time, and I felt truly blessed that these teenagers and others took the time to remember us this year. I loved having the opportunity to be around such kind and caring young people.”
The youth are happy to give of their time on their days off from school, and thrilled to help build a better life for those experiencing hardships. It’s experiences like BLAZE C.U.E. that remind the youth how empowering it is to serve others and live life out loud as the hands and feet of Christ in the world.
SFUMC’s BLAZE Youth group is a family made up of 7th through 12th grade teenagers who live into Jesus’ message of love and service to others. (Our theme this year: Making Our Mark)