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Faith groups are committed to youth
Most of us care deeply about the welfare and futures of our community’s youth. We want ours to be a community where young people receive the attention, respect, opportunities and supportive relationships they need to be happy and grow up healthy, caring and responsible.
Our area’s numerous diverse faith congregations are committed to realizing this kind of caring community. So, they offer to youth many opportunities and experiences that can make strong positive differences in their lives.
Generally, our faith groups reach out to girls and boys of every age. I’d like to focus on programs for those of middle and high school years. These are times when youth experience new and sometimes difficult concerns, challenges, risks and pressures. In these years, I believe, many youth can benefit greatly from the nurture and support they can find in communities of faith.
Exploring big issues
In faith-based youth groups, young people find safe, comfortable and stimulating environments for open-minded and respectful peer discussion of important concerns and life issues they face. They can explore and become increasingly aware of how faith teachings, and openness to the spiritual core of their beings, can broaden and brighten their perspectives on these issues and enrich their relationships and lives..
Typically, our youth groups enthusiastically “walk the walk” of caring for others. Most regularly engage in service activities, such as: collecting food and fundraising for Helpline House; holiday shopping for disadvantaged youth; serving food and helping kids at Seattle homeless shelters; helping host “Super Suppers” that combat hunger in our community; participating in CropWalk; and fund raising for self-help projects in foreign countries. One youth program is currently concentrating on various ways to heal and protect our environment. In others, youth put on dinners and other social events for seniors and visit shut-ins. In another, older youth help young scouts with safety training.
Several groups also go on periodic mission trips. On some recent trips, faith groups have built homes for homeless people in Mexico; built and repaired homes and prepared meals in flood-devastated New Orleans; helped repair flood damage in North Carolina; helped people of a Mexican village achieve adequate water and sustainable agriculture; helped the hungry, homeless and seniors through work in a food bank, homeless shelter and senior center in Portland; and painted homes of needy families in the Yakima valley.
Through these kinds of efforts, youth are richly rewarded. They grow in knowledge and appreciation of the conditions and struggles of others, especially those in need, and in compassion and sense of community with those they assist. They learn the values and results of working hard as a team. They experience the joy and fulfillment of giving of themselves for others.
Faith youth groups also excel in finding and enjoying opportunities for fun and play together – in positive and healthy ways. Some of many examples: river rafting; backpacking; hiking; skating; sledding; singing; drama; crafts; “coffee house” nights; weekly dinners; movie nights; bowling; mini-golf; swimming; overnight retreats; dances; celebrating festive occasions; and all sorts of games.
Belonging and acceptance
In faith-based groups, young people are connected in inclusive, loving and supportive circles of friendship. They are accepted for who they are, without peer pressures and “popularity” distinctions often encountered elsewhere. This sense of true community stems from the shared experiences described above, from the sensitive guidance of adult advisers and, I believe, fundamentally from the inspiration all receive from the Spirit of love that underlies our diverse faiths.
For information about specific faith group youth programs: you can contact most local faith groups through yellow page listings. Or, visit the website of the Bainbridge Island/North Kitsap Interfaith Council (IFC), www.binkinterfaith.org, and click on its “Youth” page and links to descriptions of youth programs of several of IFC’s 19 member congregations; or click on the site’s “Members” page for contact information for most all of these congregations. Many faith youth groups welcome young people whether or not they participate in other regular activities of the congregation.
“It takes a community . . . .”
Many other wonderful local organizations are striving to benefit our youth, including Bainbridge Youth Services, Bainbridge Teen Center, Bainbridge Boys & Girls Club and “Just Know” Coalition. So too are hundreds of dedicated teachers, coaches and others working with kids. Finally, each of us, individually, can give young people positive connections and support in various ways (see IFC’s website’s Youth and “How You Can Help” pages for concrete suggestions).
Our youth need and deserve nothing less.
Richard Goff is a member of Eagle Harbor Congregational United Church of Christ