SERVE 2019 was one of the most influential weeks of my life. Seeing the broken state some people live in is one thing but having the opportunity to help them and change their way of life is entirely different. We made a difference, even if all we did was weed a few rows of a community garden or paint the walls of a non-profit organization. And making a difference made a difference in me.
I was cautious to go on this trip. It was very out of my comfort zone. Then, when I found out no one from my church was in my SERVE small group, I was even more discouraged. However, as soon as I met my small group and spent one day with them, I knew I was here for a reason. The people I worked with and got to know were some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met, and I quickly realized God sent me on SERVE to do good.
God sent me to a small church in Muskegon, Michigan both to help people and to grow, myself. I learned more about myself in those seven days than I have in my entire life. I learned to not take things for granted. I learned that God works miracles in the strangest of ways. I learned to get out of my comfort zone and talk to people. And I learned to make friends, even if it’s just for a week and I might never see them again.
With each service project – every time we handed out yogurt at the church or cleaned a lot – we made a difference, and I was so encouraged. It might not have been much, but it was something, and it was hopefully enough to encourage others to follow our footsteps, too.
One little nudge can make a change in someone’s life, like the way my life changed at Muskegon SERVE. If the people of Muskegon saw us planting a garden and growing food, it shows them that it’s possible. If the kids at Muskegon Heights High School saw that people were willing to help them, it shows them they can help people, too.
Muskegon SERVE was just one week, but the people I worked with have been doing this for years. They have dedicated their lives to helping their community and are very passionate about what they do. They work so hard with so little. I’m so grateful I had the opportunity to see, and talk to, and help these people. It’s changed who I am, and I hope everyone gets a chance to have a similar experience. If you ever get the opportunity to go do good, do it. It will be beyond worth it.
[This is an excerpt from the Fall 2019 Magazine. To read more stories CLICK HERE]
Convincing people to give you money isn’t always easy – even if it’s for a life-changing youth mission trip. You need to get creative to inspire your youth and make them excited about raising money for the trip. We’ve created a practical list for youth workers and pastors to help make your next Christian youth mission trip a financial success.
1. Text-to-Tithe Campaign
A text-to-tithe campaign can be incredibly useful because people can give whenever or wherever they want. Your youth group is already well-versed in communicating via text message. You’ll need to do some upfront work to get the campaign setup, but after that, let your youth lead the charge demonstrating how the campaign works to the congregation.
Promote the text-to-tithe fundraiser in multiple channels, including social media and the church’s newsletter. Tap into your teens’ enthusiasm and have them make announcements at the end of sermons about why the fundraiser is essential.
2. Charity or Silent Auction
A charity auction or silent auction is a reliable fundraising method for a reason. Guests can bid on their favorite or most unusual items, and the highest bidder receives the item. While this event may require the most planning out of all the options on our list, it also had the potential to raise the most money.
Encourage your youth group to think of different services they can offer, such as yard work, painting, shopping, deliveries, babysitting, cleaning or snow removal. Or they can reach out to local businesses to donate items. If you have ample space, you can save a lot of money by hosting the auction at your church.
3. Crowdfunding Campaign
Tap into the growing trend of online fundraising, specifically crowdfunding, to raise money for your youth group. Use your congregation’s expansive social media network to help spread the word about the youth mission trip to existing and new supporters.
You’ll need to create a mobile-optimized fundraising web page and make room for great visuals like images and videos. Lean on your youth to utilize their strengths to tell the story and encourage them to share the campaign. The best part is crowdfunding can be used together with countless other fundraising events.
4. Parents Party
A parents party is an excellent way to give the parents a night out and also raise money for your youth mission trip. You’ll need to put together a party planning committee and start selling tickets. In exchange for tickets sold, the teens in your youth group can be made available to babysit that evening free of charge.
Time the event around a holiday for maximum promotion. Parents would love a night out during the busy Christmas season or even Valentine’s Day.
5. Teach a New Skill
Mine your congregation for people with skills others have always wanted to learn. Maybe you have talented sewers, website developers, crafters, photographers or carpenters willing to donate their time. You’ll need to sell tickets and provide the materials and space required for the lessons. In no time, you’ll have funds for your youth mission trip and a congregation armed with a new skill like how to build a simple shelf or hem a pair of pants.
Youth group fundraising doesn’t have to be complicated or tedious. Use these ideas to get your youth group and congregation excited about raising money for your upcoming youth mission trip.
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Coming home from a youth mission trip can be much like falling off a mountaintop and walking away very disoriented. You have experienced so much in such a short time that coming back to real-life can be a letdown.
One way to prevent disorientation is to spend some time in reflection and share your experience with others. Below are a few questions to ask yourself and your trip companions as you try to process your experience and integrate what you learned into daily life.
1. What are the top three things I will miss from my mission experience?
Mission trips often come with new friendships, a new love for the location you were in and a spiritual high. While we know that the trip can’t last forever, it is okay to think about what you will miss about being there. Recognizing things that will be missed is also a good way to think about what you may do differently at home.
2. What are the top three things I’m most thankful for at home?
Maybe you are really thankful for your family, your home church, the school you go to or that you have a stable place to eat and sleep each day. Spending some time to reflect on these things will help you have a greater appreciation for all that you have been blessed with!
3. What is one thing I want to remember from this experience?
We hope that we will remember it all but we also know that our memories can fade over time. It’s important to think of some of the highlights and make note so that you can hold onto this impactful experience for many years to come.
4. What do I feel like God was communicating to me during this time?
Do you feel like you learned a big lesson or felt a little nudge? Are you leaving with a renewed conviction to spend more time in the Bible or to get connected with a non-profit at home? Sometimes you don’t even realize what God was trying to tell you until you take a little time to process your experience.
5. Who will I share with when I get home so I can be held accountable for continuing this growth?
We are not meant to go through life alone. Talking about your experience and the things God communicated to you throughout the trip with someone you trust can be a great way to follow through on the promises you have made yourself.
Take the time to reflect on your mission trip
As you ask these questions really reflect on your experience. You may notice lessons that you learned without even being aware at the time. Maybe you want to write down some notes about the benefits of your experience and your answers to these questions so that you can look back on it in a few months.
After you have spent the time reflecting on your experience and preventing the disorientation, you will want to think through the conversations you will have with people at home. You’ll want to be ready to share one story about how the week impacted your life. When people at home ask, “What did you do?” they often really mean, “Whom did you serve, and how did the week impact your life?” Be ready!
Above all, don’t let all the transformation that you experienced during your mission experience fall away when the trip is over. Be intentional about bringing it home with you and always remembering the lessons God was teaching you.
Beyond the details of planning for a youth service trip is one of its most essential elements: building enthusiasm. A youth mission trip may be one of the most positive and memorable experiences a young adult encounters. We need the youthful gifts of passion and creativity to align the church in the mission of God.
1. Make a list of the people (or the person) they most admire and their qualities.
Once they have this list, urge them to strive to achieve the most essential qualities. The list of distinctive attributes stimulates interest and propels them toward goals they can accomplish. Keeping these qualities top of mind can make for a more meaningful mission trip experience.
2. Spend time in prayer.
One of the most uncomplicated methods to deepen your youth ministry is to increase your commitment to prayer. Students, youth leaders and adult volunteers alike can all benefit from extended times of worship before, during and after their trips.
3. Reduce fear of failure.
Encourage teens to step outside their comfort zones. The critical element of the youth service mission is to get to know the people they are helping. It’s okay to ask questions. Remind them they might make a mistake. Guide them to continue on in a new way rather than seeing it as defeat.
4. Share and reflect before sleep.
Take time at the end of every day to think deeply about the day. Share accomplishments, tell stories, ask questions and answer concerns. Give a brief update on the next day’s schedule to set expectations for the morning and build excitement.
5. Develop a student leadership team.
Recruit highly determined teenagers with raw skills and train them to use their gifts as leaders. This responsibility builds confidence and shows them their opinions and ideas matter.
6. Plan after-hours activities.
When the work is done, encourage your youth to collaborate and create. Encourage them to pair off or form groups to create a skit or dance, write a song, play a game or do something else creative to share with the rest of the group.
7. Formalize reflection and feedback.
Recommend everyone keep a short journal to reflect and record thoughts during the trip. Or instead, send your youth group home with some open-ended questions to reflect on. Meet a week after the youth mission trip to celebrate and formally share the trip’s outcomes, new knowledge acquired and insights. You could also create an online survey to gather more information about your group’s experience during the mission trip.
Mission trips can be life-changing. Whether you attend a SERVE mission trip experience or another kind of short term mission experience, giving your youth group some preemptive things to ponder steers them from spiritual apathy and self-absorption and into a deeper relationship with Christ. During the trip, and after, keep up the reminders to focus on God and keep their eyes open for what he’s doing in their hearts and lives.
7 Things to Do When Planning a Mission Trip for Teens
If you’re planning a mission trip for a youth group, it can seem overwhelming. Based on our experience, here are things to consider when planning a mission trip for youth:
Check dates with parents early in the process.
Even before October 1 of the year before the summer mission trip, begin asking parents if they have a family vacation planned or know of camps/activities in the summer you should plan around. Don’t just ask the students to ask their parents. Go to the parents directly. This gives you a good contact with them and avoids miscommunication.
If you do not have a budget worksheet for your mission trips, ask your church treasurer to help you create one or call a youth ministry veteran. This is essential to your planning and fundraising. Raising funds is an important work of missions. Here’s some fundraising ideas for youth mission trips.
Raise prayer support.
Every summer there are over 1,500 students and youth leaders who go on SERVE, and we estimate there are more than 5,000 adults who support them in prayer. You might even put your vision, the intended outcomes and a bit about your team and your Host Church in your church bulletin before and after your trip.
Plan your post-trip process in three parts:
Debrief, follow up and follow through. This will help students understand what they think and how they feel about the trip and also help them integrate what they learned during the trip into their everyday life. See the SERVE Post-Trip Plan in the Resource Box for this process.
Most importantly, change the thought from “Where should we go?” to “Let’s make disciples!”
When thinking about mission trips for teens, don’t get caught in the short-sited thinking of just planning a trip. Start with your heart to disciple your students in missional living that lasts a lifetime. Add to that your desire to serve and submit to the host church or ministry, and consider the 7 standards of excellence.
Whether you’re looking to start a mission trip for teens or organize a service trip for them, as you ponder the mission trip being one aspect of discipleship, consider the following:
How can your students plug into the existing community outreach of your church or help advance it?
What experiences will teach your students how to minister in their own back yard?
How can they see the strengths and needs of your own community?
Consider planning a mission trip this summer that will help expand their understanding of how God works through churches to reach a community.
Then, build toward that trip with some late winter and spring service projects in your own backyard.
Plan to go back to those service projects in August – October to follow up relationally, and perhaps continue through the rest of the school year.
You might consider a very local mission trip for your students in middle school, then a regional one for grades 9 and 10, and a longer distance trip for your older students. Or, keep them all together and go local, regional and long distance progressively.
You do not have to leave the country to learn about another culture!
No matter where you live in the United States or Canada, you can find first/second generation immigrants (or possibly first nation people groups) to learn from and serve with. In fact, Youth Unlimited has some customizable mission trip locations in the US and Canada that include cross-cultural learning.
Your mission trip and service projects are like fence posts. They won’t do much good without the rails of ongoing mentoring relationships (in missional living) and solid week-to-week Bible teaching.
Add into your curriculum Bible content on missions, missional living and stories of those who live life on mission. The Youth Unlimited Resource Box has suggested pre- and post-trip teaching sessions. Talk about, or even bring in and interview, the business leader who sees their career as missions,\ or the pregnancy center director or the prayer warrior for your missionaries, etc.
Are you planning a youth mission trip?
Get a FREE copy of the Complete Guide to Planning a Youth Mission Trip. This complete guide will help make you plan your youth mission trip from beginning to end!
We believe that whether mission trips help or not depends on the type of mission trip you have. Real lasting impact is never accomplished in a week. This is why we partner with local churches to provide our SERVE mission trips! All our sites are run by volunteers who live and work in these communities all year long.
We believe that SERVE mission trips provide a two-fold impact:
On the individual involved in SERVE. We hope that each student and adult:
Become doers of the Word and not hearers only
Become justice conscious, meeting needs while being introduced to the root causes and concerns
Grow in their personal faith
Continue serving others when they return to their home church and community
On the relationship between the church and the community. We hope that the week of SERVE helps them to:
Identify community assets and needs
Provide an infusion of energy to their mission, vision, and outreach efforts
Help deepen personal relationships and partnerships within their local community. Our host sites are encouraged to partner with ministries that they have an existing relationship with and allow this group of teenagers to bring energy and excitement to the long-term partnership.
Keep It Safe: Make photocopies of your passport’s identification page and/or of your identification cards, and keep the copies separate from the original when you travel. For added security, leave a copy with a friend or relative at home.
Traveling with Minors: Any adult who is not a parent or guardian should have written permission to supervise the child from the parent or guardian, as well as the child’s identification, and carry it with them. A letter would also facilitate entry for any one parent traveling with their children. This permission letter should contain addresses and telephone numbers where the parent or guardian can be reached. (Example Consent to Travel Form – find more forms and resources here) It is strongly recommended that the letter is notarized.
In year’s past, we have required that all Adult Leaders (21 and over), as well as host team members, have a background check on file with their church. This year, in order to have better accountability and peace of mind at our sites, we are requiring that a copy of each background check be sent directly to our office.
We are also changing our definition of “current” to three years instead of five. (For the 2019 season the background check must have been completed after June 15, 2016)
For more information and details on how to get a background check CLICK HERE.
The Cost of SERVE
For many years, we have been able to keep the cost of SERVE steady at $360 USD. Because the cost of living continues to increase we have raised our price to $375 USD* for 2019 youth mission trips. This price increase will allow us to continue providing you with quality experiences as well as increase the amount our host teams receive in order to cover their costs for the week. *These reflect the cost of a high school SERVE site before April 1st. Please double-check the site description page of the site you are attending to confirm the price.
Revised 3 Step Registration Process
Step One: Save Your Spots!
Step Two: Complete Your Online Paperwork. This must be done by March 31, 2019, or there will be late fee charges.
Step Three: Payment Due. Payment in full for all SERVE Sites is due on May 15, 2019.
We are excited to be piloting a sending church leader training program for the 2019 season. These short videos will help your Adult Leaders prepare for the SERVE week, covering topics such as what it means to be a small group leader, leading with integrity and modeling a safe culture.
Looking for fundraising ideas for a short-term mission trip or church youth group?
Your church group is going on a mission trip. That’s exciting! But, it can sometimes be difficult for leaders to brainstorm ways for your group as a whole (or individuals going on the mission trip) to raise enough money to go.
We’d like to help you easily come up with some ideas.
Here’s a free list of 110 creative fundraising ideas for youth mission trips or other church group mission trips to get you started.
Sign up on an online fundraising website. Numerous sites allow potential donors to conveniently contribute to your cause. Example: GoFundMe.com.
2. T-Shirt Sale
Design a t-shirt and host a sale for your friends, family and members of your church community.
3. Movie Night
Host a movie night at your church and encourage admission by donation.
4. Use Social Media & Email
Online social media (ex. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter), blogs and email (yes, really!) are great ways to not only increase awareness of your efforts but also many of these outlets provide their own ways to raise funds or contribute to your cause.
5. Partner with a Restaurant
Many local restaurants offer fundraising opportunities, with a portion of the sales going to your cause.
6. Garage Sale
Ask friends, family members and members of your church community to donate items and host a garage sale (yard sale). You could host this in your church’s gym or fellowship area.
7. Hold a Competition
Sporting events are great ways to get the community and youth involved in an exciting way. Small prizes for the winners can foster the competitive spirit.
8. Car Wash
Get permission to host your car wash in a safe, moderately trafficked area. Buy supplies and make signs to promote the event.
9. Wall of Giving
Using index cards, fill a wall with numbered cards for people to select and donate the amount from the card.
10. Wrap Christmas Presents
During the Christmas season, some stores will allow you to set up a gift-wrapping table by donation.
If you know any hairdressers, hosting a cut-a-thon is a great way to raise funds. Ask him or her to donate a day to volunteering to cut hair for donations.
22. Pancake Breakfast
Host a pancake breakfast at your church for the community to come to, and have the funds contribute to your cause.
23. Service Board Day
Create a service board, where church members can post jobs they need done, with the price they are willing to pay. Other church members can then select and complete the jobs, with the proceeds going to your fundraiser.
24. Dodgeball Tournament
Host a dodgeball tournament with a small fee, and have your youth students invite their friends to it, for an enjoyable and exciting activity.
25. Talent Show
Encourage the members of your church to come forward with their various talents, and put on a show for the community to raise funds.
26. 5k Run
5k Runs and Fun Walks are great ways to raise money for your cause while also encouraging the church body and local community to stay active.
27. Chili Cookoff
Host a chili cookoff, with members of your congregation competing for the title of best chili chef! Make sure they cook extra, as the remaining chili can be sold off for more proceeds.
28. Mystery Dinner Theatre
Have your youth students put on a performance, while hosting a dinner for the guests. The dinner-and-a-show combination can even double as a great outreach to your community.
29. Christmas Tree Lighting
Have a tree-lighting event at Christmastime, with a by-donation entrance fee.
30. Craft Sale
Every community has their fair share of craftsmen! Have members of your church body put on a craft show, with the proceeds from the items sold going to your cause.
Host a trivia night at your church, with snacks and refreshment s. It can be Bible trivia, general trivia or whatever category of trivia you prefer! A small entrance fee and charges for refreshments could make a very successful night.
32. Book Sale
Ask members of your congregation to donate books and then host a book sale, open to the community, at your church.
33. Karaoke Night
Host a karaoke night at your church and charge an admission fee or ask for a donation. This is a great event to pair with a raffle.
34. Envelope Fundraising
Set up a display of envelopes numbered 1 – 100. People choose an envelope and put that amount of money into the envelope
35. Lemonade Stand
Set up some lemonade stands in your local community for those hot summer days, with youth members rotating shifts. Encourage homemade lemonade for a more meaningful experience.
36. Carol Sing
Have your church choir, youth worship band or various church members organize a caroling group around Christmastime and carol through your local community. Ask for a small donation after each house you stop at. Or, host a Christmas carol sing-along at church.
37. Recipe Book Sale
Collect a list of recipes from friends, family members and your congregation. Compile the list into a recipe book and sell to members of your community.
38. Sub Sale
Hosting a sub sale is a great idea for around the Super Bowl! Take orders from members of your congregation and your group can make and deliver pre-ordered subs.
39. Rake Leaves
When fall comes around, offer to rake leaves for local homes, and contribute the proceeds to your fundraiser.
40. Work For It!
Have youth members look for part-time or full-time employment, with part of their wages going towards the outreach.
41. Thanksgiving Dinner
Host a Thanksgiving dinner open to members of the community and charge an admission fee.
Offer to mow local properties in the spring and summer to raise funds.
43. Ice-Cream Social
Host an ice-cream social at your church, with a small entrance fee.
44. Gift Card Raffle
Host a raffle, with the prizes being gift cards to local establishments.
45. Parent’s Night Out
Parents can drop their kids off at the church for a night out. The mission’s team members plan activities and snacks for the kids. Participation in this night can either be donation based or an amount per child.
The fact is – your mission trip begins when you decide it does. If you are called to do good in the world, your fundraising should also at its core be centered in service.
Raising funds for a youth mission trip can be challenging, yet, keeping service in mind, there are many ways to meet your financial goals. You can..
Auction off items donated by church community families and/or local businesses.
Offer to host a Spaghetti Dinner night at your church – everyone likes homemade meal!
A service board would allow church members to post jobs they need done with the price they’re willing to pay. Youth group members can then select and complete the jobs, with the proceeds going to your fundraiser.
by Kyle De Boer, Gallatin Valley SERVE Host Team Coordinator
“The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same” (Luke 3:11).
For a high school student from the Gallatin Valley, a Tuesday at Grandma’s house turned into a life altering encounter with a servant of Christ.
Johnathon had just finished his sophomore year of high school. Since his brother and mom were working, he had to keep an eye on his little sister who broke her arm a few days earlier, so they ventured down the road to Grandma’s house.
As they arrived mid-morning, a group of students and adults with Gallatin Valley SERVE were hard at work, repainting and repairing Grandma’s house. Johnathon and his sister began to get to know this group of strangers from across the United States. Lunch time came quickly, so Johnathon brought his outside to join this group from SERVE.
Tyler, a senior from South Dakota, connected with Johnathon as they ate their sandwiches under the hot noonday sun. Tyler was curious about life in rural Montana. Johnathon had questions about SERVE. The conversations continued as they picked up the paint brushes for an afternoon of work. The singlewide home began to take on a new look after a coat of paint and repairs to the fascia.
Before departing, Tyler asked Johnathon, “Do you want to join us on a hike tomorrow for our day away?”
Johnathon was hesitant, unsure of how to respond. During the pause, Tyler noticed the ripped and tattered Converse shoes that Johnathon wore.
“Do you have any other shoes than those?”
“No, this is my only pair.”
Tyler walked over to the 12 passenger van, pulled out a pair of gray and black Nikes and handed them to Johnathon. “Try these on.” Surprisingly, they fit perfectly!
“You can have them,” Tyler said, “These are my extra pair and I have sandals along.”
The message of the gospel was communicated clearly to Johnathon when Tyler gave him a pair of shoes.
Nearly one year later, those gray and black Nikes have just been replaced, but that act of gospel generosity is clearly etched in Johnathon’s mind and informs how he lives today!
It’s hard to believe SERVE 2017 is behind us and the planning for SERVE 2018 is under way!
We are excited to unveil the theme for SERVE 2018, Love God – Love the World, in this issue of the Youth Unlimited Magazine. In Luke 4:18-19 it says, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Through our SERVE sites next summer, we long with great anticipation to see students discover Christ for the first time or in a fresh new way and then empower them to reflect his love in this broken world!
However, before we dive too far into SERVE 2018, we’ll take some time in this issue to reflect on a few of the moments of transformation that have already happened to students at SERVE. You’ll read about when the Holy Spirit moved in a student’s life at SERVE through the article SERVE Shoes and when the Holy Spirit visited a man living on the streets through a group of students in the article The Name of Love.
When you think about all the students who participate each summer, all the volunteers at each SERVE Site that plan the week and all the
adult leaders that take the students on a SERVE week, it is clear that God really does use SERVE to make a great impact on this world each summer.
Youth Unlimited is blessed to partner with you through SERVE to connect students with Christ, the Church and the Community.
This is an excerpt from the Fall 2017 magazine. To read more CLICK HERE.
During my years of youth ministry, I helped take groups on 12 SERVE trips to the states of Colorado, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, South Dakota and Virginia, as well as three trips to Ontario, Canada. I’ve also coordinated seven weeks of SERVE at my own church.
The church I attend is a relatively small fellowship, so when we have hosted SERVE we have enlisted the services and assistance of churches in a broad range of denominations within a 25-mile radius. This has brought us all closer together for a united purpose and opened our eyes more fully to ministry opportunities around us.
My time spent on SERVE has enriched my life so much, as I have met a lot of great committed people, who have a passion for teenagers. In those times, I have seen the transformations of many students in one short week that have been life changing and I’ve grown in my own faith walk as well.
I have also had the privilege of experiencing so many varied cultures through SERVE. Even though I come from a rural background, I’ve noticed more similarities than differences in life experiences and people. It has been a real blessing for our youth group and myself to assist others in need through the different worksites we have encountered.
Over the years there are several SERVE experiences that stand out in my mind. My first SERVE experience was in Battle Creek, Michigan where my group, along with another work group, led by a Canadian leader, dismantled a large roof and rebuilt it for an elderly gentleman.
When we started to take off the roof in the reconstruction phase, we noticed that there were Rubbermaid pans everywhere to catch the rain water that still managed to filter into the home, which was badly in need of repair. It was more of a challenge than anyone of us had ever imagined taking on, as we needed to rebuild rafters, re-sheet the roof and shingle it all in the space of a week. The high humidity and temperatures of the season made it an even larger undertaking. Obviously, it was a bigger job than we could accomplish by ourselves, so prayer for God’s leading and wisdom was enlisted many times throughout the week.
As I have been made aware of time and again, the themes for the week of SERVE fit the circumstances, and God places just the right people in his timing and place within the group. So many times at SERVE I have encountered projects that appeared overwhelming, and each time our God has shown up to accomplish his plans and purposes.
The theme for our week in Battle Creek, was “Stepping Up”, and it definitely called for that mindset. Most importantly, we were able to complete the project just as late Friday afternoon arrived, which was no small miracle in itself.
This and many other moments from my SERVE experiences will forever be etched in my mind as reminders of what SERVE is all about! God’s plans and purpose always prevail.
As the newest member of the Youth Unlimited Board, I’m now looking forward to the opportunity to serve in the broader scope of the organization.
This is an excerpt from the Youth Unlimited Summer Magazine. To view the whole magazine, click here.
In June of 2014, our town of Northbridge (of which Whitinsville is a village) had just voted down a hefty tax override that would give the local public school additional resources. Although there are many reasons why the override failed, a writer in the opinion column of our local newspaper argued, “The major obstacle we continually face is that an “organized” subgroup of voters does not feel the civic need to invest in things that enhance our public school system and town services. This subgroup of voters isn’t the only obstacle, but certainly the major one…. We understand that this subgroup has their own private school in town and does not rely on the public school system to educate their children. But we also know that it is our moral obligation to care for the concerns of others in a community.”
He goes on to suggest, “They also own many great businesses that we enjoy spending our hard earned dollars at. Let’s work diligently to bring this relationship to a win-win for everyone, so those of us who want the town to invest in our children and the public school system don’t have to become an “organized” subgroup of buyers and take our business elsewhere.”
Although many believe that the writer was looking for a scapegoat during a frustrating time in our town, it was not difficult to read between the lines of his insinuation. There is one private school in our town: the Whitinsville Christian School, founded by Pleasant Street Christian Reformed Church. Our church.
Essentially, our church was being accused of not caring for the concerns of others in the community, of not investing in things that enhance our public schools and town services and, in general, neglecting our civic duty. There was a clear misconception in our town about our church and our care for our community and town. We had an image problem on our hands.
Fast-forward to January of 2016. During our very first Host Team meeting, our leaders spent time talking and praying about what we hoped God would do through SERVE. Looking through the list of possible outcomes supplied by Youth Unlimited, we took particular notice of using SERVE to grow “personal relationships in the local community with gospel centeredness” and “Organizational/government relationships [thereby] expanding the congregation’s reach into the community.” Consequently, we made a very intentional decision to partner with as many town services and organizations as possible throughout our week of SERVE.
Our worksites would include the Police Department, the Fire Department, painting fire hydrants for the Northbridge Department of Public Works and the Northbridge Senior Center. We made the decision to use the showers at the Northbridge Public Middle School, instead of using the facilities at Whitinsville Christian, and worked to expand our relationship with the Superintendent of Northbridge Public Schools. In addition, we worked with the Blackstone Heritage Corridor, Inc/National Park Service to tackle one of the biggest jobs they have ever had volunteers take on.
After our week of SERVE was over, the front page of the local paper headlined: “Teens ‘SERVE’ a Week in the Blackstone Valley” – complete with a color photo, and two-part article about the “scores of students” that had been at work in town during SERVE, while being hosted by Pleasant Street. The town manager was quoted as saying “I can’t say enough about these kids. It’s been a real positive experience. All the department heads were positive about it. Oftentimes you hear the negatives; this puts hope back in what youth can do.” In addition, at least four other newspapers ran the photo of the signing of a three-foot-wide check, made out to the National Park Service’s Volunteers in the Parks Program as a symbol of the 3,168 hours of service that the Blackstone Valley received on behalf of SERVE, which the NPS considered to be worth a dollar value of $73,085.76.
Just as our Host Team was starting to regroup to start meeting regularly again to plan 2017, we received a phone call inviting us to an awards night in December, hosted by the Blackstone Heritage Corridor Inc/ NPS. At the awards, we were blown away to be designated the “Outstanding Special VIP [Volunteers in the Parks] Project Award” for 2016.
On the award certificate, Suzanne Buchanan, NPS Volunteer Coordinator, had scribed “They came to visit, not to stay, but their impact is felt here every day.” Those words, which were written to acknowledge the drastic results that the visiting students had achieved on the worksites, are more true than Suzanne Buchanan will ever fully understand.
The impact of SERVE is not just felt through the physical work the students and leaders accomplished on the various worksites. It is felt every day in the way our church is understood in our community. It has enabled us to continue to grow relationships with town department heads, the Police Chief and the public school system. It has helped us to learn, communicate effectively our motives and efforts, further recognize gaps in the way our town is run and help fill them. It has helped set a trajectory of spreading shalom within our local community, and gaining momentum in other year-round efforts that our church seeks to follow Christ into. It has been the definition of a “win,” and we feel we cannot thank the visiting churches, leaders and students enough for helping us transform our community, and the role we, Pleasant Street Christian Reformed Church, have in it.
The following is an excerpt from our Youth Unlimited Summer Magazine. To view the whole magazine, click here.
The opportunity to have been part of the “Park Rangers” group at my church has drastically changed the way I look at and interact with my church today.
Planning to host a SERVE trip with a congregation of our size didn’t seem possible, but I was amazed to see the abundance of support from the members of our church and community. People were signing up to lead games, cook meals, help out with job sites and be a part of the main Host Team. The Park Rangers group, in particular, became a very tight knit group as we spent the whole week on site together. We ate together, worked together, organized together and if we were ever seen without the others it was very rare!
Being at our church for a week straight was odd at first, but that mentality quickly changed as we made new relationships within our church community. As a group, we got to know many of our staff members better. For example, our cook on site, Donna, became like a member of our family after the week was over. People we never used to talk to at church were quickly becoming people we wanted to be around all the time.
Hosting SERVE was a huge undertaking, but the reward was well worth the effort put in. For the Park Rangers, our group walked away from a week of SERVE with a feeling of genuine community, and many new relationships formed within our own church walls.
-Park CRC Student
As a volunteer youth leader and a member of our SERVE Host Team, it has been such a blessing to work with our Park Rangers and watch them develop into team members and grow as church volunteers. The experience has been incredibly positive in that the students were able to use their talents and energy for God. Relationships between the “Park Rangers” grew and friendships that were not there before blossomed.
As the week progressed and everyone became tired, I was able to see them dig their heels in even deeper to make sure the experience for those at our site was not just good, but great. Members from our church who volunteered throughout the week were able to see our Park Rangers in action, setting things up, tearing things down, playing games, cleaning bathrooms, hauling food, carting supplies, motivating students at worksites and enjoying serving others.
This has allowed many other relationships within our church to grow. I often see our youth talking with some of the people that volunteered in the kitchen or at the worksites. A sense of community has grown that spans all ages. I believe it is so very important that the youth feel valued as church members and I think Park Rangers helps them to be just that. By using their gifts to glorify God, they are a valued member of the Body of Christ.