My favorite youth program design of all time comes from First Presbyterian Church in Kilgore, Texas. It pairs middle school youth with adults. Together, they make monthly visits to senior adults in the church.
The youth are given conversation starters and a devotional to offer during the visits. Skills are developed, faith is shared, multiple relationships are built.
While I am no longer at this church, the program is still “up and running.” The visitation week is the best part, and by far the favorite part for the youth and adults alike. Why was it their favorite part . . . because they know that what they were doing makes a difference!
The group is called Y-LAC, Youth: Leadership And Compassion. It is a group of 6th and 7th graders who meet from 3:30 to 5:00 on Wednesday afternoons at the church.
Like many youth groups, there is fellowship, Bible study, and FOOD. But the heart of the group revolves around service to the community. First Presbyterian has always had strong outreach, and Y-LAC brings the youth directly into that work, connecting them with adult members of the Diaconate team.
Week by Week
Y-LAC runs on a four week rotation, so the youth know what to expect each week of the month.
Week 1 is Caring Crafts – Youth make crafts to be delivered the following week. They can include: ribbon crosses, painted pumpkins, beaded flag pins, “cross in my pocket”, beaded angel Christmas pins, and Lenten goodie bags with devotional.
Week 2 is Visitation – Members of the Diaconate Visitation Ministry Team drive youth (teams of three) to visit older adult members of the congregation and local nursing homes. The youth give a brief devotional (see sample outline below); deliver the caring craft, and take a pictures of the visit. They always leave one picture with the person visited and they bring another back for the Y-LAC scrapbook.
As part of the training for visiting, the group watches the short video “Grandfather’s Birthday.” Calls to set up each visit are made the morning that the visits will be made.
Week 3 is Service Project – Projects are all things that can be done at church. We stocked Saturday Bread pantry, made display for the missions fair, decorated envelopes and helped fill Christmas baskets for Saturday Bread, straightened pew racks in Sanctuary, made ribbon crosses for Pastor Bill to take to India, and set up the room for Children’s Choir block party.
Week 4 is Just for Fun! – Traditional youth group activities, like bowling or going out for ice cream.
How it all started
The program developed back in 2004, during my time there as Associate Pastor. The church ran a Wednesday after-school choir program for children in grades 1 through 5. The youth who “graduated” out of this program expressed a desire to stay connected to one another and to the church. We started by having the middle school youth serve as “helpers” for the children’s choir program.
Unfortunately, the middle schoolers needed more supervision than was available (!), and it also became apparent that they had the energy and the desire to do “something” constructive. In conversation with several of the youth, a couple of parents, and representatives from the Christian Education Committee and Deacon’s Board, the design of Y-LAC emerged.
From the beginning the name stated the group’s purpose and goal – Youth: Leadership and Compassion. The hope was that this small group would provide the opportunity for the youth to develop leadership skills and to practice compassion, supported by various faith building relationships.
A Sample Visit (with devotional outline)
Each youth is given the following devotional outline to guide their team through the visits.
Joke of the Day:
At a religious elementary school, the children were lined up in the cafeteria for lunch. At the head of the table was a large pile of apples. Posted on the apple tray was a note: “Take only one! God is watching.” Further along the lunch line was a tray filled with chocolate chip cookies. A child had written this note and posted it on the cookie tray: “Take all you want. God is watching the apples.”
Questions for the Day:
How long have you been a member of First Presbyterian Church in Kilgore?
Where did you grow up?
What pets did you have growing up?
How old were you when you had your first job? What was it?
Psalm of the Day:
Prayer of the Day:
Thank you for this time together, to make new friends, to read your word, to share a smile.
Please be with _______________ today and everyday.
Keep us all in your loving care until we meet again.
In Jesus name I pray, Amen.
An Intergenerational Model
There are indeed people of various ages and stages of faith involved in this ministry, because that is indeed the key . . . all of them gifting one another. As I mentioned before, the favorite week was always the week we went visiting. The Deacons drove (always following child/youth protection guidelines), but the kids did all the talking and connecting with our older adults. On the drive back to the church, the deacon was able to help the youth process the visit and to claim the truth that faith sharing is the best kind of sharing of all.
Susan Sechrist, the current program leader, gave me a quick update of how things are going this year:
“Yes, Y-LAC has lots of middle schoolers now – mostly boys outnumber the girls. We are an active group,visiting folks at home, Gregg Home, Allegiance Hospital, as well as our members at Country Place.
At Gregg Home and Allegiance we bring a devotional and music. Jace Mankins comes with us and plays guitar. Increasingly, we are understanding alzheimer patients’ needs, and the youth are very good at ministering with these adults.
Because the dynamic has changed with so many guys, we do a lot of hands-on service projects in and out of the church. They are not into crafts, except for painting pumpkins, because we can get creepy! We volunteered at the Humane Society as walkers and holders of the animals – a reminder of our role as carers of God’s creation.”
A Closing Thought
Let me close by sharing a motto that our group developed, based on 1 Timothy 4:12.
Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young,
But be an example to all the believers
in the way you speak and behave,
and in your love, your faith and your integrity.
The Rev. Roberta Dodds-Ingersoll currently serves as Associate Pastor for Christian Formation at First Presbyterian Church of Libertyville, IL.
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