Impacting the Future by Growing Leaders Through Adventure and Service

Each year, the National Benevolent Association invites congregations and ministries to apply for a Mission & Ministry Grant. These grants are reserved specifically for projects that will impact older adults or historically excluded youth and young adults. Below is a story from a grantee who received funds for their work in 2021.   

In 2020 First Christian Church in Princeton, Kentucky received a Mission & Ministry Grant to support their work with disenfranchised youth ages 14-20. Their program, Venturing Crew, was created to introduce new outdoor adventures and community service opportunities to adolescents and help them challenge themselves personally and gain leadership and life skills. After receiving a second grant in 2021, FCC Princeton shared this story with us.

Throughout 2020, the FCC Princeton Venturing Crew program was able to impact 17 at-risk youth thanks to a grant from the NBA. Today, we continue to work with 14 of those youth plus an additional 16. The grant not only allowed us to impact these youth but our community and beyond.

One of the first to join our Crew was a shy girl lacking confidence. On our first activity, when it was time for group reflection, to avoid being called on to speak, she left the table, went to the bathroom, and did not return until the activity was over. She struggled with acceptance and lacked healthy relationships. Despite these challenges, she became one of our most active Crew members and performed the most service hours of the group. She excelled in school and made all A’s her senior year. When she graduated, she found herself homeless. She turned to our Crew and leaders to help her develop a plan. She interviewed and was accepted as an intern at the Craig Springs Disciples of Christ Camp in Virginia. She passed her lifeguard certification due to the confidence she gained in the water activities with our crew. She also developed a Little Free Library for the camp and community as her passion project. She is enrolled in community college in North Carolina, with a goal of becoming a counselor so she can help other young people.

Western Kentucky is theologically a conservative area that is dominated by Baptists who often practice exclusion. Because of this, youth from other denominations can have trouble finding a place they are accepted. However, an interesting development happened with our Venturing Crew. The local LDS congregation’s youth sought opportunities for community service. We were glad when they joined us to work in our community garden sponsored by our Crew.

The garden also became a focus of an ecumenical Vacation Bible School with the Presbyterian and Methodist congregations. We were able to grow the community garden and veggie distribution program established by our youth thanks to the extra set of hands. This led to us delivering veggies to more than 50 senior citizens and at-risk families, as well as distributing veggies to our Black siblings at our community’s first Juneteenth celebration. Additional grants from a local foundation and Whole Foods helped to grow our community garden as well.

Our Crew began 2021 with a leadership development retreat. The highlight of the retreat was a low ropes course encouraging Crew members to overcome fears and work as a team. Leaders developed their communication skills, and the Crew became closer. The Crew members learned their Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and talked about their strengths and growth areas. Evening sessions included an exercise on identifying values and working together to plan activities for the year. The Crew not only became a close-knit team, but leaders emerged beginning to take responsibility for the Crew as well as becoming empowered to take charge of their own lives and decisions.

Currently, the Crew is learning about social justice and is engaged in activities to address these issues. They have learned about food insecurity and worked in our community garden and on the Healthy Food for Seniors project. They also learned about homelessness working with Habitat for Humanity. They spent some time at the Brain Injury Adventure Camp to learn about disabilities and how they affect the body.  Finally, they are learning about the environment and working in our congregational program.

In April the Crew traveled to Florida where they got to paddle board, swim with manatees, hike, fish, and explore a landscape that was new to most of the youth. This was the first time some had seen an ocean! In May, the Crew visited St. Louis, Missouri, and experienced U.S. history at the Arch, the Museum of Westward Expansion, and the City Museum before ending the day at a food truck park. The group was expected to practice socially responsible mask and distance guidelines during travel.

During our travels, the youth we work with have been able to visit college campuses. Our group has three recent high school graduates, one of whom was able to let go of unhealthy relationships and get a well-paying job to save money for college. He plans to attend college next year majoring in geology or biology. His education choices connect to experiences he had with our group. During our travels, we visited mineral museums, dug for minerals, and worked with environmental clean–up activities. He was able to experience kayaking the lakes of Kentucky, hiking, and fishing which lead to his interest in environmental sciences.

Another recent graduate is also planning to enter college next year after working to save money. She plans to become an elementary school teacher. When she joined the Crew, she was unsure of herself and full of fears and insecurities. She almost did not go on our first trip; it took our Crew leaders over 30 minutes as she tearfully sat in the parking lot and refused to leave due to her fear of spending the night away from home. We finally convinced her to go, now she has graduated and found employment. She now enjoys visiting many people and places she previously found fearful. She has become a leader and was elected president of our group. She is developing a plan for her future that includes independence and openness to opportunities.

Our group of young people is growing in numbers, but more importantly, it has become a safe place where at-risk teenagers feel accepted and can develop their strengths, overcome their weaknesses, and become leaders.