Month: February 2016

Emma Breaks Down Boundaries to Build Up Relationships

Last week on the blog we met Zoe, a former youth from Covenant Presbyterian in Roanoke who spent her high school years tutoring at the Presbyterian Community Center. This week we meet Emma, another Covenant youth who also spent her time at the PCC, but did significant work with their food distribution program. In her six years working with the program, Emma not only learned about food justice, but also that serving alongside others can serve to bridge the boundaries that divide us.PCC Group Photo

The event that Emma was most heavily involved with was Hunger Busters, an annual event held on Halloween in which they gathered food from the neighborhoods surrounding Covenant Presbyterian, and then took it to the PCC to distribute to people in that neighborhood. Emma said, “Our church is probably 15 minutes away from the Center itself…but the socioeconomic status can change pretty quickly as you go across town. Our church isn’t in a wealthy area necessarily, but it is predominantly middle-class people, so that’s where we’d distribute the bags for Trick-or-Treat or Hunger Busters. We would leave the bags in that neighborhood and collect from our fellow church members, and then take that to the PCC.” In crossing those geographical boundaries that separate the two parts of town, she was also able to cross boundaries of socioeconomic status that would normally separate people.

When we asked Emma what it was like to cross those boundaries, she said, “It works both ways. The people on the receiving end were obviously happy, but you were also really happy because everyone who was providing the food knew what they were doing, so it wasn’t necessarily awkward to transition those boundaries…you didn’t really think about it, you just kind of did it. It was just kind of natural.”

Crossing these boundaries with people from her church helped Emma build relationships with them. She told us that the initial reason she decided to get involved with the PCC was because her older cousins and brother were involved, so she thought it was a great way to get involved with her church, and especially to bond with older members of her youth group. The PCC also has a middle school and high school after-school program. Emma said, “a lot of the people who were in that would come be a part of our youth group, so we had relationships with people our own age.” She also told us that the most significant relationship she formed through serving at the PCC was with a church elder in his 70s who served alongside her during Hunger Busters. Emma said, “He and I just totally hit it off, and every time we would go to work at the food pantry, we would always do it together…it’s not common that you see an 18 year old and a 77 year old be really close, but because of the PCC I have that relationship, so I’m really grateful for that.” Emma is in college now, but says the two of them met for lunch when she was home on winter break.

Crossing these boundaries also introduced Emma to food justice issues. She told us she learned that, “it’s very unevenly distributed…if you don’t have unlimited resources, the only thing that’s available to you are the cheaper, unhealthy things. You don’t have access to fresh produce, fruits, and vegetables, and all the good things you need to be healthy. You’re short-changed because you can’t afford it, and I don’t think that’s fair at all.” Emma says that all the things she learned from her time at the PCC inspired her to get involved with service in college. In just her first semester she has been involved in a community outreach program, the Humane Society, a gift-wrapping donation party, and has signed up for Habitat.

Emma has been busy! Have you? Let us know what your youth are doing to make a difference in your community, and check out this study guide we’ve created to help share Emma’s story.

Zoe Learns about Breaking Boundaries at Presbyterian Community Center

ZoeZoe Wulff, now a freshman at Vassar College, spent her high school years tutoring at the Presbyterian Community Center, in her hometown of Roanoke, VA. The Presbyterian Community Center (PCC) is “a ministry designed to help our most needy neighbors through prayer and a wide assortment of mission activities.”  One of these activities is an after-school tutoring program for kids and youth in the area. Zoe’s youth leader put us in touch with Zoe so that we could find out more about the work the PCC is doing, and specifically, how the youth from Covenant Presbyterian Church of Roanoke is involved there.

Zoe told us she volunteered as an after-school tutor at least once a week during all four years of high school. She specifically worked with the elementary school program, which was set up so that each child had one tutor assigned to him/her for the whole school year. Zoe said the tutors mostly just help with homework, but there are also some extra reading and math activities, and the last 15 minutes of the day are always set aside for some play time.

PCCShe told us she decided to get involved at the PCC for several reasons. Her church, Covenant Presbyterian, was already actively involved there, and her mom and some of her friends had also been tutors. Zoe also said, “I liked working with kids outside of the community center and did a lot with other organizations working with kids, so it’s just something I knew I enjoyed; and you know 4th grade homework is hopefully not too hard when you’re a sophomore in high school, so I thought I could help in some way, even if it was just, you know, simple math.”

During her 4 years at the PCC, Zoe was able to work with one 10 year old student for 2 years in a row, which she said was a relationship that taught her a lot about breaking several different kinds of boundaries. Not only did this relationship break down barriers of age and socioeconomic status, but they also together learned to overcome mental barriers that would have kept the student from succeeding. One memory that stood out to Zoe was when the little girl got so frustrated with a problem they’d been working on that she crawled behind a TV to hide from Zoe. Zoe said, “I had to work with her and talk her down…and together we were able to figure out why it was so frustrating for her, and a better way for her to do it…We kind of had to start over a lot with how we approached things…I just remember feeling really proud of myself in a way, that I was able to get her to calm down and not feel so frustrated, and then continue to work and not just shut down and not do anything for the rest of the day.”

PCC KidsThis relationship also taught Zoe about the boundaries in our educational system that keeps some students from being as successful as others. Zoe said this student, “learned a little differently from some of the other kids,” so a lot of her job as her tutor was to figuring out how she learned and new ways to approach things. Because she learned differently, Zoe said the student “had a lot of trouble getting the right set up in school for her learning,” which opened her eyes to “the inability of the school to provide for [students with different learning abilities] what they needed, and just how easy it is for people to be looked over in the way our education system is set up…Something that was really important for me to learn was not to look down on other people because they learn in a different way because they can still learn, you just have to help them figure out the best way to do it.”

What are youth in your community doing to break down boundaries of any type? Let YMCo know!

As always, we’ve got a study guide to use with your youth. Check it out here!

Be on the look out for next week’s blog post about Emma, another Covenant Presbyterian youth who served at the PCC!


Liam is “Done” with Domestic Violence

Liam Matz is an Asheville High School student and, like Martha from one of our previous posts, is a spoken word poet. Recently he wrote and performed a piece with SoulSpeak Asheville entitled, “Abuse,” in which he speaks out against the systemic causes of domestic abuse. Liam has had an interest in spoken-word poetry since he was in 7th grade when he was able to see a few popular poets perform. He said it was then that he realized that, “spoken-word poetry is a way for you to communicate with others in a very powerful, almost spiritual, way that would deeply affect people.” After visiting Asheville’s shelter for women and children, Steadfast House, two years ago, he decided to use this art form to communicate the injustice he saw and inspire people to take action against it. In an interview with YMCo, Liam told us, “My initial thought with this poem was to combine that power [of spoken-word poetry] with the reality that we have here today and to really shock people into action.”

In Liam’s poem, he writes:

“Pain amplified by the constant sexism that has hold on her life is like his hold on her arm…

No one understands why she stays, but then again, no one can see the ball and chain of economic dependence

No one can comprehend the mental slavery that has whipped her mind into submission

No one wants to believe that equal rights are still not a part of our status quo.”

These lines in particular highlight the systemic causes and effects that keep victims feeling trapped in an abusive relationship. Liam believes all of these can be traced back to “the misogynistic culture that we have in the United States, that allows men–particularly men–to beat on their significant others.” Liam is right to acknowledge that intimate partner violence is not just man-to-woman, however, in the majority of cases (4 out of 5 based on US Department of Justice statistics) women are the victims.

Liam offered up a suggestion on how to break this cycle. He says one important thing we can do is think about the language we use and hear in the media to describe women. Liam says, “To think about the words that you’re saying, you can certainly realize that they’re wrong, and by not saying those words you perpetuate the idea that women are equals. That not only stops misogynistic culture, but also goes towards stopping abuse…so, by thinking, you can not only make a change in your life, but in the lives of others.”

What are youth in your community doing to take a stand against partner violence or to change the culture that makes it possible? Let YMCo know at [email protected]!

If you want to hear more from Liam on this piece, click here to watch his interview with YMCo (disclaimer: some explicit language is used in the interview), or click here to read the transcript of “Abuse.”

As always, we’ve also created a study guide for you to use with your youth group. Find it here!

Gavin Inspires Church to Provide a Solution to a Long-Term Discomfort in Downtown Durham

In July 2015, Gavin, a rising 7th grader, attended Asheville Youth Mission with a group from Duke Memorial UMC in Durham, NC. On his way from Durham to Asheville, Gavin came down with food poisoning– a time of serious, but short-lived discomfort that led him to realize the distinction between temporary and long-term discomfort.

Gavin says that his first few days at AYM were miserable. With little sleep and still feeling ill, he struggled to get through the first day at the job sites. He says, “I was miserable, but not for long.” A few days later, Gavin went with his group to Asheville’s Pritchard Park where they “spent time playing games, talking, and eating popsicles with people.” Pritchard Park is frequented by folks living on the streets in Asheville. It was here that Gavin began to realize the difference between his brief discomfort, and the long-term discomfort people on the streets face. Gavin says,

“The entire time we were with them, there were police circling us. A man was almost arrested for drinking a Coke because police thought it was alcohol. Gavin picHomeless people are not allowed to sleep or hang out on public property, including woods and parks. People don’t trust them. We learned that there is only one public restroom in that part of Asheville, and it isn’t even open twelve hours a day. These are examples of long-term discomfort.”


It was this last example of the restrooms that really sparked Gavin’s, and subsequently his congregation’s, interest in making a change. When the Duke Memorial youth group came home from AYM, Gavin told the rest of the congregation what they had seen and experienced there, and they noticed similarities between Asheville and their own community. Duke Memorial, like FPC Asheville, is located in the downtown area, which, like Asheville, has few restrooms available to the public. Gavin’s story inspired them to get the ball rolling on plans to install portable toilets on Duke Memorial’s property. Duke Memorial says, “It’s clean, private, and always open—to our homeless neighbors and anyone else in need of this basic amenity.”


Through Gavin’s story, and the work of Duke Memorial, one of our most basic necessities is now readily available to our friends on the streets in Durham, providing a little relief from the mass amount of discomfort they face everyday. The question then becomes, “How will we work to relieve this discomfort permanently? What can we do to ensure that our neighbors have not only a permanent place to use the restroom, but a permanent place to rest their heads?” What long-term discomfort are youth in your community working to ease? Let YMCo know at [email protected]!

We’ve also created a study guide to help your youth discuss short- and long-term discomforts in your community. View it here!