Month: March 2016

Reid forms a Bond at Veteran’s Restoration Quarters

Earlier this month, AYM was able to host a group of confirmands from FPC Charlotte for a Mission Immersion Weekend. During their weekend with us, the group split into three smaller groups to go out to serve in the community for a few hours Saturday morning. One of these 8th graders, Reid Bond, served at the Veteran’s Restoration Quarters (VRQ) where he made a connection with one of the veterans over a shared task, military connections, and UNC basketball.

Reid, center, at the VRQ
Reid, center, at the VRQ

Reid said that when he first found out he was going to the VRQ, he wasn’t nervous, but was more excited. “I knew we would be working with some homeless people, and having military experiences…I knew I would learn a lot…I just think it was more interesting to hear their backgrounds.” Reid said had never worked with the homeless population before, but had some experience doing the type of clean-up work they were doing at the VRQ that day. As they divided tasks as the VRQ, each group of youth was paired with an adult, mostly adult chaperones from their church, but Reid’s group was paired with Don*, a veteran and resident at the VRQ. Reid said, “I lucked out in that way…to get to hear his story.”

Behind the VRQ runs a stream from the Swannanoa River, along which a prayer knoll and gazebo have been built to give the veterans a space to relax in peace and enjoy the river. As Don, Reid, and the rest of the group walked along the stream, cleaning up debris from recent flooding, Don and Reid realized they had a connection. Reid mentioned that his brother was going into the military, and his cousin had just enlisted. Don knew where Reid’s cousin was stationed at Fort Bragg. This one connection opened the door for more conversation over their shared love of UNC basketball and outrage that the coach hadn’t called a timeout in the Duke game. Reid said, “I didn’t know his past experience, what led him to the VRQ, but it definitely broke down boundaries where I could hear his experience. I’m not sure I would’ve gone up to him and started a conversation if I wouldn’t have [had that opportunity].”

In serving with others we have the unique opportunity to learn from them and their experiences, to recognize their gifts, and to break down stereotypes we may have had. A shared task or meal opens the door for engaging in conversation and making connections that wouldn’t be possible if we were simply serving from behind a counter or the privacy of a food pantry closet. It also allows us to hear the needs of the community from the voice of someone from that community. Our best example of the “serving with” model is Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. He calls disciples from this area before ever beginning his ministry there, and then calls a tax collector from among the margins of society to be a disciple in this ministry.

We’ve created a study guide on these texts to get your youth thinking about the “serving with” model of service (especially if they are coming to AYM or RYM this summer)! Check it out here!

What are youth doing in your community to serve with those on the margins? Let YMCo know at [email protected]!


*Name has been changed for privacy purposes.

Disciples of Christ Youth “Kickstart Justice”

This Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Hillyer Memorial Christian Church partnered with 3 other DOC churches for a youth justice lock-in. This year’s theme was “Kickstart Justice.” Catherine Campbell, Associate Minister at Hillyer, said, “We took a look at what it was like to be a social entrepreneur- to take your passions, your gifts, your calling and turn it into a non-profit.” YMCo got to talk with two Hillyer youth, siblings Ben and Marie Rashleigh, about how this lock-in gave them the opportunity to bring YMCo’s theme, “Broken Boundaries” back to their home context.


They told us their day started with an activity in which they were given a job title, such as financial manager or marketing consultant, a social justice issue, and instructions on how to create a non-profit to address the given issue. Ben’s topic was immigration, and Marie’s was animal rights. Afterwards, the youth heard from two local social entrepreneurs about how they started their organizations. One of these women was Hollie Woodruff, a contract fundraiser for A Place at the Table and the Wesley Shelter. Ben described A Place at the Table as a “pay-as-you-can open table” restaurant. The other was Katie Murray, city farmer for Camden Street Learning Garden via the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, which Marie described as “a neighborhood garden in a low-income neighborhood.”

The next morning the youth went to one of three service sites: “One group painted art for A Place at the Table’s pop-up cafe fundraisers, another served breakfast at Oak City Outreach Center, and the third explored and developed pieces for social media fundraising for A Place at the Table.” This group created a video to raise awareness of the work A Place at the Table does in the community. Check it out here! Catherine also said, “Each group explored the narrative of their service site– why it developed, who it serves, and how they as volunteers help fulfill its mission.”

Ben and Marie both came to AYM this summer and learned about our theme, “Broken Boundaries,” so we asked them how the lock-in helped them break down boundaries in their home context. Marie said she broke down boundaries with the other youth groups. She said, “There was this girl. Her name was Sarah. I didn’t really want to talk to [her]. I had my own clique at my own church, and then we had to sleep in the same room, and I think we went to the same [service site]. By the end I had her phone number, we’re super close, we see each other at camp all the time, and she’s one of my good friends now.”


Ben said AYM and the lock-in helped him break down the boundaries of stigma surrounding the homeless. He said, “Going to that food shelter, just like at AYM, we got to help the homeless and it really helped open up my eyes…When I first went to AYM and we gave out popsicles, I was a little bit scared because everybody says, ‘The homeless are scary, they can hurt you, stay away from them.’ It’s just such a negative connotation with them, but if you really open up your eyes and look, they’re just people the same as you and me.” He also said he learned that “some people just [volunteer] to make themselves feel better, but when you’re doing it for the other people, it’s a whole different sense.”

Marie said she learned “not to judge a person on how they look or sound,” and that one of her gifts is working with kids. She said she was inspired by her experiences at AYM and the lock-in to put those gifts to work helping children, and has been doing so by volunteering with the nursery at Hillyer.

Ben closed out the interview by saying, “I think people should do something like this at least once in their lifetime. Go out and spend a week devoting yourself, not just to God, but to others, so you can see what it’s really like in someone else’s shoes.”

We are so excited to learn about how these youth at Hillyer Memorial DOC are continuing their life of service in Raleigh through this social justice lock in!

Want to know how to do something similar in your context? We’ve created a list of questions to get you started. Check it out here!

Already doing something like this to break boundaries in your community? Let YMCo know at [email protected]!




Partner Agency Spotlight: Asheville Poverty Initiative

This week on the blog we wanted to highlight one of the agencies we partner with who are doing amazing things in the community. Asheville Poverty Initiative (API) was started about a year ago by Rev. Shannon Spencer, a local pastor who saw a need in the community. We sat down with API’S intern, Lisa Freeman, and she told us what API is all about, what they do on a day-to-day basis, and how she has seen boundaries being broken down through the work they are doing.12417929_990385267686753_28703631766396363_n

Lisa said that API is “focused on fostering mutual relationships across socioeconomic boundaries.” There is no such thing as a typical day with API, but in any given week they might work with college students, faith communities, and community organizations to provide educational opportunities led by poverty scholars. These scholars are folks who are living in poverty or have experienced it at some point in their lives. API is also working towards developing their 12 Baskets Cafe, a place which provides a dignified meal experience for people of all walks of life, and seeks to bridge the gap between the nutritious food that is in excess in our community and people who need it, while building relationships over a common meal.image-8

While they’ve been working to get the Cafe established, they’ve been rescuing leftover food from restaurants and hospitals, and taking it to Pisgah View Apartments, the largest public housing project in Asheville. Every Tuesday, Pisgah View residents, neighbors living on the streets, API volunteers, and other members of the community come together for a shared meal. By simply using resources that were already available, and redistributing them, API has created a place in which boundaries of race and class have been broken down, and relationships and trust have been built up.

Lisa said that the most significant thing she has learned during her time with API is that there is no such thing as “haves” and “have-nots.” “People in poverty have incredible gifts, in the same way that all of us have incredible gifts. We stop seeing each other by what we have and do not have, but more as humans, when we can develop more of a relationship as opposed to just me coming in and serving you. There’s more of a relational piece.” Lisa said that just this past Tuesday while they were out at Pisgah View, she could see residents starting to take ownership in the Cafe. One person, who works at a pizza place, came to lunch and brought with him pizzas for the whole group. Another woman had noticed Shannon’s van was getting ruined from transporting the food, so she brought her plastic wrap to protect the upholstery. “We’re sharing stories together, laughing together, enjoying good weather and good food together. It’s just a really powerful day of the week.”

What is a need that you see in your community? Where are there excess resources to meet that need? If someone in your youth group is doing something to bridge gaps and break boundaries, let YMCo know at [email protected]!

Image of God, Not Image in the Mirror

Meet Bella: a perfomance poet and student at Odyssey Community School. Like Martha and Liam from previous posts, Bella participated in SoulSpeak Asheville’s social justice poetry slam earlier this year, and we were pretty impressed with her piece (read it here, and watch her performance of it here).

In “Behind the Mirror,” Bella presents us with the idea that we have built our whole world around the perceptions of just one sense: sight. She says that humans caught one glimpse of themselves in the reflection in a puddle, and distorted this gift into something used to judge others. “We created monsters of ourselves through a puddle.” She says that where we went wrong was when we “forgot how to dive deeper.” We have taken this gift, given to us to see the beauty of our surroundings, and used it to categorize people. Bella says, “The organism of sight is not the problem. It’s the way that we have taken this gift and turned it into a way of discriminating against people about something they have no choice in. Yes, it is human nature to judge, and no, that does not make it okay.”

So what does this mean for social justice, especially from a Christian standpoint? If we have forgotten how to dive deeper, as Bella says, what it really means is that we’ve forgotten how to see one another as fellow children of God. When we forget that, it’s easy for us to place boundaries between one another based on appearances. It allows us to build walls between races, genders, social classes, economic statuses…the list goes on. Diving deeper we will find that scripture tells us we are made in the image of God, not in the image reflected back to us in the mirror. When we remember that, we are able to break down the boundaries we’ve built based on sight.

To hear more from Bella, check out our interview with her here! And for help discussing her piece with your youth group, check out the study guide we made!

If you’re as inspired by Bella’s work as we are, join YMCo in the conversation! Tell us what youth in your community is doing for justice, and we’ll feature them in the blog! Email us at [email protected]!