BY DANA MYERS |
They talked about it for days, weeks and months! They still talk about it!
Have you ever heard of Snapchat? It’s a social media “platform” where people share photos, short videos and messages online. Snapchat differs from other social media in that “snaps” permanently disappear after a short time. Snapchat is meant to be used quickly and often, or else people lose interest.
This is the world of the millennial and the cohort that comes after it, the iGeneration—also called nextgen or Generation Y. “Get our attention now, hold on to it for dear life, or you lose us” The average person in these generational cohorts sees over 4,000 ads per day. They are constantly bombarded with messages. “Buy this!” “Share that!” Images, words, text messages and emails clamor for attention.
Inevitably, they learn to tune out selectively. This generational cohort is often described as “sheltered, confident, team-oriented, conventional, pressured, and achieving.” They interact accordingly with their environment.
This summer, a handful of Moravian youth in Middle and High School participated in the first Summer of Service (SOS), a day camp originating at Home Moravian Church, from July 16-20.
The idea for SOS grew from basic characteristics of millennials and iGen-ers: “detached from institutions and networked with friends” (Pew Research Study, 2014). This generation replaces “who we know” with “what we do, who we are, and why we care.” They must connect with each other, or surely lose generational ties and relevance, just like a Snapchat that gets deleted from disuse. Here is a brief description of the SOS experience, paraphrasing the participants’ own words:
“We knew we wanted to spend time together as peers, work together for common goals and make a difference in our neighborhood—all over the course of one week, from 9 to 5. We knew that a common element in building community is sharing meals and food together, so we ordered plenty of it and had it readily available. We knew that planning is great, but spontaneity can be better, so we asked for downtime and conversations that revolved around mundane things. We gave the adult leaders some of our ideas, and they arranged the challenges and let us figure out the details. Youth and adults were surprised at the profound personal transformation during a week of service.
Monday morning saw us pouring, stringing, and trimming candles together, an activity our group had done many times before. But instead of seeing candle making as a time for comments on how much we’d grown over the year, where we were in school now, or how much we look like our sister/brother/ grandparent/aunt, this time was set aside to simply begin to know each other and work together. By the end of the morning we had a beautiful collection of candles, but even better, we had a network of Moravian youth ready to work together to accomplish something great. In the afternoon we built birdhouses together, using our hands and eyes, hammers and nails, to create something of which to be proud.
We made at least 45 dozen ginger cookies for the Unity Brass Festival participants. We learned how a pillowcase can help us to rest easier, with each of us painting Scripture verses of comfort and peace on a simple pillowcase that became a treasured token of our week together. We prepared 26 homemade Moravian chicken pies. With strength and courage, our group (including two vegetarians) bravely faced the unfamiliar task of deboning boiled chicken!
At Sunnyside Ministries we sorted clothing and chose our favorite outfits, laughing together at each other’s fashion sense and feeling like we were starting to change our world, moment by moment.
We played as well. After an introduction to the sport of Geocaching, we took off through Old Salem in search of elusive game pieces, working together to solve puzzles and follow a treasure map to find a “prize” hidden in plain sight. We promised each other we’d spend another afternoon of Geocaching after school started, to reconnect over an activity we all enjoyed.
Each day we heard from a different adult about their own experiences in Middle and High School. We learned that some incredible things can happen during these years. Often we dismiss or minimize some of the developmental and social changes. SOS Campers are changing schools, taking up sports we’ve never tried before, joining clubs we’ve never been a part of, and making important decisions about our future. We’re navigating the waters of relationships and friendships in a generation where a message that can change your entire life is erased in a matter of seconds.
We welcomed to the table other generations, older and younger. We opened the door for anyone and everyone who wanted to be a part of our time together, realizing that community is truly built on openness and acceptance, and hearing the call to be “as one body with many parts” (1 Corinthians 12).
The best part of the week was the last day. Our group planned and led a lovefeast for our Vacation Bible School of (younger) children and leaders, wearing historic costumes and Laurel Ridge baseball caps that perfectly melded our love of tradition and excitement for the future. We served lemonade and the molasses cookies we had made, and sang camp songs and even had the oldest leaders tapping their toes with the warm memory of their own days spent in community with friends who are like family.”
After the lovefeast, our campers packed up their chicken pies and set off on one last adventure, crisscrossing the city to take chicken pies and candles to those in our community who were sick, or home bound, or some folks the Lord just laid on our heart as needing a special blessing on a hot summer day. We made a stop at Sheetz, where leaders learned that the best way to their hearts is through a Slushie and a canister of Pringles. We didn’t stay long at any one home, but offered smiles and candles and chicken pie to brighten the days of someone who needed a special touch. Even before we returned to the church, we were receiving text messages and phone calls from those people we visited, who were touched and blessed by a group of young people bringing a Moravian chicken pie, freshly made by their very own hands.
At week’s end, leaders collapsed in exhaustion and laughter, and campers shared tears and regrets that we didn’t have more time together. After the youth had disbanded, the leaders walked down to Salem Square to enjoy the evening’s Salem Band concert with full hearts, a perfect close to a week well-spent. Our 11 year-old companion fell sound asleep, in the Square, on the ground, content from a week of blessing others and being blessed in return.
Unlike a Snapchat message, Summer of Service was a bright spot for many in our church and community—an experience that will not soon fade away.
About the Author
Dana S. G. Myers, a recovering know-it-all, is passionate about acceptance, excitement, and building community. She is a Middle Grades student educator at East Carolina University, a business owner, author, amateur historian, and Girl Scout leader. She lives with her husband Matt, daughter Raine, 2 dogs and an attack cat in the suburbs of Winston-Salem. She loves books, lives on sweet tea, and faces life armed with Doctor Who quotes and Hershey Kisses. Contact her at [email protected].
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