25th blog post! Hope you enjoy it, I’ll post again later this week!
How to sum up the last few weeks? Our men’s youth group went to Ohio late last month on a mini retreat to kick off the new year, which was stellar. We went on the same trip last year and it was again a big success, maybe even better than the previous time. We visited my coworker’s family there, watched him run a half marathon, played video games, played football and basketball outside, watched sports and the newest Captain America movie, had quality discussions, ate like kings, general bonding, etc. Perhaps the coolest part was that, in addition to 3 of our regular male youth groupers, we had one of the guys’ friends who came, who didn’t know any of us previously and came on a whim. This, as I’ve pointed out in the past, is one of my favorite things about our youth group. They’re always inviting their friends, and people are usually willing to check us out if they hear good things from someone they know. I’ve learned a lot about mission, outreach, and how to love from our high school youth, and they’re just generally a fabulous group.
We’re trying to do more with each of the youth group students from a pastoral sense this semester, something that I feel like we can improve on from last year. We don’t have everyone together tonight, so I’ll be grabbing pizza with a couple guys and hanging out during our ‘off week’ tonight. My hope is that it’s both casual and substantial. One of the guys I have my eye on to get to know more is new to our group after being in our summer program. He’s 14 and probably the sassiest person I’ve ever met, but he has a big heart and is absolutely hilarious (people who have any familiarity with YouthWorks/DSO/youth group will know who I’m referring to). My goal is to get to know him more, hear about his family, friends, school, home, etc. while also developing a friendship and being something of a big brother/support to him, whatever that entails. One of the things I’m still figuring out is how to best get through to high schoolers beyond merely “hanging out” but I’m decent at winging it. 😉 Fingers crossed that he responds well!
We also started Bezalel, our afterschool program, in the last few weeks. While we wait on a permanent facility, we’re running it once a week, but once we get more settled we’ll have it two or three days a week like we did last year. We just had it for our third time yesterday. So far we’ve had 8-12 kids each time, so it’s a solid group! During our first meeting, we played games and hung out before making a spaghetti dinner together. One awesome bonus was we intentionally made more than we needed and were able to give the extras to a girl’s family who needs it (she’s a part of the program, really stellar kid). Our second meeting was focused on reading and homework help, coming up with examples of good behavior (being kind, responsible, and respectful as we eloquently came up with), and enjoying the nice weather outside. Yesterday’s meeting was split into time helping with homework (primarily math and reading, you may be noticing a homework theme) and playing outside drawing with chalk and playing sports. We’ve had lots of planning meetings for Bez thus far and there’s lots of good momentum. Our new Bez director is great, too, she’s been an awesome addition to our staff. Lots to look forward to here!
As I said in a previous post, we had our first Urban Encounter group from Grand Rapids a few weeks ago, and that went really well. We’re starting to plan for groups that will be coming in the winter and spring, so it’s been lots of emails and planning of late. And we’re having a group from Ann Arbor come this Friday and Saturday for a short trip during their fall break. During our busy season in March and April, we’ll have groups from all over the place, and we’ve primarily been contacting groups from GR, AA, Ohio State, Kansas, Lansing, Minnesota, and Maryland. Should be a great crop of students coming our way to serve in a few months!
I’m still doing some finance work with writing checks, handling reimbursement requests, taking care of recurring bills, and putting everything into QuickBooks at the end of the month. At least I’m more used to it than last year, right? It’s actually not too bad, just pretty dry (figuratively and the paper, I find myself having to apply lotion often after dealing with so much physical paper – those at office jobs may be able to empathize). Also kudos to anyone who works consistently with finances and book keeping, I commend you. Not particularly in my wheelhouse nor is it very interesting, but it’s important!
On a personal note, our house is finally starting to come together, as my housemate from Pittsburgh moved in a few weeks ago, and we (finally) had our new windows put in, the drywall fixed, and piping seems to be working minus a couple slow drains. And we have a working dryer and oven/stove! Holla! I must say, this living situation is actually fantastic. I love my two housemates and I’m really looking forward to the rest of the year with them. On an even more random personal note, I splurged on Amazon last week and completed my Wes Anderson film collection, so that’ll tide me over as pumpkin spice invades our lives and we hold out from turning our heat on because we’re cheap. Side note – what’s the rule of thumb for three dudes living together owning candles? I’m on board, but it’s tricky toeing the warm-inviting-cozy-yet-masculine line without slipping into “How would I explain this to my uncle?” territory. And am I imagining the cacophony of critics begging me to move onto something more relevant or is that just me? What’s that? Next paragraph? Meet you there!
I’ll also be applying to grad school this fall for programs in social work, so I’ll be kicking that process off within the next week. Around this time last year I was contemplating whether or not to apply and ended up putting it off since I felt like I wasn’t supposed to go back after just one year off, but this year feels more ambiguous. I don’t particularly know what the future holds, but at the very least I’ll apply and weigh my options once I start hearing back from schools. I’m certainly thankful for this second (at least) year off prior to going back and it’s been helpful to clear my head and gain some perspective on things minus the distraction of classes (one can note my affinity or lack thereof for schooling by my referring to classes as a ‘distraction’ I suppose, whoops). I’m slowly coming around to the potential idea of more schooling around the corner, but again we’ll see what happens and I’ll keep y’all posted. In all fairness, I think I’ll actually welcome the idea of going back whenever it rolls around and the time is right.
1200 words later and I’m off! Thanks as always for reading and for your ongoing support, thoughts, and prayers. 🙂
Here are some gems from the summer that I recently rediscovered. Hope you enjoy them!
I’m about 3 weeks into my second year on staff with YouthWorks, and things are slowly but surely taking shape. We had training a couple weeks ago, which was mostly review on my end (they even let me lead segments on programs and finances! woot!) but helpful and a nice orientation to get back into the swing of things. It’s night and day different from how I remember things a year ago, when I was a total newbie to the city, youth work, and post-college anything. The level of familiarity with the organization, my roles, our youth, and the overall operation definitely gives me a feeling of stability and being grounded that I lacked this time last year.
Most of the staff are new, so it’s been fun getting to know them better and spending some good time with the ones I didn’t know well previously. A key aspect of the nature of our work here is the high turnover rate among staff, which is neither good nor bad, but it certainly presents some challenges and unfortunately has a noticeable impact, at least early on, for the youth we work with. One of my favorite coworkers from last year won’t be with the organization in the same capacity this year, and I miss having her around already, as do our high school girls. She’ll still be around in a volunteer role, but it’s definitely a bummer when things change and good people move on.
On the positive side, we have a really great batch of new staff around for the coming year. We have a guy from Lansing who’s taking a year off after attending Grand Valley State (my alma mater) for a year. He’s really passionate and remarkably pulls off socks/Birkenstocks with simultaneous grace and swag. We also have two people from Dublin, like last year, again a guy and girl from the community there. He’s 18, could break me in half, and loves Gaelic football and Hurling (I need to Youtube what those are); she just graduated with a degree in architecture, is back in Detroit after multiple stints here serving with YouthWorks, and appreciates good music I’ve never heard of and dried mango. Then there’s my coworker’s wife, who has started working with us on finances, fundraising, and organizational behind the scenes stuff; she’s great, has a baby, and appreciates German things and Harry Potter (which are unsurprisingly not mutually exclusive). And last but certainly not least, there’s a girl around my age who actually went through our youth group and has since stuck around the city, recently graduated from Wayne State, and is helping run our afterschool program and a few other things. She’s soft spoken, empathetic, and extremely kind. And in a total plot twist, she has REMARKABLE taste in songs that are total driving jams. Holler!
So lots of our time so far has been meetings and planning for programs to start, which has been productive and not too chaotic, which is nice. Our afterschool program (Bezalel) is starting up next month most likely, and our youth group got started last week. We had a solid turnout, and we introduced our theme of prayer for the semester, broke into small groups, played some games, had some worship, and went over some things we have planned for the coming months. I was especially encouraged by the small group time, and I’m constantly impressed by our youth and their honesty and willingness to change and grow. (Side note – one of our guys’ dad just passed away a couple weeks ago, so I’ll be going to the funeral tomorrow with a couple coworkers. He’s a really resilient, hard working guy, and he has a great heart. He even offered to help me move in when I was settling into my new place! He has a great personality and brings a lot of life to our group. We have a great chance to love and support him through a difficult time in his life, so I’m thankful for the opportunity, and I know some good will come out of all of this, despite it being a really hard situation. He was one of the few guys in our group who had a relationship with his father, and I don’t think he’s close with his mom, so pray for him if you get the chance.)
One thing we’re striving for this year is to have more one-on-one or small group time with our high schoolers, particularly in a more pastoral sense. We do casual time with them really well, but I’m looking forward to investing more time in them individually and checking in on how things are going at home, school, work, etc. and more intentionally promoting a personal walk with the Lord for each of them. I also really want to keep connected with a few youth who have gone on to college/work after high school, and to continue to pour into and love them where they’re at. Our work is so relational, which is one of my favorite things about it! Praying that things start off on a good note here.
I moved into my new apartment a few weeks ago, and overall it’s looking good, though admittedly it’s still a work in progress. It’s in the northwest part of the city in a neighborhood called Russell Woods, close to a few other couples and young professionals in the community. The house is a duplex, with 4 girls living upstairs (we know them, which is a bonus!) and me and my 2 roommates downstairs (it’s just me and one other guy at the moment, but my summer roommate from Pittsburgh is moving in next week – what up!). There were some issues with plumbing, windows, and a few other things, which have been addressed to various degrees of success at this point, but we’re hoping things really start coming together in the near future. We didn’t have a working shower for the first couple weeks, then had about 3 days of cold showers, and now we have a shower that gets sufficiently hot but drains super slowly. Baby steps! When I think about everything it can become frustrating, but I’m thankful for what we’ve got. In the words of my favorite Detroit nun, I’m too blessed to be stressed (at least most days…)!
On a super random note, we went to trivia a few weeks back at our favorite weird coffeeshop/bar hybrid in Midtown and had a perfect final round! We were doing pretty terribly up until that point, but we rode into the sunset (actually it was quite dark when we left but you catch my drift) and ended on a high note! I’ve subsequently announced my retirement from trivia since I’ll never top that. More than likely I’ll pull a Brett Favre and come out of retirement when I feel like it, but til then I’m feeling pretty good.
And to close, we have a group of gappers from Grand Rapids here this week, marking our first Urban Encounter of the new year. They’ve been a great group and they’ve seemed to really enjoy and engage with everything up to this point. They collectively hail from Toronto, New Jersey, London, Austria, Pittsburgh, and Minnesota. I’ve just been told we may go to trivia tonight with them seeing as our other game night option has fallen through. Perhaps my aforementioned trivia retirement will be briefer than originally anticipated. *Sigh*
Thanks as always for reading!
Summer post 2, what up! Alright so last week’s post was mostly overview on things and some big picture takeaways. I’m going to focus this post on some particularly great aspects of DSO and the people who made it so wonderful.
I knew going into the summer that we’d have solid interns coming to Detroit to be part of DSO, but the crew that came far exceeded my admittedly high expectations. Seriously, what a stellar group! There were 7 male interns and 8 or 9 female, plus there were household leaders (one for the guys, and two each for both of the girls’ houses) and a couple extra guys who came to help out from Servants of the Word (the group that I was with throughout the year). In hindsight, I don’t think we could have had a better group or a healthier mix of people than we had.
And it was diverse (holler)! We had people from the Philippines, Costa Rica, Mexico, Ireland, and Canada, plus people that hail from Minnesota, Florida, Kansas, Ohio, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, California, and Michigan (my apologies if I’m missing anywhere!). While I’m at this list thing, we had musicians, athletes, comedians, dancers, scholars, chefs, engineers, nurses, missionaries, techies, teachers, and seemingly everything in between. There were Catholics, Protestants, introverts, extroverts, thinkers, doers, cat people, dog people, Kombucha lovers, Star Wars lovers, big personalities, quieter personalities, chic dressers, people who couldn’t care less about what they wore (jealous of their confidence), people from big cities, people from small towns, Ohio State fans, Michigan State fans, Michigan fans, apathetic sports fans, etc. It was refreshing how different and complementary people were, yet everyone got on great.
I was also really impressed by people’s attitudes and how quickly they adapted to and embraced the work, living together, crazy schedules, and service in a new place. When people come to Detroit to serve with YouthWorks, we emphasize the need to be flexible and essentially be ready to put up with anything that gets thrown your way. And the people we had did while remaining (mostly 😉 ) positive, which is really admirable and made my life a lot easier as Street Team Director. There was a lot of impromptu frisbee, soccer, chess, card playing, bonding over Freezy Pops, casual conversations around the kitchen, jam sessions, starting dance parties in Greek Town (“If you build it, they will come!” my roommate cried out as he popped and locked), ice cream therapy, and general time spent together.
A widely recognized aspect of DSO is how quickly you get really close with the other people in the program, and this was one of the most rewarding parts of it for me. You’re thrown into this crazy situation with these other people who must be crazy to have signed on for the same thing you did, you spend tons of time together, you bond over your stories and shared experiences, and it’s phenomenal. I knew a couple of the interns and staff prior to the summer starting, but most of the people were complete strangers to me when they rolled in May 28th. By the end of it, I feel like I walked out with a bunch of lifelong friends and some slightly above average acquaintances (how nice people were to me dictated which group they were put into…kidding). In all seriousness, I love each of those people dearly. They’re the coolest.
Particularly with the guys, the sense of brotherhood was awesome. I was called on by the character, compassion, and strength of the men I was with, and it’s infectious when you’re with good people striving after the same thing you are. And I was really encouraged by how they follow the Lord and give of themselves. The world’s sense of masculinity is so broken, and it’s so, so necessary to have good men leading and stepping up and serving. And the group we had was insane. I was having to fight off the other bottom feeders for 14th coolest person in the house on a weekly basis (I think I peaked at 10th). I’m kidding of course, but I was usually in a state of awe of just how legit these other guys were. Admiration overflow to the max. Best household I’ve been in, and I would challenge any group of past or future DSO interns to hold up this one (speaking from my very limited experience of course!).
DSO is such a whirlwind, and you don’t really have the time or mental space to be able to look ahead. It requires you to focus on the day and attack it head on and not get sidetracked by other things. It’s this unique opportunity to live day to day and to just love those around you without holding anything back. It’s freeing and invigorating. I’d highly recommend it to anyone looking for a refreshing slap in the face of grace. I miss it like crazy even though I have no idea how I got through it. God really works in it and it’s a tremendous time of clarity and perspective shifting. I know I really needed it. Sign me up for next year!
So after a 3 month blogging hiatus, I’m back! If you’re one of those people who hates reading somewhat long blog posts, here’s your chance to jump ship now. I’m actually going to have multiple posts about the summer, hence this being a ‘Part 1,’ since it’d be extremely difficult to adequately summarize all the goodness that was Summer 2016 in one mere sharing. But alas, I’ll do my best to keep this post pretty action packed. Seat belts buckled? Here we go (thanks, Heath)!
In short, this was the best summer of my life.
So where do I start? Well in bare bones terms, here’s what the summer entailed: I was the director of Street Team, YouthWorks’ summer job program for high school students (14-18 year olds). We hired 26 Detroit youth to be a part of the program, there were 15 or so college aged interns who came to serve with us and work with the students, and there were a handful of staff members who did behind the scenes work, helped with crews (each comprised of high school students and interns), and made the program run. Employers pay $1,000 for a crew to work for them for a week, and they (one of our crews) go to town painting, gardening, weeding, moving things, whatever else is needed, etc., and then we pay the youth for their work. So it’s an employment program, but on top of that we emphasize relationships, discipleship, evangelism, and growing in love, maturity, and service.
Practically, I would help find work for the crews, connect them with employers, give announcements at the beginning of the day, plan and organize during the day (lots of phone calls and Google spreadsheets), and we’d briefly reconvene at the end of the day once work was over for everyone. I also was responsible for organizing our “Outdoor Adventures,” which are fun weekend events that are a blast to be a part of but logistical nightmares. Included: a day trip to Kensington Metropark (beach day, boating, etc.), a weekend in St. Ignace/on Mackinac Island, a crazy Olympiad, and split men’s and women’s camping trips. The men went to Manistee National Forest, which was epic.
Challenging yet rewarding aspects of the job involved being an emotional punching bag when people would come back at the end of the day pissed off about something, consistently being the guy who everyone would run to with questions or concerns, communicating with parents/guardians/high school teens constantly, and generally being the guy in front leading a huge program that I’ve never participated in myself previously. But alas, it was awesome. Despite the challenges. 🙂
I lived in a house (I use that term loosely) that usually consisted of 17 guys counting yours truly, but had 19 or 20 people who lived there at one point or another (plus there were often guests who’d come through). I shared a room (and a queen sized bed, which is a funny story yet ended up working out quite well) with a 22 year old guy from Pittsburgh who’s a ball of energy and is an elementary ed teacher, and it was dorm style with 2 rooms (4-5 guys) sharing a bathroom. The men’s house was legitimately incredible, more on this in my next post.
So we ended up moving out of my old living situation in late May, moved into the new place on the northwest side of the city, and stayed there through the end of July. The whole thing was 10 weeks – a week of staff training, 3 weeks of intern training, and then 6 weeks of Street Team. It was more a sprint than a marathon, though it resembled both in different respects. It’s kind of one of those things you have to experience for yourself to really grasp, but it’s a crazy combination of relational, emotional, spiritual, physical, creative, and mental energy. I found myself almost completely sapped by the end of it, dead tired, stretched way outside my comfort zone, etc. but so full in all the best ways.
On a personal and spiritual level, the summer was an immense blessing. Selfishly, it was great to have more hands on deck and more friends around, especially considering how tricky this year was in terms of lack of social support and not having much of a peer network. Plus the work is pretty draining, so to have more people walking with you through it is huge. We definitely had a taste of the body of Christ at work, and when things are working as they should, it’s awesome to be part of.
And on my end, the summer really stretched me personally. I definitely put myself in the ‘Great Teammate’ camp much more so than the ‘Great Leader’ camp, which is fine, but given the position I had, I was a leader more than I’m customarily used to. Talking in front of people will never be my favorite thing, but I guess it never has to be, right? And sometimes you need to step up and lead even when you don’t think you’re ready for it, with the summer being a prime example of that in my own life. The times when I’m in that boat are the times God can most readily use me, brokenness and all.
Spiritually, I’ve had to learn to trust in, lean on, and completely depend on the Lord’s grace and provision to get me through. And I can say with confidence that this summer was a significant landmark for me in my Christian walk, and I’m all in for a life on mission moving forward. There aren’t many things I’m sure of, but I know that I’m the best version of myself when I’m serving and giving everything I’ve got for the Lord. It’s easier said than done, but I know the most fulfilling way to live is dying to myself to chase after the prize of knowing Christ day after day. And Detroit allows me to serve others and pursue the Lord in a way that I really need right now. It’s not comfortable or convenient or easy, but I know it’s where I’m meant to be. Look what happens when you get out of the way and let God do His thing. 🙂
I’ll wrap up there for now with more details to come in my next post, which I’ll try to finish within the next week. Thanks as always for reading and for your support. Til next time, cheers!
How is it already May 7th? April totally flew by, and I find my thoughts floating between reflection, embracing things now that will be changing soon, and looking ahead. I guess that could be said about most stages in life, but it seems particularly apt given the point of the year I’m in. It’s been an awesome, challenging, uncomfortable, growth-filled 8+ months, with undoubtedly more good than bad. Like I’ve said previously, I’d do it all over again and wouldn’t change things. Maybe I’m just channeling the energy from the wonderful spring we’re having, but why not devote a post to what I love most about Detroit? Positivity commence!
In short, the best thing about my time in Detroit, in my eyes, is our youth group. I have seriously grown to love those teens over the year, and it’s been great to see trust in relationships develop. I think our staff have done a really good job of creating an atmosphere that’s safe, open, and authentic, but our youth also have responded in a great way. They’ve let us in to what’s going on in their lives, and I’m thankful that I’ve been able to share life with them these past 8 months. A lot of it comes from simply spending quality time together and letting things grow organically. But the relationships I’ve gained with them are what I’ll cherish most about this year, and they’re a huge part of why I wanted to come back for a second year and why I’m so excited for the summer.
One’s attitude has a lot to do with it, too. Coming in, I certainly was idealistic and wanted to help, but I also recognized that I was walking into an environment I was unfamiliar with and that these teens’ experiences of life have been really different from mine, with more challenges and less support along the way. Seeking to understand, learn, and listen has been a good rule of thumb for me. And it’s not like they appreciate me for my street cred or preppy style or driving skills (I often get heckled for these things, or lack thereof, which I appreciate and find to be healthy). 🙂 I think they appreciate my consistency and that I’m faithful to them, even if I can’t necessarily relate on something. They pick up on who you are and why you’re there pretty quickly. Having good intentions goes a long way, but I think they gravitate toward people who are who they are and who know who they aren’t.
Another thing that I’ve found to be helpful is that you have to meet them where they’re at, and sometimes love them in ways that you’re not expecting or aren’t the most natural for you. I really dig good, deep conversations in which people open up about whatever, and 1-on-1 time is big for me. I haven’t gotten a ton of that with them this year, and often I’ll see them once or twice a week in group settings, either at youth group itself on Thursday nights or watching a movie, playing video games, etc. It’s been a lot of checking my ego at the door and recognizing that how I’d like to love them and get to know them isn’t necessarily the way they want to be loved at that moment or what they’re comfortable with. What’s been cool is that I’ve had more solid conversations with them as time has gone on and I’ve gotten to know them more. Again that ties back to trust and honesty, which come from putting time and effort into relationships. But I’m really appreciative of those moments, and I think I’ll have more throughout the summer and the following year now that we have a good foundation to build upon.
I actually find that my favorite worship times I have are with the youth. I get more out of those than I do at church, in community prayer meetings, at staff meetings, even in our daily morning prayer sessions at the house (those are all good and completely worthwhile, though). People don’t necessarily have the best voices, they aren’t necessarily super polished in praying out eloquent prayers, they’re still figuring out what they’re doing, and nobody has it all down. But it’s raw and honest and real. You don’t have to sound or look a certain way, and everyone comes at it with their own baggage and things they’re working through. It’s so refreshing! I myself just really relate with that sort of thing more so than the typical Christian settings where people are doing their thing. I guess it feels more genuine and sincere and less put on. What you see is what you get. I can roll with the broken, imperfect, figuring it out as we go crowd. Detroit as a whole has that, and our youth group embodies that as well. I love it.
Last week, one of the guys asked me to go to a barbecue that his school robotics team was putting on. He’s a kid who’s stubborn and can be annoying and brash, but he’s also such a good kid and there’s a lot more to him than meets the eye. He could only invite one person to the event, and he decided to ask me over his mom, sisters, or someone else at YouthWorks. I was honored, and it was his own way of saying that he trusts me and enjoys my company. It was so cool. All the rides, all the flak I get from him about how I do things, all the times he rubs it in when he beats me at Mario Kart, all the times he yells his signature, “Failure!” when you screw something up, all the times he complains about something, all the times he doesn’t say ‘thank you’ for something you do for him – it all is worth it. He really does trust me, he even (gasp) cares about me I think, he actually wants to spend time with me. If I ever needed a silver lining, I think I found it. That kind of moment far outweighs all those minor frustrations and gives me hope that what I’m doing is actually leading somewhere.
We recently had an overnight retreat, and one of the guys had a really deep chat with me about a girl he likes and choices he’s made on the Friday night of the retreat after we wrapped up some small group time. It had nothing to do with any of the talks at the retreat, and I’d actually been hoping that he and I would finally get a chance to talk about girls/relationships/good and bad choices we’ve made pertaining to said girls/relationships for a while since I can relate on a lot of it, and it randomly came about after all these months of laying a foundation and establishing a genuine friendship at an overnight theology retreat. Can’t really plan some of this stuff I guess. But it was awesome. He was completely open and shared more with me that night than he had any other time, and I felt trusted and loved and appreciated. More than that, I felt like he wanted to listen to my advice and actually valued my opinion. It was surreal. Those tiny moments are so life giving, and the small breakthroughs give me a lot of encouragement.
I love the teens. They’re the number one reason I feel drawn to Detroit and the biggest pull to my staying a second year. They’re brave, resilient, honest, caring, endearing, hilarious, creative, articulate, unique, and most importantly, loved. They’re loved by a perfect heavenly father who will never fail them. And they’re (far less significantly and certainly imperfectly 🙂 ) loved by a 23 year old youth worker who thinks they’re some of the coolest people he knows. I’ll leave it at that, but I’m sure I’ll be bragging about them more in coming posts. Thanks as always for reading, and I hope your spring has been great thus far!