Sarah Norton is a Journalism and Media Communications graduate from the University of Wollongong, Australia. After studying for a semester at the University of Victoria, Sarah fell in love with the place and has recently moved back. She has a great passion for travelling and making a difference through writing, and is excited about being part of the Volunteer Victoria, volunteer team.
It’s a typical winter afternoon in Victoria: cold, dark and wet. Walking to Shelbourne Street Church I think about having to stay out in this weather all night, every night, not being bundled up in my coat and scarf. The thought is frightening.
It’s an idea that one amazing group of youth have not only thought about, but are positively acting upon in Victoria’s community. The Shelbourne Street Church Youth Group meets weekly to become positively and actively involved in the needs of Victoria.
Matthew Hickman, one of the youth group leaders says, “If we can get youth involved early in their teen years we can show and teach them how to be an active, positive influence in our world.” Shelbourne Street Church Associate Minister, Daniel Patstone isn’t boastful, modestly explaining that in terms of your run-of-the-mill youth group, theirs is similar to any other you’ll find in Victoria. The difference he notices is the passion that these kids have “in terms of walking out a life that reflects what Jesus is teaching them about”.
Prior to Christmas the youth group held a babysitting night for families in the community, to fundraise for a clothing swap with Our Place in the city. It was free of charge save for a bag of clothes, socks, mittens, or underwear. “Desperate parents love to take advantage of free babysitting. A lot of people are in their late 20’s to early 30’s at our church so it becomes a great way to fundraise,” says Daniel.
Upon expressing a desire to provide outreach for the greater community, the Church got in touch with Volunteer Victoria’s Youth Program Coordinator, Julia-Anne, who became the driving force behind connecting the youth with Our Place.
From here the Church group was put in contact with Our Place Society and whilst touring the facility saw that donating clothing would be the best way to contribute to the society.
“These kids have a real desire to keep searching after what it means to live as Jesus lived, to love God and their neighbor in action and not just in words,” Daniel expresses passionately. “That’s what led them to start thinking outside the four walls of our church and contact Volunteer Victoria and ask: what and where are the needs in our city? How can we get involved?”
The Youth Volunteer Connections Program, run by Volunteer Victoria, liaised between the two parties, ensuring that the connection was benefitting everybody, especially the needs of the community. That’s when the youth came up with the idea for a babysitting night. The night began with the youth and their leaders trickling in, all holding a bright smile. Following closely were the parents and young children, full of excitement and boundless energy.
There was warmth exuding through the room, a tight knit community surrounding me and never did I feel like a complete stranger, but a warmly welcomed guest. As a mini soccer game kicks off between the walls of the downstairs youth area, a buzz fills the room and clothes pile in, a successful night already and it’s only just begun.
Mr. Hickman says, “It’s about giving the youth a chance to show the church that they are a contributing group within our church community… Our focus is on building a strong group who are actively involved in our city’s community through positive action, which makes them unique.” The dynamics are instantly apparent and the focus booms loudly that these youth want to make a difference by assisting their community, not tomorrow but right now.” What Mr Patstone highlights is the need to involve youth as early as possible, “The earlier you learn to live a certain way or do something a certain way, the easier it is to make that your every-day way of life,” he says.
Following up on the clothes swap, I’m told how much the youth really enjoyed it. They piled in to a van with tons of bags of clothing and took them down town. Daniel exclaims, “We had so many bags, the guy at Our Place receiving them, looked a little overwhelmed, which is a good thing!” He added that the youth got a lot out of the experience because they love being part of something bigger, beyond the church community. Assuring me that this year the youth will create a positive impact on the city’s community, Daniel says, “This isn’t just a one-time thing. We want to do more with Volunteer Victoria and the city this year.”
As the New Year rolls in we all begin our resolutions toward health, wealth, and happiness. Perhaps we could take something from this ambitious youth group and join their resolution to make a positive difference by walking the talk and taking action, because the Youth Volunteer Connections program is only one phone call away!