With you always. Siempre Contigo.

Eight years ago, I sat down at the Wiggins dinner table for Confirmation class orientation with James’ family. James and his sister Nelson had made me blackberry cobbler as a welcome gift into their home.

Eight years later, this July, Grace Youth Ministry sat down at SparkDwell Service-Learning orientation in Winston Salem. Nelson and James, now young adults and on the team of the summer SparkDwell staff, were there to welcome us. Nelson led devotions, daily group processing, and service projects, and James led music and service projects throughout the summer for various groups around the country.

SparkDwell is a unique community of faith existing to be in beloved community with our unhoused neighbors and/or in addiction recovery. The community provides worship, shower trailer ministry, hygiene packets, meals, bus tickets, and hosts service-learning coupling service with educational experiences around the systemic injustices that have led to marginalized experiences. Grace Youth requested SparkDwell for their annual summer service-learning trip due to its special experience of SparkDwell counselors serving alongside our students on projects and sharing their lived experiences of being unhoused and/or in addiction recovery.

Senior youth: “The stories of our SparkDwell counselors made me realize how much dignity and courage they had to share their stories with many of us. The experience of SparkDwell and the counselors here motivated me to work hard as a volunteer and showed me the reality of our unhoused neighbors' lives.”

Recent graduate: “Thank you so much for sending me on the summer service-learning trip. It changed my life more than I ever expected and can ever fully explain. One specific example is my counselor, Dawn. Helping the community was so eye-opening, and we were able to help them out in more than just one way such as making meals, entertaining kids, and working in the gardens. But the way I understand I helped them the most was to feel them.”

During the school year, Grace Youth serve the Henderson County community through various projects, but the exposure of summer service-learning trips and ELCA summer camps uncovers yet another steppingstone to leadership beyond their hometown. This opens students’ eyes, ears, and hands to new places and experiences while challenging them emotionally and physically to think about faith in innovative ways.

This is a testimony of the difference faith formation at Grace makes in the lives of our students. Through opportunities in KiDD’s Club, Confirmation, High School Youth, service learning, faith milestones, and Young Adult Ministries, our students grow in practicing their faith, leading in the church, and passing on the faith. With Grace faith formation as a cornerstone, they will use these gifts out in the world to help others and continue passing on the faith. What difference can a year or 8 years make in the life of a student? We welcome you to be a part of and support the faith journeys alongside our young people. There, but for the grace of God, go I.

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