Seeking to love Christ and each other, YES (Youth Equipped to Serve) creates opportunities for participants to engage with the poverty of their city, equipping them to become servant leaders in their own communities.
As Christians, we believe every human being is created in the image of God, and as such, has infinite worth. YES aims to follow Christ’s example, approaching each person with love and compassion. Day-to-day, people often struggle to recognize the dignity of the grocery store cashier, the person who is homeless, and even their classmates and parents. The primary goal of YES is to provide individuals with a framework through which to welcome each person they encounter, and to equip them with the spiritual and practical tools to love and serve them. The why is belonging: that humanity may be united in Christ through our service to one another.
The work of YES seeks to meet several needs that youth and young adults experience today. First, they are faced with a deep need for human connection, now more than ever. The rapid integration of technology into our daily lives has made it easier to “connect” digitally, but can result in deep loneliness and a lack of meaningful connection with the people directly in front of us. Additionally, Orthodox teens need to experience the Church contextualized through service, which brings to life our rich liturgical traditions. We aim to provide experiences that reveal what it means to know and serve God and to be trusted by him to do His will in the world. Trusting in God and being trusted by Him cultivates courage in our participants: courage to see themselves clearly and confront their own struggles through the lens of Christ’s love. Young people need a space where, without judgment, they can process the world around them and discover the role they play in sharing Christ’s truth. YES provides that space.
A barrier that often keeps people from serving is the view that some individuals are more deserving than others. YES counters this with unconditional love; no human is more deserving of love than another. As each is created in the image and likeness of Jesus Christ, each is entitled to compassion, mercy, and love. In YES, we work to extend this love to all, especially to those who are often considered undeserving or unworthy.
Being in community means serving the needs of others before serving one’s self. In YES, we recognize that if everyone is looking out for one another, then no one needs to focus on themselves; one is taken care of by their neighbors as one works towards serving the community’s needs. This understanding of community starts in the group gathered for a YES trip and expands into our view of the city we serve. When we first seek to take care of those around us in our community, we too will be nourished and supported by this work.
YES seeks to empower participants in their own communities by equipping them with the tools needed to serve. These tools include a perspective uninhibited by stereotypes, an attitude of readiness to meet the needs they encounter, and the ability to take initiative. We emphasize that a YES trip is not a singular event. Rather, it is a starting point for a life of service in Christ, a life centered on loving those around us.
YES has adopted a 4 step service learning process known as E4. The Strategy behind E4 is to move students from observers to leaders. This is accomplished by a stair-cased program centered upon carefully chosen Service Projects.
We first EXPOSE them to the reality of the poverty in the world through interactive curriculum. The students are presented with various questions: What is the true mission of the church, and what does it mean for each of us that we are members of the body of Christ? What are the stereotypes that exist within all of us that prevent us from putting the needs of others before ourselves? Is poverty a complex or simple problem, and what is our place in the solution?
Lastly, they are ENTRUSTED with various leadership roles on weekend trips, and most importantly, with continuing the mission of YES in their communities, to inspire, lead, and educate others.
We then ENGAGE the students in strategically chosen service projects that bring them together with people who are in need. Each project is chosen based upon specific criteria known to be meaningful in service-learning contexts. With each step, the environmental or cultural tension of the service project becomes more complex. This “created tension” is by design, and provides the kind of context conducive for real spiritual transformation.
For the students that have participated in 2 weekend service-learning trips, they are then eligible for a week of leadership training, where they are EQUIPPED with tools to guide others in service.