At the Connecticut Valley church in South Windsor, Connecticut, 16-year-old David Haye conceived, planned, and organized a virtual career day for the members of his Connecticut (CT) Cougars Pathfinder Club and young people. Fourteen-year-old Bryana Wilson organized the club to make and deliver holiday care packages for the church’s shut-in members. Other teen members of the club are designing cutting-edge ways for Pathfinders to reach out and bless the community, which they’ll be rolling out in the next few months.
What is motivating these young people to lead the charge for the cause of Christ at the age when many of their peers are starting to drop out of church attendance?
The secret is an underutilized tool, Teen Leadership Training (TLT), a segment of Pathfinders that has been around since about 1994, designed to empower young people through mentorship. Teens develop relationships and work with local church leaders, learning how to become Pathfinder leaders, which also prepares them for other leadership roles in the church. This gives them the opportunity to develop their talents and leadership skills in a supportive environment.
Look how TLT goals play out in these teens’ projects, which fulfilled a requirement for the TLT program. Haye, who describes himself as “reserved,” moved out of his comfort zone and contacted 36 presenters, asking them to participate in a career day, which included creating a video describing their profession as well as being available via zoom for “in-person” questions and dialog. With some mentoring from Angel Gonell, the church’s AV director, Haye developed a process to receive the videos the presenters provided, edit them, and post them on a YouTube channel that he created. He also created a Zoom break-out room for each presenter, and, working with the church’s communication secretary, handled advertising, and, of course, hosted the event.
For her project, Wilson put to work her natural organizational skills to create a list of shut-in church members who would receive care packages and the items to be included. With assistance from the club director, Pauline Rivera, Wilson divided the Pathfinders into groups to deliver the packages, all planned in such a way to adhere to COVID-19 safety precautions for both Pathfinders and the recipients. As with Haye’s career day, success came from a well-coordinated team effort.
Both Haye and Wilson learned how to handle last-minute stress, to delegate, and to pray and trust God with the final results. They reaped the results of wisely guided hard work. Haye witnessed young people connecting with professionals, getting real-life ideas and one-on-one, personal advice for their future. Wilson saw joy on the shut-ins’ faces and joy behind the masks of Pathfinders who hadn’t seen each other in a while.
The club’s TLT coordinator, Jennifer Haye, largely responsible for bringing the CT Cougars TLT program to its current functioning level, says, “The TLTs feel something different is going on this year. . . they feel listened to. Relationships are being built between them and the leadership of the church.”
Her underlying vision? “To retain young people [in the church], we have to be thinking of it before they reach 18—working on it from the beginning. They have to know they are an irreplaceable presence in our church. They are valuable to the church at every stage of life. That’s my whole mission as TLT coordinator.”
Daunette Lemard-Reid, TLT coordinator for Southern New England Conference, who tuned in to Haye’s career day, was impressed and proud of his work. “You are the first group of TLTs [in SNEC] to do something independently,” she said, recognizing the immense value of empowering mentorship. “My heart is happy for the future of youth leadership!”
—Sandra Dombrowski, communication liaison, Connecticut Valley Church