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Youth and Outdoor Ministry

The Southwest Conference is committed to the development of programs for children and youth to get away, live together, and explore God‘s presence in their lives. Our Youth and Outdoor Ministry provides many opportunities for youth to be involved including camps during the summer, retreats during the school year and leadership opportunities.

2014 Thanksgiving Alive!
Thanksgiving Alive! logoThe Good Shepherd UCC in Sahuarita, Arizona hosted 27 youth and adult leaders from around the Southwest Conference over Thanksgiving weekend. This year's theme was taken from Romans 12:13 on our need to "give hospitality to the stranger."

After arriving on Friday and eating a wonderful vegetarian chili dinner prepared by Good Shepherd members, we entered into a brief discussion of the traditional Pilgrim story and asked the question, "Who shared with whom?" The history of our national holiday is based on Native peoples showing hospitality and kindness to strangers. Other than the native people, we are all migrants, we are all strangers. We are bound to show hospitality to all. Then we saw artifacts found by the Desert Samaritans that were left by migrants for whatever reason. It was very moving to see a purse left behind containing make-up and dancing shoe, vials of insulin and baby clothes.

The next morning, we went to a community center run by the organization "Hogar de Esperanza y Pa"z" (Home of Hope and Peace – HEPAC), where we learned about the projects done by Needles 4 Nogales and learned to make finger knit bracelets and necklaces. Afterwards, we went on a desert walk led by some of the Green Valley Samaritans and stopped at memorials erected in spots where human bones were found. We made three stops, one of which was at a place where adolescent bones were found. We prayed and left small memorial scrolls at each spot.

We then went to to see the Border Wall in Nogales, where we happened upon a family who were sharing a meal and visiting with each other. They explained that they do this every year, with their families traveling several hours from locations in Arizona and Mexico. They visited, but they were not allowed to touch each other or share their food. During a time of gatherings of families, it was quite an eye-opener to see this family who were separated.

After we returned to Sahuarita, we were given a wrap-up presentation by HEPAC.

This Thanksgiving Alive retreat was a little different in that there were not physical service projects that punctuated the event. This year, we were learners and our service project was to go back to our home churches, families and friends and talk about what we experienced during our time on the border.

Thanks to all who attended and made Thanksgiving Alive so meaningful.
John Angiulo

Cardboard City 2014
Link to Cardboard City photos

Cardboard City 2014Cardboard City 2014

Cardboard City was a Regional Southwest Conference youth event and my fourth year taking part in this event. Four Southwest Conference UCC churches sent youth to Cardboard City 2014 - Church of the Beatitudes UCC, First Congregational UCC, Shadow Rock UCC and Scottsdale Congregational UCC.

Besides signing up to sleep over in a cardboard box on an open baseball field, the youth donated slightly used or new baseball caps and around 250 working flashlights. During the night, a spokesperson for Family Promise Greater Phoenix explained that the red toiletry kits were very popular on the streets. Our youth helped to fil the caps and flashlights were added to the 2000 red toiletry kitsl.

Curiously, there were more young people in attendance this year. Besides the church groups that have attended before, I saw girl scout troops, high school groups, and college groups, to name a few.

As I lay in my box watching the clouds and stars, I wondered if this made any difference to anyone. Then I thought about all the families our youth group has encountered at our church and I knew it made a difference to them.

In the morning, after we had recycled our cardboard homes and packed up our belongings we were all given a couple of the red toiletry kits. We were instructed to hand them out to anyone we encountered that would enjoy one. I have already given out the two kits that I was given. It was a joyful thing to do and the recipients were grateful!

Here's hoping all young people will be able to have their horizons broadened at least once by participating in Cardboard City or helping to host families for Family Promise.

Michele Mellott

See more photos from this year's Cardboard City