Article and pictures by Urban Alliance staff.It all started with a sweet idea.
It all started with a sweet idea.
After attending the Youth Empowerment Institute training, which was provided by World Vision through Urban Alliance's Next Generation initiative, youth at New Dimension Christian Center (NDCC) in Hartford were motivated to make a difference in their community.
The training helped youth and youth leaders from local churches in the Urban Alliance network gain resources and skills so they may partner in ways that lead to sustainable community transformation, and provided a springboard for ideas of what that positive change could look like in their neighborhoods.
"I learned that there shouldn't be a separation between youth and adults during community development, because by working together, so much can be achieved," shared teen Josephine Bensa.
Youth leader Rosa McGuire explained that the training equipped her with an innovative approach to engage youth as valued partners in community transformation.
She also invited Bryan Bywater, who distributes free food and clothing with Church Army USA every weekend in Hartford's Bushnell Park, to share with the youth group how to best serve the community from a perspective of dignity and kindness.
Following the training and backed with a grant from Urban Alliance, a group of 30 youth began brainstorming ideas of how to strategically meet needs in their community. Topping their list was to provide food for the hungry, clothing for those who needed it, positive entertainment, and access to community resources and a caring church.
One 15-year old boy had the idea to hand out candy.
"Initially this seemed silly, however, it was the very idea from which the community resource fair evolved," said McGuire. "We thought it would be great to have an event that addresses all of these needs. We would invite community members to a free 'Taste and See' event!"
Motivated by the Bible verse, "Taste and see that the Lord is good!"(Psalm 34:8), the group set out to invite as many of their neighbors as they could to the event, which would be held on the border of Hartford's Frog Hollow and South Green neighborhoods. Through grass roots efforts, they posted flyers at local convenience stores, businesses, and bus stops, and handed out invitations-complete with Lifesaver candies-to hundreds of people in the community.
Their leadership continued to grow as plans for the event kicked into high gear.
From confirming vendors to preparing songs to sing to organizing gently used clothing for distribution, they poured their hearts into making the event a success.
"One particular teen approached his friend who owned a hot dog truck and confirmed his commitment to distribute hot dogs for free," shared McGuire. "The enthusiasm grew as ideas took shape, but nothing could have prepared us for the joy and fulfillment that came when people started arriving at the event to receive all that was lovingly prepared for them."
And on Saturday, June 4, dozens of youth ages 13 to 25 and 22 adults partnered for a day filled with fun, festivities, and impact that surrounded the whole resource fair.
Community members had the opportunity to receive free resources, including health screenings provided by FaithCare, fire safety tips from Hartford firefighters, dental care kits and cavity prevention information, road safety, bike helmet fittings and bike repairs, children's books, cell phone service information, clothing, and healthy eating tips.
And, opportunities for fun were around every corner, with puppet shows, animals, bouncy houses and musical entertainment.
"Sometimes we think other people don't need anything or that they're OK, but a little bit of help would be nice," shared teen Nachaly Felipe. "There were some people that came from shelters, so to see them having fun and knowing what they were going through was really amazing."
McGuire shared that one young mother who came to the event left her child's worn stroller in a nearby dumpster and replaced it with a much more functional stroller that she picked up at one of the free clothing and baby items table.
It was a savory success that has since sparked a passion for the youth at NDCC to continue serving their neighbors. They were inspired and their impact of service caused them to see the importance of their responsibility to their community, explained McGuire. And, they are already talking about plans for their next outreach event.
"I learned how to serve the community in a positive way," shared teen Stella Rivera. "It always feels amazing to help others."
Fellow youth group member Adrian Rivera agreed. "It was a fun experience. It feels good to bring a smile to someone's day. And to me, I would call it more than fun. I call it bringing joy."
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