Urban Alliance

Next Generation Scholarships Help Local Teens Become Catalysts

Article and pictures by Urban Alliance staff. 
Summertime. It's a span of weeks that students look forward to all year long and cling to as back-to-school commercials reappear on the television.  It's a time speckled with relaxation, day trips, late nights and maybe some time running through a sprinkler or lounging in a hammock.
But for hundreds of teens, it is also a time to serve others and share the love of God in tangible ways through participating in The Hartford Project (THP), a Connecticut-based, Christian urban-immersion experience for middle- and high-school youth.
This year, through Urban Alliance's Next Generation initiative, which aims to help children and youth develop character and receive support through healthy relationships by collaboratively increasing the impact of local programs, 30 teens from two Hartford churches were awarded scholarships to attend THP.
"Often parents who are raising children in socioeconomically fragile communities greatly desire to expose their children to programs and activities that will empower them, but are overwhelmed by financial constraints," explained Rosaicela Rodriguez, Urban Alliance's Director of Implementation, Children & Youth Initiatives. "Urban Alliance is blessed to partner with ministries that positively impact the lives of Hartford youth, and we are thrilled to provide grant funding for scholarships for teens and young adults who are hungry for a life-changing experience!"
During the course of a typical THP week, youth and youth leaders from churches in Hartford, surrounding towns, and from other New England states meet together in Hartford where they serve the community and build relationships with one another.
Each day is jam-packed with time spent together in worship, devotional meetings and at worksites, where youth build skills as they provide manual labor, visit with the elderly and assist a children's programs, or help with other assigned tasks at local organizations.
Eliana Echtenkamp, a teen from Glory Chapel International Cathedral who has been participating in THP for three years shared that THP is a great way to not only gain skills with hands-on work but also to learn people skills. "THP encourages young teens to gain new friendships with others in THP and also those around the surrounding neighborhoods."
Echtenkamp and youth from Glory Chapel teamed up with youth from Trinity Covenant Church to help beautify Barbour Street in partnership with Citadel of Love. And as the group weeded, planted flowers in large street-side pots, and cleared litter from the area, the symbolism ran deep.
It was clear. These teens and leaders are committed to being catalysts for making a positive impact in the lives of their new friends, their old friends and their communities.
"THP is a great place to create new friendships with teens from other churches and build new bonds. Each year of THP, new friendships are developed [and] friendships from before are built stronger and deeper. It's an exciting and enjoyable way to meet new people and help out in the community," said Echtenkamp.
Another aspect of THP is "Life in the City," which is designed to help break down negative stereotypes about urban communities and poverty. Love Wins festivals hosted by THP in partnership with local Hartford churches also provide opportunities for community members to interact with suburban and urban teens.
In a recent program evaluation provided by Urban Alliance, the vast majority of THP youth (77%) indicated that they plan to be part of a community service project in the future, 92% felt they grew in their relationship with God as a result of participating in THP, 69% developed leadership skills, 83% felt closer to adult leaders from their church, and 89% felt closer to other youth from their church.
"I am definitely glad that I am able to participate in THP," shared Echtenkamp. "I know that THP has a big impact on the youth from our church as well as me. The scholarships are very beneficial. Most of the time they are the only way our youth can attend THP. We look forward to the next THP even before the week is over. The youth enjoy helping out in the community, coming together with different churches and meeting new people. We have a great time each year and create unforgettable memories."