Article and pictures by Urban Alliance staff.
Just a few decades ago, teens congregated at malls, movie theaters or in their neighborhoods to ride bikes, swap notes or play a game of football.
Today, they're meeting on Twitter, Facebook, Facetime and other online apps, where their social circles can grow wider, but not always deeper. It's where they can be bold, behind a status update or comment, but not always have the same opportunities offline. It's where they can link up, but not have the chance to make meaningful connections.
It's true. Today's youth face unique challenges as they navigate the awkward stage of life straddled between childhood and adulthood.
But, a movement is happening that is helping youth to have a voice, to connect with one another, and build relationships through their teen years. And, it's making waves of transformational change in Greater Hartford.
YX Movement, which just celebrated its fifth anniversary, began as a vision from Pastors Joel and Karla Cruz from House of Praise and Worship. They wanted to inspire teens to live boldly in their faith, and set their eyes on what that might look like if many churches worked together to help encourage that boldness.
"It started out at one church. Now, it's grown to be a huge blessing and the networking among youth is incredible," shared one parent. "I've seen my daughter grow from this experience and in her faith. I see youth having struggles, and there is a need for this."
YX Movement, which holds youth-led worship services every other month in addition to a yearly youth retreat, provides opportunities for churches to collaborate for an empowering experience that helps raise up today's teens. Youth from several Hartford-area churches have shared their creative talents, including singing, dancing, playing instruments, performing spoken word and miming, in addition to helping plan and prepare YX services. And, as the hosting church changes each time, new opportunities for networking and developing friendships are born.
"YX Movement has nurtured intentional relationships. Our approach has allowed youth to connect with a greater network of youth ministries from different churches," explained Joel Cruz. "As a result, many of our youth take their connections and connect in their communities and schools. A week ago, a youth shared with me how she met another youth at a YX service, and that she didn't know they went to the same high school. As a result, they held each other accountable and made sure they reminded each other of their role as believers."
Natasha Ruiz, who has been attending YX Movement for five years, is now a freshman in college and shared how it has made an impact in her life, "I have developed new friendships inside several churches, not only with the youth but with the leaders as well. My existing friendships grew even deeper once I found out that some of them were a part of the movement. We started hanging out more and it gave us one more thing to have in common. The network opportunities are endless. I meet new people all the time and I love it."
A crucial aspect of YX Movement is the support that youth receive from leaders, who in turn are encouraged by one another.
"The YX Movement is teaching and preparing us to become the next leaders," shared Ruiz.
Urban Alliance's Next Generation initiative helps children and youth develop character and receive support through healthy relationships by collaboratively increasing the impact of local out-of-school programs. For YX Movement, that support has come through facilitated gatherings, workshops and grant funding.
"Support from Urban Alliance continues to help maintain a platform that matches like-minded churches looking to partner and fellowship with other youth groups," said Cruz. "UA's ability to facilitate and connect churches gives YX Movement the ability to reach other leaders we would otherwise have challenges to reach. In addition, UA provides much needed resources that many of our churches have a hard time securing on their own; and so, the resources have allowed many of our participating youth the opportunity to take part of YX Movement yearly retreats."
While these teens might not be returning to the same activities as the 1970's or 80's, thanks to YX Movement they are connecting in person, developing meaningful relationships, and learning skills that will influence their adult lives much more than the fleeting excitement of a new social media friend request alert. And that is something to be celebrated.
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