Lake Junaluska, N.C. — More than 100 youth who participated in the Winter Youth Retreats at Lake Junaluska volunteered in Haywood County over the last few weeks.
Lake Junaluska partnered with Canton Community Kitchen, Haywood Christian Ministry and Second Blessings Thrift Shop/Open Door Ministries to give youth the opportunity to add mission projects to their winter youth retreats. This was the first time Lake Junaluska offered an official mission option to its winter youth program.
Youth from Prospect United Methodist Church in Monroe visited the Canton Community Kitchen, where youth sorted cans in the pantry and helped clean shelves, refrigerators, chairs and more for nearly three hours. Allison Jennings, operations director for the community kitchen, said that these small tasks have a big impact.
“They may be wondering how this helps, but it helps a great deal,” Jennings said. “This is the stuff we often don’t have time to get done. We want to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ through feeding and we want people to come into a clean, friendly, family environment.”
A group of 25 youth and adults from Brevard First United Methodist Church in Brevard worked at the Haywood Christian Ministry thrift store. The group helped staff change over the clothing stock from winter to spring clothes, finishing a task that typically takes two full days in just half a day. According to the group leader, Rivers Smith, the youth have a heart for mission work that inspired them to help during their time at Lake Junaluska.
“We have a team of youth from our church called the Youth Council that makes the decisions for the things we do as a group,” Smith said. “When we meet, the youth plan our Sunday activities. The plan they’ve set is to have one faith development night, one fun night and one mission project per month.”
Smith says the group is diverse in terms of their experiences. Some kids have traveled with their parents, but for many of the youth, the only time they leave the county is with the youth group.
“It’s huge for them to see what’s going on beyond our county—that we all have the same needs, the same cares, and that we need to work together to get through this life,” said Smith.
Because the youth choose their own projects, the group said they were truly invested in the work they did.
“Our motto is ‘moving out to serve’,” said Gabbie DiLemme, 15, who has been part of the Brevard United Methodist Church youth group for three years. “We take great pride in serving others and spreading the word of God. People need help everywhere. Back home, everyone knows us, but it’s nice to go into other communities and see where they need help, too.”
As much as the youth said they enjoy helping out, places such as Haywood Christian Ministry said they cherish their efforts more.
“They’re energetic, they get things done fast and they seem to have a good time while doing it,” said Paula Payne, co-manager of the Haywood Christian Ministry thrift store. “By them helping with the changeover, it contributes to the look and feel of the store. All the money we make in the store goes to cover our expenses, so that all other donations can go directly to helping people in Haywood County.”
In addition to the thrift store, Haywood Christian Ministry also has a food pantry and helps families with free clothes, paying lighting and heating bills and helping people out with rent.
At Open Door Ministries, Summit Student Ministries cleaned refrigerators and scrubbed the kitchen and dining room.
“They used toothbrushes to clean every nook and cranny, and did so with a sense of joy. One youth told me, ‘All people deserve to eat in a clean environment that preserves dignity,’” said Mitzi Johnson, Lake Junaluska director of programming.
The Hopewell United Methodist Church youth group spent their morning there sanding, painting and cleaning in the pantry and serving area. Although mission work is nothing new to this youth group, they found the opportunity in Haywood County unique.
“We’ve done mission projects, but this is the first opportunity we’ve had to get hands-on with people,” said Natalie Jones, youth leader at Hopewell UMC. “It’s more real because they can see the impact of the work they’re doing. They’re getting their hands dirty and that’s the way we’re going to change the world.”
Each of these youth groups, and many more, dedicated their time and energy to help those experiencing homelessness, hunger and poverty in Haywood County. Youth volunteer Joe Freeman, 19, said he encourages others to get involved with volunteering, whether in their hometowns or further afield.
“I grew up doing mission work in middle and high school, and after a while it just becomes habit to volunteer,” Freeman said. “You’d be surprised by the impact. Even just coming in to wipe down countertops can be a big help to little ministries in the community. You’ve helped them in a little way, but in the end it helps a lot.”
All volunteer opportunities took place as part of the Winter Youth Retreats at Lake Junaluska. The retreats also included worship programming, time for fellowship and options to ski or zipline.
You can learn more about youth programs at Lake Junaluska by visiting www.lakejunaluska.com/youth.
Lake Junaluska is a place of Christian hospitality where lives are transformed through renewal of soul, mind and body. For more information about Lake Junaluska programs and events, visit www.lakejunaluska.com.