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The PC(USA)’s Pentecost Offering gives young people an opportunity to change the world

The Special Offering supports ministry geared toward at-risk children, youth and young adults

by Emily Enders Odom for Presbyterians Today | Special to Presbyterian News Service

Gifts to the Pentecost Offering support children. (iStock photo)

Everywhere he looked, the Rev. Allen Shelton saw tremendous gaps — gaps that were keeping high school-aged young people of color like Tariq Mayo from succeeding in life.

Shelton, a veteran educator, community advocate and pastor, was determined not to watch Tariq — and so many other promising youth — fall through the cracks of an increasingly broken educational system.

Shelton wanted nothing more than to ensure the future success of primarily urban, adolescent young people who seemed to be destined for the school-to-prison pipeline. In 2010 he founded Good Success Academies, a not-for-profit organization that was, for him, a logical extension of his work as a local pastor.

“We saw as a congregation that there was a major deficit in terms of educational achievement and college graduation rates,” said Shelton, who was pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Montclair, New Jersey, at the time. “At-risk youth of color attending urban public schools had no chance of success in getting good, high-paying positions.”

When the burgeoning program outgrew the church and expanded beyond Montclair, Good Success Academies was established, with Shelton becoming its first executive director.

In the 12 years since its founding, the once-local initiative — in partnership with Montclair State University and Rutgers University — now impacts youth from Newark, Irvington, the Oranges, Montclair, Paterson, Glen Ridge and Bloomfield, readying them for college, work and the world.

“We prepare youth for college, trade school, the workplace and responsible adulthood through a college and career readiness program in two phases, an academic year program and a summer employment program,” explained Shelton. “Our entrepreneurship component empowers youth to succeed in the workplace by teaching them how to develop, launch and operate a small business.”

Helping youth like Tariq achieve their God-given potential is what the Pentecost Offering — one of the PC(USA)’s four Special Offerings — is all about. Gifts to the Pentecost Offering support at-risk children and youth through the “Educate a Child, Transform the World” national initiative.

“Having been born and raised in Newark, one of the target cities where this program operates,” said the Rev. Dr. Alonzo Johnson, coordinator of the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People at the Presbyterian Mission Agency and staff person for the PC(USA)’s Educate a Child, Transform the World national initiative, “I am excited to know that more opportunities are being created through this program for so many of our young people who have the skills, talent, intelligence and drive for entrepreneurship.”

Tariq, for one, is grateful for his Good Success experience — both for its focus on college preparation as well as its summer employment program.

“I got into Good Success because our [high school] principal was handing out flyers,” recalled Tariq. “It helped me to get a job. Previously I didn’t know what to wear or what to say at an interview. Good Success helped me figure it out, including what type of suits to wear.”

‘I am excited to know that more opportunities are being created through this program for so many of our young people who have the skills, talent, intelligence and drive for entrepreneurship’ — The Rev. Dr. Alonzo Johnson

Tariq also credits Good Success with helping him to write the application essays that earned him acceptance into Montclair State University, where he is now studying computer science.

In addition to impacting the individual lives of young people of color, Good Success Academies is simultaneously addressing the root causes that perpetuate the school-to-prison pipeline — the charge at the heart of Matthew 25.

“This program seamlessly embodies the Matthew 25 vision in that all the foci are evident in the work Good Success does in its surrounding communities,” said Johnson, referencing the vision’s commitment to build congregational vitality, dismantle structural racism and eradicate systemic poverty. “Good Success recognizes that it must equip Black youth to be able to see their work and worth and recognize their potential.”

YAV program changes lives

Also closely aligned with the Matthew 25 movement is the Young Adult Volunteer program, another of the ministries supported by the Pentecost Offering.

The YAV program, an ecumenical, faith-based year of service in sites across the U.S. and around the world, has been changing the lives of young people ages 19–30 for nearly three decades. In addition to service, the YAV experience emphasizes living in intentional Christian community, spiritual formation and vocational discernment.

Jenny Valles, a PC(USA) mission co-worker who serves as coordinator for the YAV site in Peru, said that the program there has always sought to address systemic poverty and racism.

“Many of our partners have been working on these issues for years at the local, national and international levels,” said Valles. “Our volunteers are involved in these issues from the first day of service until the end of their YAV year. They have an orientation and retreats during their YAV year to further address these issues and others specific to the context of Peru, such as rights and challenges of the LGBTQIA+ community, Machismo in Peru, political context and economy of Peru, climate change, personal self-care and intercultural challenges.”

Yuriko Beltran — a native of Peru and a recent communications sciences graduate of the Pedro Ruíz Gallo National University in Lambayeque — is now completing her 2022–23 year of volunteer service at the Peru YAV site.

Beltran said that she was attracted to the Peru YAV site primarily because of its emphases on protecting the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community, empowering women to become agents of change in their communities and “reorienting the culture toward protecting our bodies, water and land.”

“I believe that being able to hear firsthand the testimonies of people who face a certain problem and the goals they set to generate positive changes makes me identify and empathize with people and their needs,” said Beltran. “It is nice to be able to meet people who care about achieving a positive change in their environment. This motivates me and fills me with admiration.”

In 2021–22, the Peru YAV site underwent its own set of positive changes in that it was staffed for the first time by two Peruvian YAVs — like Beltran — under Valles’ direction.

“The Peru YAV site had to shift during the pandemic when it could not accommodate U.S. young adults due to the health concerns and safety of the volunteers, host families and partners,” said Destini Hodges, coordinator for the YAV Program. “Still yearning to bring transformational ministry to young adults through mission, Jenny decided to develop a plan and shift her attention to work with young adults locally. It was a great cross-cultural mission engagement experience to have the Peruvian YAVs engage in the virtual orientation and bring their perspectives around Christian identity, race, poverty and social justice to the table with their U.S.-based counterparts.”

‘If we all had the opportunity to have experiences like the Young Adult Volunteer program offers, I believe that we would all be more empathetic, more just and more supportive of one other.’ — Jenny Valles, PC(USA) mission co-worker

Mentoring and advising the YAVs during their year of service — and watching them blossom — is one of Valles’ greatest joys.

“If we all had the opportunity to have experiences like the YAV program offers, I believe that we would all be more empathetic, more just and more supportive of one other,” said Valles. “We need to continue giving young people more opportunities — not only young people from the United States but also from other parts of the world so that learning is mutual and equal. I invite potential donors to walk hand in hand with us through their support of YAVs. Their prayers and donations transform lives not just for a year but for a lifetime.”

‘Belonging Together’

Another young person whose life was transformed thanks to initiatives supported by the Pentecost Offering was 15-year-old Grace Reck.

Ever since she attended her first churchwide youth conference in 2022, Grace has jumped at every opportunity to lean in — including attending “Belonging Together,” a fall youth retreat held in November 2022 at Camp Loucon in Leitchfield, Kentucky, by the state’s three presbyteries.

“For both Grace and her twin sister, Emma, because the [Montreat] youth conference last summer was such a pivotal experience in their faith journey, when the Camp Loucon experience was presented to Grace by our associate pastor John Kupar, she did not hesitate to sign up to go along with our youth group,” said the Rev. Tara N. Reck, pastor of Anchorage Presbyterian Church, where her husband and daughters are members.

“Belonging Together,” which attracted Reck and a diverse group of sixth to 12th graders from across the Commonwealth of Kentucky, was planned and programmed by Leslee Kirkconnell, Terry Hargrave and the Rev. Hannah McIntyre, representing the presbyteries of Western Kentucky, Mid-Kentucky and Transylvania, respectively.

The three presbyteries’ collective vision was to gather Kentucky Presbyterians annually for fellowship, learning and worship, with pastors/elders and youth meeting in alternating years to build relationships.

“All our events have built up the body of Christ in our worship, keynote, small groups and table fellowship,” Kirkconnell said. “This event with its theme of ‘Belonging Together’ emphasized the very real bonds we have as humans, as Christians, as Presbyterians. We learned these bonds must be nurtured and encouraged always — that relationships are so important, but they do take work.”

Offering innovative, creative and collaborative ways to bring Presbyterian youth together in the wake of the Covid pandemic — which led to the cancellation of both the 2022 Presbyterian Youth Triennium and a Kentucky tri-presbytery youth event originally planned for 2019 — is a goal of the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Office of Presbyterian Youth and Triennium.

“We actively encourage mid councils, churches, caucuses and youth groups to use this post-Covid time to gather, to experience community again with young Presbyterians and those that care about them,” said Gina Yeager-Buckley, mission coordinator for Presbyterian Youth and Triennium. “But here is what I know and trust — when young people gather together away from the ‘norm’ and they have space to talk and pray and listen and tell their stories, they build up the body of Christ in a way that is truly special because it is done with youthful pragmatism, energy and a heart that seeks action!”

To support congregations and mid councils in programming their own events such as “Belonging Together,” the office of Presbyterian Youth and Triennium published four free online resource guides with the Matthew 25-inspired theme “When Did We See You?” so that youth and their leaders can participate in their own way and at their own pace.

For Kirkconnell, the “Belonging Together” event served to lift up the Matthew 25 vision in its mission to seek “to demonstrate as people of God we have a true calling to address division, exclusion and all that goes against the love of Jesus Christ in our world.”

“This offering enables young people to be included in some beautiful formation adventures that allow them to shine as well as helps them lead us as a church, encouraging us to let go of our sometimes-impacted adult patterns,” said Yeager-Buckley.

‘When young people gather together away from the “norm” and they have space to talk and pray and listen and tell their stories, they build up the body of Christ in a way that is truly special because it is done with youthful pragmatism, energy and a heart that seeks action!’ — Gina Yeager-Buckley, Associate for Youth & Triennium

That’s something that is already evident in Grace Reck’s young life.

“I liked connecting with the younger people from church and other churches,” she said. “It is important that Presbyterians give money to support programs like the one we had at Loucon so that youth can continue to go on retreats there and have the experience I had.”

The Pentecost Offering — one of the PC(USA)’s four Special Offerings — supports at-risk children and youth through the “Educate a Child, Transform the World” national initiative and encourages, develops and supports the church’s young people through the Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) program and the Office of Presbyterian Youth and Triennium.

Forty percent of the Pentecost Offering is retained by individual congregations for local ministries such as Good Success Academies, while the remaining 60% is used to support children at risk, youth and young adults through ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

Although the Pentecost Offering may be taken anytime, most congregations receive it on Pentecost Sunday, which this year falls on May 28.

These ministries are made possible by your gifts to the Pentecost Offering. To see how your church can benefit from the ministries of the Pentecost Offering as well as the 40% which stays with your congregation, click here.

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