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Young Adult Volunteers are changing and growing during their virtual YAV year

A year of service completed online has taken on many forms

by Kathy Melvin | Presbyterian News Service

Carson Crawford


LOUISVILLE — For the first time in the 30-year history of the Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) program, the COVID-19 global pandemic forced the program to be a virtual one during 2020-2021. Adapting quickly to the contextual realities was difficult, but according to participants, the virtual format has challenged them and help them grow.

Carson Crawford from West Virginia was disappointed that he wasn’t able to serve in person, but online service has offered its own rewards.

“Even though it’s a virtual year, it’s still service and it’s feeding the service orientation of my soul,” he said.

Emma Kate Landry was scheduled to serve in person in Montana. She couldn’t travel to her site placement but wanted to stay involved with the program.

“I’m gaining some awesome resources I will use in my ministry in the future and it’s teaching me more about my own personal theology,” she said.

For Emma Grimes of Ft. Wayne, Indiana, the virtual program has provided a necessary outlet. “I had all this passion I didn’t know what to do with. Through the weeks we’ve talked about crucial social justice issues, and that’s helped me form ideas about how I can use my gifts in the ever-changing social justice field.”

The group, which began meeting in October, committed to participating in training modules (six hours each week) focused on social justice, advocacy and the Matthew 25 invitation related to dismantling structural racism. For the first time ever, the program was also open to 18-year-olds interested in learning more about the program. Normally YAVs are between 19 and 30.

The YAV program is a Matthew 25 ministry and addresses the three areas of focus passed by the 2016 General Assembly: building congregational vitalitydismantling structural racism and eradicating systemic poverty.

Dr. Rebecca Lister

Thus far the YAVs have attended sessions with various Presbyterian Mission Agency staff, mission co-workers and guest authors. Alison Wood, site coordinator for the Tucson YAV site and mission co-worker the Rev. Sarah Henken, who serves in the Colombia/Andean region, hosted a session on militarism in the U.S. and the borderlands. Dr. Rebecca Lister, a member of the Presbytery of Carlisle and professor at Lebanon Valley College, engaged the group on lament and protest.

Several PMA staff members have met with the group to find out more about the World Mission and Compassion, Peace & Justice ministry areas, as well as Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries, Theology, Formation & Evangelism and Mission Engagement & Support.

YAV alum Angela Williams taught the group about the YAV core tenets. Those tenets include:

Angela Williams

Intentional Christian Community

YAVs explore what it means to be a Christian community with one another and their neighbors. While some will live in housing together and others spread throughout their country, all YAVs will reflect together on their service and explore their relationship with God, the church and their ministry in a broken world.

Simple Living
YAVs are challenged to practice simple living — living an abundant life with less. Living simply pushes YAVs to evaluate their true needs with their lifestyle and beliefs. YAVs challenge one another to live more simply in response to an unsustainable human demand for natural resources.

Cross-Cultural Mission
YAVs will intentionally explore the diversity of God’s Creation, living and working outside of their comfort zone. YAVs will work to confront the systemic challenges of race, class, gender and power while learning to examine their own lives and actions.

Leadership Development through Faith in Action
YAVs develop their leadership by serving in communities that are actively being marginalized alongside local people of faith responding to poverty, violence and injustice in their communities, sharing the gospel through word and deed.

Vocational Discernment
Through theological reflection and spiritual practices, YAVs will participate in the process of vocational discernment — unearthing God’s desires for each person’s life and work.

Upcoming sessions will include Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons from the Center for American Progress’ Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative, who will discuss his book, “Just Faith: Reclaiming Progressive Christianity.”

Currently, plans are underway for an in-person YAV year for 2021-22. The application process opened October 1, 2020 and continues through June 2021. March 1 is the final date to apply to international sites. June 1 is the last day to apply for national sites. There is also discussion about also offering another virtual year program.

To learn more about the program, go to

The Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) program is an ecumenical, faith-based service opportunity of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) at sites throughout the U.S. and around the world. YAVs ages 19-30 accompany local agencies to embody the Matthew 25 vision of dismantling structural racism, eradicating systemic poverty and building congregational vitality. Alongside this work, volunteers explore the meaning of their Christian faith and accountability to their neighbors in the community with peers and mentors. The YAV year is August to August. Applications are being accepted now. Learn more and apply.

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