It was a Saturday morning at 8 a.m., and by teen standards, pretty early. Theresa Traylor, a 14 year old homeschooler in 8th grade, was tired and not very excited the first time she planned to volunteer with her youth group at the Children’s Hunger Fund.
After volunteering for two hours with Newhall Church of the Nazarene’s youth group at the Children’s Hunger Fund in Sylmar, her perspective changed completely. She was surprised by how much fun she had and was stunned that teens, like herself, could make a difference.
“A lot of teens think they can’t make a change because they are just one person, but that’s not true,” she said. “It was really cool and we got to be a part of something bigger than just ourselves.”
The youth group took 10 volunteers this past Saturday to help package dried beans. It was part of a larger Food Pak, that can feed a family of four for a week. The packs are shipped to impoverished families in 15 countries, including the Uganda, Thailand, Mexico, Haiti, Honduras and the U.S.
Matt Rinker is the church’s youth pastor and leads the group of junior and senior high students several times a year to volunteer at packing events. He explained the events are important to give teens a chance to give back and to learn to take action in their lives and communities.
“They live in a world where their lives are controlled by adult systems, homework, classes, coaches,” said Rinker. “They don’t have a place in that system yet. This helps them to make a difference when they deliberately try to help others. It gives them a purpose that’s bigger than just doing homework.”
Rinker explained the teens enjoy the process. Many are spurred to participate simply because it is a youth group activity, but once they’ve helped, they are excited to continue.
John Richard Lifsey, a 17 year old homeschooled senior, volunteered with the group this past Saturday. He too said he initially volunteered because his friends were going. After his first experience, his outlook changed.
“I felt really good spending my time helping,” he said. “I think as Christians our main calling is to help people. This is a practical way to do that.”
Lifsey said this type of experience can help teens figure out who they are and find a possible career path. A close friend of his began volunteering and later worked for a similar organization, Samaritan’s Purse, for several years.
“There’s a lot of need around the world and we can support that need from over here,” said Lifsey. “But it can also help us figure out what to do with our lives.”
Rinker echoed that idea, explaining teens are discovering who they are and learning about life. Teaching them to use a small portion of their time to help others can inspire them to serve in other ways.
“There’s a bigger world out there and it can be easy to get caught up in our daily routine,” said Rinker. “When we step out of that to help other people, that attitude of serving is fulfilling.”
Chris Pruett, a 16 year old Sophomore at Chatsworth High said he doesn’t volunteer only because he’s a Christian. He does it because he wants to help someone else.
“I know God is using me to help another family in need,” said Pruett.
Pruett volunteers in as many ways as possible. He helps with a garden at school, volunteers with the Chatsworth football team and works with his family to serve the homeless during the Give Thanksgiving event in Newhall each year.
Jake Calver, a 17 year old Junior at Valencia High, has volunteered with Children’s Hunger Fund nearly a dozen times, packing food, clothing and Christmas toys. Most of his extracurricular activities are sports-related, including kicking for the Valencia football team; but he also focuses on volunteer opportunities.
“It’s a fun way to give to others, it only took two hours of my time,” said Calver. “I can do that instead of looking at Snapchat. I can put my time towards someones life and impact it in a positive way.”
Carver explained he thinks the experience is especially important for teens in the U.S., to help teach them to value what they have. He explained the work is easy and he thinks its fun. Pruett recommends everyone gets involved in some way.
“It sounds really corny, but its opened my eyes to how good I have it,” said Pruett. “It’s also opened my heart to help others. Its just a little bit of sweat and work, but it keeps someone alive.”