Youth find solace in local faith groups
By JULIA HAMPTON
Each day we are bombarded by decisions, commitments, and obligations, and amid all of this, we have some fun and relax. For young people it is no different.
They are pulled between school, family, extra curricular activities and possibly even a job. Young people are trying to figure out who they are and how to make good choices. There are many different support systems that can help them along their journey, including faith communities.
"Life is hectic and I am under a lot of stress," said Annamae Manning, 16. "Church is a place I can listen and not have to worry about anything."
"I love the sense of community that is singular to religion," said Jesse Lopata, 16, as he talked about being a part of the Brattleboro Area Jewish Community. "Through worship and prayer, real connection to those around you and God ... you're almost overwhelmed by happinessits. It's comforting."
Faith based communities provide support and a sense of connection that can have a profound impact on young people. Faith communities help young people develop values and spiritual strength.
Ian Hutchenson, 15, who attends Genesis Church of the Brethren, said he isn't exactly sure what he believes about God, but he appreciates having a place to talk about it.
Timothy Gantt, 17, who attends Agape Christian Fellowship, said that he definitely believes in God and that helps him feel less confused about life and what he is here for.
Faith communities also provide an opportunity for intergenerational connection where adults can mentor and teach children, passing on their life experience and wisdom in a unique way. They become an extended family where people feel loved and supported. Manning said that she goes to Centre Congregational Church because she likes the people.
She said that when things were hard at home she had people at church she was able to talk to. Hutchenson described Genesis Church of the Brethren as a community of good friends that support each other and pray for each other.
In Windham County, about 30 percent of youth in grades 6 through 12 spend one or more hours per week in activities in a religious institution. Gantt said that church "is a fun place where I can hang out with friends." His youth group meets regularly to play games and have Bible study.
Hutchenson described "work camps" his youth group attends in the summer where they travel to North Carolina to help communities by building play grounds, working on nature trails, playing with children and more. Lopata meets with his youth group once a month to discuss Judaism in the world today and how it affects their lives.
With this sense of community and support, it is no surprise that research has found that young people involved in a faith community are more likely to volunteer in their community, be involved in student government, as well as have higher self-esteem and positive attitudes about life. Hutchenson described how his involvement in his church has encouraged him to help others and the community more than he would have apart from church.
Research also shows that young people who are part of a faith community are less likely to be involved in risky behaviors such as drugs and alcohol use, sexual intercourse and not wearing a safety belt. Gantt commented that as a teenager his involvement in youth group "keeps me active and out of trouble."
Lopata sought out a faith community as a teenager because he wanted to figure out what being Jewish was all about. He has friends that he feels have turned to drugs and alcohol because they are not intellectually stimulated or connected to a supportive community. Lopata explained that Judaism has a moral code and a focus on justice that "is hard to find in our culture. It is nice to step back and use Judaism to analyze the world and see how we can make things better."
With life as hectic and complicated as it is, it is important to make sure our young people have a community of support. Faith based communities can provide a wonderful place for young people to be connected to positive adults and peers, have opportunities to grow spiritually and be involved in fun activities that provide them with skills, knowledge and a sense of purpose.
Source: Brattleboro Reformer