17 area youth were able to spend a week at two separate YMCA sponsored events recently, where they were able to develop their character and bond with others.
Six teens traveled to San Francisco this summer for the Teen Escape Service Learning program, while 11 teens traveled to the Blue Ridge Christian Values Conference in North Carolina. The teens are from Bear Branch Junior High, Magnolia Junior High, Alpha Academy, Magnolia High School and Magnolia West High School.
Magnolia/Tomball YMCA Senior Program Director Stephanie Saker said the trips were made possible because of local generosity.
“We were able to send them because of donations through our YMCA Partners of Youth program,” she said.
The San Francisco trip focused on community service, character building and self-discovery, according to YMCA board member and Alpha Academy teacher Nita McNulty, who accompanied the students.
She said the students are expected to take what they learned and reapply it in their community.
‘This was an awesome opportunity for our teens to learn what it means to help others without the expectation of payment,” she said. “Most teens do not get that until they do work to help others. They will be able to take the lessons they learn through this experience and apply it.”
The students that attended said they learned a lot during their trip.
“Seeing everybody get along with one another, smiling and having a good time made my day,” one student, Tony, said. “I loved and cherished every second of the day, from the time I opened my eyes to when I was in bed replaying the day in my head.”
Tony, who has done landscape work with his father, was able to teach others at the camp how to plant items correctly.
“As I also taught some of my new friends about planting and how each plant had a specific duty to play in the environment made me feel really proud of myself,” Tony said.
Blair, another student, helped repaint the local YMCA, among other things.
“I learned that even the little things have an impact,” Blair said. “I plan to use this new lesson I learned in my community, doing things here and there to help those that need it.”
Another YMCA board member, Keri Hefner, accompanied 11 teens to North Carolina, where they attended the Blue Ridge Christian Leadership Conference.
Saker said the teens there divided into families and the entire focus of the conference is to break down the walls the teens have built up and show them how to build relationships.
Thumper, a teen that attended the conference, said it has impacted his life tremendously.
“My attitude has improved, I have a strong bond with God now, my work ethic is great and how I treat others has greatly improved,” he said. “When you’re there, everyone treats everyone so passionately. Complete strangers treat you with such kindness and everyone can be themselves without the pressure of what other people think about them.”
“Confidence was something I experimented with during my stay there,” added Lillian. “I left the mountain with double the confidence I had when I arrived.”
“Blue Ridge has certainly made an impact on my life,” she added. “I learned new lessons and gained different perspectives and friends. My religious faith has also strengthened.”
All the students said they wouldn’t trade their experiences during the summer trips for anyone else’s summer vacation.
“These are not just trips,” Tony added, “they’re life changing experiences that everybody should get a chance to experience.”