Community outreach earns St. John's Episcopal Youth Group recognition from Ravens

Teenagers motivated by lessons learned through exposure to people in need

  • Alex Woolwine, Will Parks, Tori Stroud, and youth group leader Laura Johnson (at far right), members of St. Johns Church in Ellicott City, volunteer at Helping Up Mission.
Alex Woolwine, Will Parks, Tori Stroud, and youth group leader… (Tim Schwartz, Baltimore…)
November 03, 2013|By Tim Schwartz, The Baltimore Sun

Nine St. John's Episcopal Youth Group teenagers spent several hours hearing testimonies and serving lunch to poor and homeless people at the Helping Up Mission in Baltimore on the last Sunday in October.

It's one of many good deeds done recently by the high school-age kids, which is why the group is among 16 organizations being recognized this season for their volunteer service by the Ravens and the Governor's Office on Service and Volunteerism.

Recipients of the 14th annual Honor Rows Program, the 46 youth group members and leaders will be honored at the Ravens home game against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.

"I'll get a picture with Ray Rice, Torrey Smith, [Joe] Flacco," said Marriotts Ridge High School student Alina Pacione, 17, about potentially getting a new Facebook profile picture with her favorite players. "It'll be me like, 'Oh, my gosh, look!'"

The church has about 300 youth members; of those, about 50 are of high school age in a final stage called Young Adults in Church. The number involved is one church volunteer and youth leader Mike Runge said is great because "about halfway through high school is when most kids stop going to youth group."

Church volunteer and youth leader Laura Johnson said at the Young Adults in Church stage, the members are focusing on individual faith and being exposed to opportunities to be leaders, as well as giving back to the community.

Community outreach, especially at places outside Howard County such as Helping Up Mission, appears to be the most enjoyable part of the journey.

"[The teenagers] rotate through the five different ministries throughout the year, so they will get exposure to different ways of which they can give back to the community," Johnson said. "It gives them a kind of rounded view for them to start making decisions about what they think their calling is."

Throughout last year, the Young Adults in Church group completed approximately 1,000 hours of community service. Its members spent time picking up trash outside their church in Ellicott City, as well as traveling to areas and organizations outside Howard County in need of outreach.

"My favorite part is definitely doing outreach like this and hearing everyone's stories and helping them. ... The entire helping out brings whoever's in it closer together," said Howard High School student Clay Rund, 17, a church member since third grade. "Just as a whole it makes us one big dysfunctional family."

"That's a good way to put it," said Cindy Dyer, a church volunteer and youth leader.

The members were given a tour of Helping Up Mission, one of Baltimore's oldest and largest nonprofit institutions dedicated to serving poor and homeless people in the city. They also heard testimonies from three men who have fallen on hardship because of past mistakes and drug and alcohol abuse.

"I really like hearing their stories and how they ended up and came out of it, and how they're asking us to not do that," Rund said. "They were like, 'Please, don't do this — it is terrible — and even though I did this, I'm on top. I came out of it.'"

After listening to testimonies, the group members put on their aprons and served lunch to hundreds of men at Helping Up Mission.

"It's pretty exciting because they are very busy," Johnson said of the teenagers. "I mean, they have so much going on in their lives and the fact they are willing and tend to embrace this program, it speaks volumes to the program but also the kind of individuals they are."

The church has also helped at the Club at Collington Square, an after school program for 60 children in kindergarten through fourth grade at Collington Square Elementary/Middle School in Baltimore City.

The Young Adults in Church group set up parties and worked with the charity Baltimore Free Store to set up a free store for the kids.

The group also rented a bus to shuttle the kids from the city to the church for a barbecue because "as their parents would tell us, they can't let their kids play in the park for the fear of needles," Dyer said. "So it's really a respite at giving them some time away from their stressors and pressures."

The Young Adults in Church group will bring 14 men from Helping Up Mission to help celebrate the honor at the Ravens game. They will be on the field before the game for a group photo and will be given T-shirts. During the third quarter, they will be shown on the RavensVision video screens to be recognized for their accomplishments.

"Meeting the players would be awesome," said 16-year-old Mount Hebron student Tanner French, "but I love being recognized for what we're doing."

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