Partnering for Housing and Hope: Hartland to New Haven Youth Mission Trip

Partnering for Housing and Hope: Hartland to New Haven Youth Mission Trip

Crowdfunding Completed: July 24, 2014

Amount Funded: $400

Project Owner: Hartland Churches Youth Group/First Universalist Society of Hartland, VT

Short Description of Project

Youth and adult volunteers from the First Universalist Society of Hartland, VT and the First Congregational Church of Hartland, VT travel each year to New Haven, CT, where we partner with three local agencies to work to support housing, community development, and social services networks.

How was this project connected to UU?

This project is a program our our congregation, the First Universalist Society of Hartland. It’s supported by our members, co-led by our minister, and it's an important component of our religious education program, and our ministry to and with youth and young adults.

Full Description of Project

For eight years now, youth and adult volunteers from the First Universailst Society of Hartland, VT, and the First Congregational Church of Hartland, VT have traveled for a week each summer to New Haven, CT, to work with social services agencies that are active in addressing homelessness, poverty, and hunger in the New Haven Region.

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In particular, we have built partnerships with three organizations that work year-round in New Haven to serve the community, and to work for justice and a health--New Reach (f0rmerly New Haven Home Recovery), Christian Community Action, and Habitat for Humanity of Greater New Haven.

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Our long-term connection with and commitment to these agencies allows us to build relationships that work to transcend the limited vision of the standard "outside savior" model of church service trips. We work together to learn and to practice what it means to serve as a sacred activity of our faith. We work to understand the dynamics of homelessness and poverty, both in New Haven, and in our own rural New England community, and to find ways that we can work both for relief for those in immediate need and and for justice that addresses oppression in a more permanent and pervasive fashion.

This project is an important and ongoing component of our congregation's ministry to and with youth. Year-round, we partner with our friends and neighbors at our local United Church of Christ congregation to offer rich and extensive programming for youth in grades 7-12 through our junior and senior youth groups. Our youth groups are co-led by the ministers of our two congregations, the Rev. Paul Sawyer from the UU congregation, and the Rev. Lucia Jackson from the UCC. We offer regular youth group meetings, special events including service work, relationship-building activities, and many activities meant simply to provide some fun and connection. Together our churches also co-sponsor OWL programs for grades 4-6, 7-8, and high school.

Working together, our churches have built active and vibrant programs for our youth, with more than 20 youth involved in each of our two age-based groups, and 20 or more high-school-aged youth taking part in our annual mission trip along with 6-10 adult and young adult volunteers--numbers that we're very proud of, given that the population of our rural community is just over 3000. Youth programming is also particularly important in our community in which, because we don't have a high school of our own, our youth attend six different area high schools.

On the mission trip, we work long days with our partner organizations, taking on any task they ask us to do. We also worship together every evening, pray together every morning, cook and share our meals together in community, and still find ample time for some fun and games and relationship-building.

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We work hard to make our trip as inexpensive as possible--a very important goal for our community of limited means--Our congregation members donate nearly all the food we eat for the week. We sleep in the RE classrooms of a local church (most recently the UCC church in North Haven), and work with a local recreation center to offer a location for showers (which are very important at the end of a long day). Still, in addition to the work we provide, we also commit to making a cash donation to each of our partner organizations to support their work. Our youth work year-round in fundraising activities, and special collections and individual donations at each of our churches provide additional support. Our only significant expense is transportation and fuel, but, as surely you know, those costs are rising each year. Your support will provide just the boost we need to ensure that our commitment to our youth and to our partner agencies can continue to be strong.
***This project is grounded in multigenerational ministry and connections. Our high-school-age youth work along-side with adult volunteers and adult staff from our partner agencies. Many of our young adults who are veterans of the program also return to volunteer and to share their leadership skills and wisdom with our youth and adult volunteers. The mission trip has become an important connection for us for bridging the experience of our youth programs with our young adults who are moving on to the next stages of their own life. Our youth and adult volunteers also work together to lead a worship service the Sunday after the mission trip, sharing their experience and learning with our combined UU and UCC congregations. ***This project is grounded in interfaith relationships and understanding. All our youth programs are interfaith projects, combining youth, ministers, and volunteer leaders from both our Unitarian Universalist congregation, and our local UCC congregational church. In addition, several of the youth who participate in our programs are members of other religious traditions, or who belong to no religious tradition at all. Together we work to understand and to deepen our connections with our own faith traditions, as well as to share and to learn from each other. On the mission trip, we actively share worship leadership, we explore issues of justice, oppression, and service from the point of view of our traditions of faith, and we also work with agencies grounded in other religious traditions and practices in New Haven. ***This project is grounded in lifespan faith development and building Unitarian Universalist identity. The intensity of the mission trip experience and the long hours spent together with youth, ministers, and adults from our congregation naturally lead to extensive conversations concerning our faith, and what it means to be a Unitarian Universalist in a world filled with injustice and oppression. In addition, we take time before, during, and after the mission trip to directly relate the experience of the trip to our Unitarian Universalist values, and to the kind of community and connections we’re trying to build in and through our congregation. ***This project is grounded in anti-oppression, anti-racisim, and multicultural work, and in building effective strategies, actions, and relationships that strive to build a more just world. We work hard in our mission tip work to build an understanding of the structures of injustice that create a society where there is homelessness, hunger, and other problems of poverty. We work hard, too, to learn together the difference between true service that makes a difference, and self-centered “helping” that makes privileged participants feel good for a time, but that changes little in the communities we’re visiting. We seek to share stories with the people we meet and work with—to learn about each other, and to build connections that last beyond the simple painting, landscaping, or other tasks we take on. We work along side staff members at the agencies who are deeply connected with the communities they serve, many of whom are former clients of the agencies they’re working for, and who work to help our youth and adults understand the culture and the realities of their communities. In addition, while we’re in New Haven, we also work to build an understanding of the related systems of injustice and oppression that exist in our own rural community, how injustice appears in and affects our community, and how we are working to address injustice and oppression year-round at home. Members of our youth group, and members of our churches and our community as a whole represent a wide variety of social and economic realities and understandings. Some of our youth and adult volunteers have experience with homelessness, hunger, and poverty themselves, and often our conversations and our worship services during the trip are deepened by building connections across our own boundaries and our own pain from our own experience.