Over the course of seven weeks in June and July, through the efforts of SLAM (the student outreach program of G.O.D. International), 400 high school and middle school students were given the opportunity to be involved in positive, productive work, which benefitted over 1,000 individuals in the Nashville area, as they collectively gave over 6,200 hours of volunteer labor.
Specifically, 650 immigrant and refugee children participated in day camps where they played sports, learned bible lessons, and enjoyed recreation that would have otherwise not been available to them. 900 hours of labor went into a local community garden--teaching kids the value of growing your own food, and also processing and harvesting that food and distributing it to individuals in need. They assisted over 80 elderly individuals through cleaning, landscaping and home repair. This service opportunity was incredibly valuable for both the young volunteers and the elderly alike; they were visited by energetic young people learning to respect their elders and value the wisdom that can be gleaned from them.
In all of these service opportunities, participants didn’t just accomplish a task, they served individuals in need. They didn’t just receive a service, they benefitted from a relationship of kindness. Often, the conversations that the students have with the individuals in need during service projects is the very thing that changes their perspective on the world. They are encouraged not only to dig, build, clean and repair, but also to listen.
Why the immigrant and refugee?
Nashville has been dubbed the “New Ellis Island,” with nearly 12 percent of the population foreign-born. In 2012, Nashville had the fastest-growing immigrant population of any American city. More than 21 million “permanent” (or legal) immigrants currently live in the United States, more than twice the number of illegal immigrants. (Immigrants in the United States)
SLAM offers day camps to refugee and immigrant children because it is most often a luxury not available to them. An option to spend their summer months anywhere but in front of the television is slim to none. SLAM comes to the kids, hosting camps in their own neighborhoods, ensuring that they too have something positive and productive to do while they are out of school.
Many of the children we serve have parents who work around the clock -- one parent working the night shift, coming home to trade off with the other parent, who leaves to work the day shift. Facilitating camps allows us to invest into the development of these children, providing an outlet that is structured, educational, and enjoyable. When Jaime Fajardo, G.O.D. Int’l cooperative from El Salvador, served families in Nashville from his home country, he discovered that many of them experience chronic exhaustion. Often, it is only the mother or father that comes to the U.S., and they are often responsible to support other family members (even children) still living in El Salvador. Jaime spoke with several parents who were saddened by their children displaying unruly and aggressive behavior because of the lack of attention they had received, but they felt helpless as they had to work to pay the bills. Each family he spoke to thanked him endlessly for SLAM’s presence in their children’s lives. They were grateful to see their children enjoying themselves, laughing, learning and being cared for, especially when it seemed that no other option existed.
Why so much time in the garden?
As SLAM students volunteer in the local community garden, their knowledge of sustainable agriculture grows. Removed from the tasty temptation of fast food and convenience of the processed foods that are contributing to the failing health of our country, time in the garden connects the students to the ground. Participation in projects like this help inform young people and their leaders of the considerations necessary for ecological responsibility, which God expects of us all. Many of the students expressed their appreciation to be able to learn more about the process of growing food, and also were happy to know that their work had benefited others. Not only did they dig, plant, and weed, they also saw the produce distributed to families who lacked nutritious food.
How do we care for the elderly?
Over 80 disabled or elderly individuals were cared for through SLAM projects, both on a practical level of cleaning and landscaping, as well as a relational level, as their homes were filled with young people who were encouraged to take time to listen to stories about their lives. Students found that many elderly individuals haven’t been visited by anyone for months. Their homes were in various states of disrepair, as many of the elderly individuals were handicapped and isolated, and unable to properly maintain their environments. Young people are impacted as they realize their responsibility, even when they go home, to care for the elderly--whether their own grandparents, or those in proximity to them.
400 middle and high schoolers were given a productive, beneficial outlet this summer.
For these teenagers, a SLAM week is an opportunity to engage in service while simultaneously learning about God. Our mission weeks do not allot for an abundance of “free time,” nor are they solely focused on humanitarian projects. Rather, our SLAM mission weeks are a combination of studying God’s word and connecting it to their hands and feet. Students are encouraged to understand their daily activity of service as part and parcel with their love of and worship to God. They learn their responsibility as able-bodied, energetic young people, to take care of those less fortunate in their midst.
Throughout this process, over 30 youth leaders were refreshed as their students’ eyes were opened to the power of the Word of God, and the way they accepted responsibility for those in need as a result. Youth leaders commented that their students were challenged by doing service-oriented activity that they are usually not involved in at home. Together, youth leaders and their students alike gained a deeper understanding of the kind of service-oriented work that God desires for his children to be involved in on earth (Col. 3:1-4).
As someone who has been involved with SLAM since I was 11 years old, I can testify to the impact that such service opportunities had on my own perspective as an adolescent. Some of my most formative experiences as a young person happened inside the homes of the elderly and widows during a summer mission week facilitated by SLAM. Inside their homes I saw so much evidence of neglect and loneliness. I saw firsthand what happens when family members or churches that should be caring for them simply “lost touch.” As I visited someone else’s grandmother, or father, or friend, I was challenged to think of the ways I could serve my own grandmother and father and friend. I didn’t just experience a powerful worship time, I left challenged and inspired to daily consider how to please the Lord by meeting needs of those around me.
So much good has come out of my life as a result of choosing the right path at a young age. Now, I am gladly investing into creating and facilitating the same life-changing opportunities for other SLAM participants. Though they are young, the decisions they make now can drastically affect the rest of their lives, and the lives of those around them. I pray that these service weeks can do in them what they did in me--create a hunger for the Lord, and a desire to do his work.