As a former high school teacher, Janice Schweder knew a thing or two about teenagers. And as a specialist in business studies, she knew a thing or two about solving problems.
That skill set came together perfectly in the formation of All Saints’ Community Youth Group at the Anglican church of the same name in Hagersville, Ont., south of Hamilton.
The group’s formation came at a time when All Saints’ was in turmoil. “Our parish was in a period of transition where we were trying to go from sharing a minister with four churches to having our own,” says Schweder, who traces her family’s membership in the old church back to her great-grandparents. There was a lot of disenchantment, and some people were leaving the roughly 70-family parish.
Against this backdrop, Schweder, recently retired from Hagersville Secondary School, asked herself what she could do to help revitalize the parish during the difficult transition. “I looked around and realized that there were not a lot of youth attending the church, and there was no specific youth group at all,” she says.
Schweder decided to focus on re-energizing the church with young people, but she soon realized that recruiting from the parish alone would be insufficient. “I knew I had to reach out into the community,” she says. “And as a high school teacher, I knew that a lot of kids were not really involved with anything in their communities.” So her goal was two-pronged: to give All Saints a youthful infusion and to get kids positively involved in public life.
Her first step was to craft a mission statement for members of the new youth group: “To volunteer with community leaders on projects that promote social networking, moral conscience for the needs of others, attributes of being good citizens within their community and other leadership skills.”
Starting with just three members in 2011, the youth group has grown to about eight kids, with an average age of 14 to 15 years. Although the group’s home is the Anglican church, it also reaches out into the community and to other churches, explains Schweder. “We have one girl from the United church and another originally from the Baptist faith, and other churches are becoming aware of the group and supporting it as well.” The kids really bloom once they realize what’s going on in their community, she adds. “Their pictures get into the local paper a lot and they love all the attention!”
So far, the kids have helped the Lions Club with its annual food drive, Easter egg hunt and Summer’s End festival. In another project, the group enthusiastically assembled and wrapped activity-oriented Easter baskets for children, which were presented during All Saints’ Palm Sunday service to the local food bank manager.
Another big hit with the kids-and the community- is the annual Purina Walk for Dog Guides, which takes place the last weekend of May. The walk raises money for the Lions Foundation’s school in Oakville, which trains dogs at $25,000 apiece to work with the blind, the deaf, the autistic, the wheelchair-bound and other special-needs groups.
“Last year, the group decided to lay down a challenge to the seven or eight other churches in town that the Anglican dog could raise more money in pledges than the dogs of other denominations,” says Schweder. In 2011, 14-year-old Sammy’s Anglican dog, a German Shepherd cross named Jelly, won hands down with more than $200 in pledges for the five-kilometre walk. This past May, however, Sammy lost out to Dawn, a United Church dog owner, who started taking pledges in February and raised more than $1,000. “Sammy came in second, though, at over $300,” says Scwheder.
The competitive “Divine Dogs” were featured in the local paper and the community response was more than enthusiastic. As for the other churches, they don’t seem to mind that All Saints is attracting teens from their parishes. “They’re happy to see the group’s success in getting youth involved,” says Schweder.