Our newsfeeds might be full of updates from Facebook friends and Instagram snaps, but a growing number of people report feeling disconnected from their real-life communities. In New Zealand our young people are particularly at risk: with high rates of suicide, mental illness and breakdown.
How great would it be if churches, schools and businesses were able to work together to ensure Kiwi young people flourished? It’s been 20 years since Kiwi Duane Major had a vision which sought to answer this question.
24-7 YouthWork was born out of this desire to connect the different parts of his community to support young people, and today 24-7 YouthWork provides a robust, positive and working infrastructure to make this support a reality in hundreds of Kiwi schools.
The 24-7 YouthWork model sees faith-based youth workers go into secular high schools to work in partnership with teachers and the wider community for the good of young people. Today, over 100 churches (nine denominations) are working together to supply 180 youth workers to 71 local schools.
For many churches, taking part in 24-7 YouthWork provides a welcome introduction into the school community, where church-employed youth workers are able to devote a portion of their week to serving in the classroom or on the school yard.
Kiwi teachers are hard workers, but many lack resources or time to provide personalised pastoral care and follow up for each student. 24-7 YouthWork provides a way for the church to make their youth workers available to help out within the context of the school community and meet these needs in practical and tangible ways.
So what does a 24-7 YouthWorker actually DO?
Sometimes it’s just about being present, building friendships and trust. Sometimes it’s about being a support and an advocate for young people when no one else is available. Sometimes it’s about building school spirit and encouraging a community to flourish.
In Spreydon, Christchurch, a 24-7 YouthWorker started a rugby club after seeing a need in the community. Over the years the club has grown and developed, and with that growth has come connection, honour and respect for the church community.
Hannah Munro is a youth worker at Chapel Hill Community Church and also works in her local high school with 24-7 YouthWork where she has opportunities to walk alongside students and to support teachers. “We started a girls’ programme last year and I had really cool conversations around forgiveness, grace and what true love actually is—all in the context of their friendships and relationships.”
Hannah says the issues current students face are not all that different from when she was at high school, but a big factor is the role of social media: “It’s constant and it doesn’t go away at the end of the school day”. Teachers are often left dealing with the fall out—something that affects many of them emotionally. “We’ve put on morning teas and lunches for teachers to show our (24-7 YouthWorkers) support of what they do in classrooms. We also made up care packages to show practically that we appreciate their effort and dedication.”
Ashley Cooper (pictured above in the black sweatshirt) works for Raleigh Street Christian Centre and is part of 24-7 YouthWork at Cambridge High School. She says it’s all about relationships: “It just takes time. It’s not a quick process, it’s just doing life with them, I had the opportunity to do the Tongariro crossing with a bunch of students and that time spent talking and walking was so important.”
How has the New Zealand community responded?
There are many communities around New Zealand that have benefited positively from 24-7 YouthWork partnerships in schools. A research pilot from Canterbury University confirmed that positive youth development is facilitated by 24-7 YouthWork programmes “primarily through the assets associated with the individual youth workers, the promotion of positive adult youth relationships, incorporating resources from the school and the community, opportunities for life skill development, and opportunities for self-determination or empowerment.”
Why should your church consider a 24-7 YouthWork school partnership?
The hope, grace and truth of the gospel of Jesus compels Christians into radical community with God and with one another, and our churches have become places where we embrace intergenerational friendships, hospitality and mercy. But so often churches are failing to reach the wider community with these gifts.
“24-7 YouthWork provides a practical framework for partnering with schools and the community,” says 24-7 YouthWork Network Coordinator Jay Geldard, “often churches approach me saying: ‘we want to do this but we don’t know how, we’re not sure we have the capacity’ and I’m able to encourage them by offering a supportive infrastructure”. Jay has seen teams start small and grow: “as you get your hands and feet wet, things start bubbling and engaging”.
Instead of despairing quietly when you read troubling stats on the mental health of Kiwi young people, or wondering how to connect face-to-face in a digitally connected world, why not get in touch with Jay and chat about how your church could practically offer support to a local school through a 24-7 YouthWork partnership?
Story by Sophia Sinclair