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'Shark Tank' styled youth program inspires young minds

'Shark Tank' styled youth program inspires young minds

Missions and Outreach
Presenters and sharks of Shark Tank: Missions (top row left to right: Gene Howerton, Bob Gerzel, Suzanne Honeycutt, Tracy Langley; bottom row left to right: Shelby Morgan, Logan Franks, Kendall Cosper, Austin Franks, Andrew Gardner, Cooper Hayman, Isabella Nolan and Libby Devooght).

Students at Southside UMC in Jacksonville are learning how they can turn their passions into actions.

During the church’s fall planning session, an idea was hatched based on the television show “Shark Tank,” in which entrepreneurs approach potential investors with business propositions. In the church’s version, members of Southside Student Ministries presented their visions for youth missions to a panel of “sharks,” seeking funding to bring their projects to fruition.

To participate, the youth had to first fill out an application that asked what their passion was; why they were passionate about that particular cause; what steps were needed to turn their passion into action; what resources were needed for the project, and who it would benefit.

Logan Franks of Southside UMC, shown here alongside missionary Manny Batres, is speaking to members of the Guatemalan village of Chisec. Franks "Clean Water for Lasting Water" project was one of the missions presented at Southside's own version of Shark Tank.

On Nov. 13, Steve Dickson, Director of Student Ministries, and four “sharks”—Bob Gerzel, Suzanne Honeycutt, Gene Howerton and Tracy Langley—hosted the inaugural Shark Tank: Missions.

“The sharks were members of the church that I thought would do well encouraging the kids and, at the same time, would push them to think deeper,” Dickson said. “I wanted the kids to really think through their project ideas.”

Six groups entered “the tank” with ideas ranging from local projects—funding field trips for students at nearby Hendricks Avenue Elementary School who couldn’t afford to attend them—to international efforts, such as bringing water filters to rural villages in Guatemala that, for generations, didn’t have access to clean water.

“I was blown away,” Dickson said. “Every one of the groups thought about their project and were passionate about what they wanted to do. To see how they interacted with the sharks, how they answered their questions and how prepared they were was just amazing.”

When it came to sixth-grader Shelby Morgan’s idea of funding field trips, shark Tracy Langley, a teacher at Hendricks, explained to Morgan that they already had a fund at the school for that purpose. Without missing a beat, Morgan replied, “Well, then, couldn’t you use that money for something else?”

Seventh-grader Libby DeVooght’s project was Ukulele for Christ and sought to form a church ukulele group to provide instruments and a teacher for those who wanted to learn but couldn’t afford materials or instruction.

The amount of money sought from the six groups ranged from a couple of hundred dollars to $3,500. When all was said and done, every one of the groups received something for their missions.

“We had money left over from our pumpkin patch so all six groups got some funding,” Dickson said.

Some of the programs are close to fruition, such as Ukuleles for Christ which starts this semester, while others are already achieving great success—case in point, senior Logan Frank’s “Clean Water for Lasting Water.”

She initiated the project last summer and has already impacted the Guatemalan village of Chisec, where Logan and her mother made it a personal mission to provide clean drinking water. The 17-year-old raised additional dollars through her own Go-Fund-Me page and is now said to have an interest in future missionary work. This summer she plans to travel to Guatemala once again, thanks in part to Shark Tank.

For more information on the Shark Tank project, contact Steve Dickson at 904-396-2676 x115 or email

--Jessica Chapman is a freelance writer based in Lakeland