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SERVE to show teens their power to make a difference

SERVE to show teens their power to make a difference

A new series of fall retreats at Warren Willis United Methodist Camp in Fruitland Park aims to promote community service among Florida’s young people.

Known as the SERVE Retreats, the two weekend gatherings are scheduled for Nov. 1-3 and Nov. 8-10.

“This will be year one of three years where we talk about the word serve and what it means for the youth of our conference,” said Elyse Grossman, program coordinator at Warren Willis.

The retreats, which are open to middle and high school students from across the state, will focus on local service this year, national service in 2020 and international service in 2021.

SERVE participants will learn about Florida Restores, the conference disaster recovery ministry.

“The idea of community is always needed!” Grossman said. “The major goal of this retreat is for each youth group to feel connected to each other and the other groups from around the state. Through this, hopefully, the students see that they are not alone and by each small group doing their part, they are making a bigger impact.”

Grossman and a group of youth workers from various UMC congregations designed the SERVE Retreats to show teenagers that no matter their age or experience, they have the power to make a difference in their schools, neighborhoods and communities.

“They don’t have to wait until they are older to make a difference,” said Micah Keech, director of student ministry at FUMC Ormond Beach, who helped brainstorm the SERVE Retreat.

“There are so many tools, platforms and opportunities right now for them to start discovering how they can be a real game-changer!”

Keech, who will take a group of teenagers to the first retreat weekend, said tech advances and social media platforms that are already popular with youth could also be useful in the goal of community service. He said the majority of his youth group is open to reaching out to help those in need.

“My high school students have looked forward to several trips we have taken beyond our immediate community here in Florida over to Baton Rouge for home repair projects run by Revive225,” he said.

“Being able to see the physical change they make in a family’s life overflows into how they interact with their culture and world.”

During each retreat, students will experience a mix of group activities, worship, small-group discussion, free time and opportunities to show some city pride.

Among the various presenters are First Priority, a nonprofit that helps students form Christian clubs in their schools, and Florida Restores, the FLUMC’s disaster recovery ministry. Students will also discuss their relationship with the environment and different ways to honor and protect the earth.

“We will focus on actions that can be taken on church campuses to spread awareness of our impact on God’s creation and look at creative solutions our youth can take home to lead the way on this important issue,” said Tanner Smith, program hospitality coordinator at Warren Willis.

“We will hear from the ministry team at the Harvest of Hope Community Garden and learn about the resolution passed at the 2019 Annual Conference calling for the elimination of plastic and foam single-use items in our churches.”

Keech said over the next three years, the SERVE Retreats will help students realize that developing a servant-leader mindset is a discipline and takes time, prayer and study. He added that he’s most excited about what the retreats might inspire kids to do once they return home.

“SERVE Retreats will launch students back into their communities with a new passion to do some real work and utilize all the tools they have,” he said. “I want them to make decisions that change those around them and drive a fresh culture of leadership through service!”

—Kari C. Barlow is a freelance writer based in Pensacola.


The cost is $100 per person. For more details, go to