The more than 700 young Methodists—including middle school and high school students—who attended this fall’s Connect retreats at Warren Willis Camp demonstrated that social media can be a force for good, using it to raise $14,417 for hurricane relief.
|Using various social media platforms, students attending this year's fall Connect retreats at Warren Willis Camp were able to raise $14,417 for hurricane relief.|
The retreats are designed to help young people learn what it means to be Christian in a digital world. The inspiration for this year’s retreats came from the timely visits of Harvey, Irma and Maria and the response of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).
“Irma fell right at the end of the planning phase for the retreat, and we were looking for a tangible way for students to make an impact in the world through social media and word-of-mouth,” said Tanner Smith, Warren Willis program hospitality coordinator.
“The idea to raise funds for UMCOR seemed like a powerful way for students to give back after so many of them were impacted by the hurricane as well.”
UMCOR has assisted survivors in Texas, flooded by Harvey in August; Florida, hit by Irma in September, and especially Puerto Rico, which was devastated by Maria two weeks after Irma. UMCOR has had emergency and advance response teams working with the leadership of the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico (MCPR) to plan the long-term assistance the island will need.
“We told them about the work of UMCOR and how they stay with affected people for years, and that’s not cheap,” said Asa Quinn, program coordinator at Warren Willis. “We sold them on the importance of that and how proud we should be of UMCOR and the work it does around the world.”
The youth at the retreat had personal experience with Irma, Smith said. Some of them had been affected by the storm, and others had made Flood Buckets packed with cleaning supplies. Smith said they decided to challenge them to take it another step by using social media to raise money for UMCOR’s relief efforts.
“It’s easy to get anti-social media, and we wanted to show that it can be positive and something we can embrace,” Quinn said.
They discussed how social media was already being used for good through the efforts of Houston Texan linebacker J.J. Watt, who started a campaign to raise $200,000 for Houston survivors and ended up raising $37 million.
|The worship band from Campus to City Wesley performed live at the three Connect retreats held this fall. This year's gatherings offered ways for students to make an impact in the world through social media and word-of-mouth.|
“The kids really got behind it,” Smith said.
Quinn said the design team came up with some basic posts and messages the kids could use on their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts. The examples were loaded into the Connect retreat app so that they could copy and paste them into their account with a link for PayPal.
“We just wanted to help them get started,” Quinn said. “At first, some of them were uncomfortable about asking for support. They’re very aware of what people think, but we encouraged them. Once they started getting responses from their families, friends and church members, they realized what they could do.”
They quickly started making the fundraising effort their own with silly selfies.
One youth group got together and made a music video, lip-syncing to songs all over the camp.
Lexie Howard, 13, a member of Community United Methodist Church in Fruitland Park, said she sent out texts and posted messages on Facebook and Instagram.
“I got a lot of good responses,” she said.
And she said the experience changed the way she thinks about social media.
“We focused on how God was working through other people to help people in need,” she said. “Instead of thinking of it as a way to just send out pictures of yourself, I thought of it as a way of helping people.”
Justin Moore, 16, also a member of Community UMC, said his small group talked about how much they could raise and how they were going to do it.
“We sent out a lot of instant messages and Facebook posts asking people to share. It spread pretty fast,” Justin said.
Donors were given incentives. For a $25 donation, a camper could get soaked in the dunk tank or get a pie in the face—all captured on videos that went viral. Justin’s cousin raised enough money to get a pie in the face.
Justin, a junior at Leesburg High School, said he had done fundraisers before but nothing that had as big an impact. “The hurricanes really hurt a lot of people and changed a lot of lives,” he said.
The young people not only learned about how to make a direct appeal, they also learned about matching gifts. Warren Willis matched each weekend’s donations up to $1,000.
“Each weekend, they blew that out of the water,” Quinn said.
--Lilla Ross is a freelance writer based in Jacksonville.
Editor’s Note: Donate here to the Florida Conference Hurricane Irma Fund to help churches and the neighborhoods that surround them. Volunteer to bring yourself or a team to help with the recovery. Together, with God, we are bigger! #flumcWeAreBigger