Youth Group’s Outreach Efforts Revitalize Whitestone Church

A wave of revitalization has swept over Grace Episcopal Church in Whitestone, NY.  The economic downturn of 2008 had hit congregations across the country, and Grace was no exception, but a new rector sparked a movement to get the church growing again. 

Danielle Barrios and her husband, Jim, have been at the forefront of these efforts.  Jim recently took on the role as the congregation’s first youth group leader, organizing an excursion to the 9/11 memorial in New York City’s Financial District and visits to local churches.  Danielle’s passion has been renewing Grace’s focus on global outreach, and as church membership has grown, so has the potential for creative action.

“I felt it was a good time to jump into the driver’s seat and get something going for Episcopal Relief & Development,” she said.

Working together, Danielle and Jim encouraged the kids in Grace’s youth group to think about what they could do to reach beyond their church and help others.  After careful consideration, they decided to hold a pasta dinner fundraiser to purchase items from Gifts for Life, Episcopal Relief & Development’s alternative gift catalog.

“It is necessary for the youth to take on a responsibility that is bigger than us and our needs, and they are very excited about it,” Danielle said.  “It is the very first fundraiser that we will be holding for Episcopal Relief & Development, as well as the very first youth-run event!”

According to Danielle, the youth were involved in planning the pasta dinner from the very beginning.  They chose the pasta dishes and set the prices, and worked as a group to sell tickets, cook and serve the meal.  In order to increase their earnings, they organized a raffle with donated items and gift certificates from local stores and services.  The youth even decorated the dining room with artwork that incorporated photos of Episcopal Relief & Development’s programs, showing how the donations raised would make an impact in people’s lives around the world.

Gifts for Life provides a fun and concrete way to learn about and support Episcopal Relief & Development’s programs worldwide.  Gifts range from “Basics for Life” like clean water and disaster relief kits to “Green Gifts” like community gardens and rainwater harvesting equipment.  The gift of a goat or a flock of chickens from the “Animals and Agriculture” section provides animals along with training on how to care for them and sell produce like eggs, milk and cheese.  With each purchase, the giver can send a personalized e-card or receive an attractive printed card to sign and send to their loved one, letting them know that a gift has been made in their honor.

With much planning, cooking and preparing, the Grace Episcopal youth group’s pasta dinner turned out a resounding success.  The majority of the people at the event were proud fellow parishioners, who dined on a variety of homemade pasta dishes accompanied by delicious garlic bread.  Altogether, between entrance and raffle tickets, the youth raised over $400 to purchase life-giving items from Gifts for Life.

“Our proudest moment was when we turned the $400 over to the members of the youth group to make decisions about what to choose from the Gifts for Life catalog and why,” Danielle said.  “Our very small youth group (approximately six to seven kids, from the ages of 10-16) were very careful in their decisions, and took much pride in their efforts.”

Together, the members of the youth group chose five items from the catalog: a fruit tree, a flock of chickens, clean water, health clinic services for 10 people and education and meals for preschool children.

Gifts for Life offers a great opportunity for young people to discover the difference they can make in people’s lives by supporting empowering, locally led programs,” said Sean McConnell, Episcopal Relief & Development’s Director of Engagement.  “Learning how we can live out Christ’s call to love our neighbor is an important part of faith formation, and I am grateful for the witness of the Grace Episcopal youth group.”

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Photos courtesy of Grace Episcopal Church