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Are you Alive?

November 26th, 2014

“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.”

— Thornton Wilder, playwright and novelist

From Personalities to Differences: Know Your Group

November 24th, 2014

You wouldn’t believe the number of calls we get from youth organizations and schools asking for help in bridging the gap among the untold number of diversities we are seeing in teams of youth and adults.  It can be tough to work together with a multitude of differences!  So we developed a fun, interactive, reflective workshop to help teams know their groups well and learn to work together based on the strengths found in our differences.

From Personalities to Differences: Know Your Group

Want to learn how to build relationships with the infinite variety of ways youth come to us: culturally, geographically, economically, physically, emotionally, sexually and educationally diverse. Whatever the package, we want to know them, respect them, and help them build common ground with people that are different. Personal assessments, conversations, strategies and activities will all be part of this interactive process.

Length of time:  3 hours

Wanna know more?  Contact us at 615-262-9676 or




Youth Heroes Lead Kids Club on Navajo Reservation

November 21st, 2014

Josiah Brown went on his first mission trip at age 14. He went with the West End Community Church youth group to Window Rock, Arizona, a small town on the Navajo Reservation. He and the other 19 volunteers painted houses and helped with a children’s program called Kids Club.


Most of the children came from broken homes, or even homes where a 13-year-old was the only authority figure. The parents often went to a big city like Albuquerque or Phoenix in order to find a job, so the oldest sibling would be left in charge for months at a time. When the children came to Kids Club, they’d put aside their “tough guy” acts, and just have fun playing games. In general, these kids have so many responsibilities, that they’re not allowed to just hang out and be kids. During Kids Club, they can just be kids.


Josiah reflects on the experience:

  • Why was this important?
    • Kept the kids out of trouble by giving them positive activities. Away from the gangs
  • What did you do at Kids Club?
    • 3 stations of outdoor games, arts & crafts, and Bible theater/songs/activities
  • How many kids?
    • Aimed at 5-12, but all the kids came, b/c there was nothing else to do
    • no adult was left to watch the babies, so everyone came
  • How did you make a difference?
    • The kids saw volunteers that wanted to hang out with them & play with them. Helped them feel valuable.
  • How did the work impact you & other volunteers?
    • Learned more about their culture – didn’t know whether to expect teepees.
    • More aware of poverty in America
    • More thoughtful of people in poverty.
    • Poverty was no longer something in Africa – it’s something that happens near me. They’re just like me. They’re just in different circumstances.
    • A lot of fun with our group.
  • Has it affected your desire for outreach & missions back home?
    • The first week back I wanted to do a Kid’s club in Nashville. Wanted to play games with kids and love on them. I’d like to do another one in the future.


“At first, I couldn’t really see what good I was doing by playing with the kids, but then I read a verse that says: ‘Whatever you did unto the least of these, my brothers, you did unto me.’ (Matthew 25:40) When I thought about that, it made me realize that what I was doing to these kids, I was doing to Jesus, and that helping these kids and making them happy was something worthwhile. I mean, after all, Jesus died for me, so anything I can do for Him is something worth doing.”   – Josiah Brown, August, 2007


Reprinted with permission from our book Ready to Go Service Projects: 140 Ways for Youth Groups to Lend a Hand. Find more ways to help youth engage their skills, talents and passions in serving the community by picking up your own book at your favorite online bookseller OR bring us to your school, church or community organization to lead service-learning workshop!

Relationships – the Cornerstone of Education and Youth Work

November 19th, 2014

Connecting with youth is phenomenal progress, but it’s the tip of the iceberg when it comes to positive youth development. In this chapter, we’re going to go beyond connecting with youth and cover what it means to really know youth. What it means to be in a relationship with your youth. The time you spend getting to know your youth as individuals—their personalities, quirks, cultures, strengths, and needs—is the most important time you will ever spend in your program.

Think about it: What will your youth remember most about you? Will it be the clothes you wore or how you combed your hair? In all likelihood, youth will remember the kind of relationship you had with them. More than math equations learned, knots tied, and zip-lines crossed, they will remember whether you cared about them. The best way to show you care about people is to get to know them.

Relationships are the cornerstone of your program or classroom. Relationships are built on a culmination of experiences, words, actions, body language, and time.  Never underestimate the power and influence you have on youth.

Looking for practical ideas for connecting with youth in your classroom or program? Check out our newest book, Groups, Troops, Clubs and Classrooms: The Essential Handbook for Working with Youth.  It is full of strategies to help educators, coaches and youth workers bring out the best in young people!  Check it out and share it with someone else that loves young people!

Building on Strengths – An Introduction to Positive Youth Development

November 17th, 2014

We work with many schools and organizations who want to embrace a strength-based orientation to youth development and education.  But they need someone to come in to describe what that means, what it looks like, and how they can integrate it into their organizational culture.  We love doing that!  Here is our most popular workshop that gives a 101 type orientation to positive youth development:

Building on Strengths – An Introduction to Positive Youth Development

Workshop description:  Our culture likes to fix things, and usually that’s good. But it’s not good to focus on the deficits and challenges of young people. It’s much more productive to focus on their strengths – and build them up from there. In this workshop, we’ll talk about strength and introduce you to the concept and practices of positive youth development and the Developmental Assets. You’ll have time to do a private assessment of your own practices and map out how you can use this approach to nurture youth in your programs.

Length of time:  2 – 2 ½ hours

Interested in knowing more?  Contact us at or 615-262-9676

Youth Heroes Lead Summer Camp for Children

November 14th, 2014

Amanda Smith shares how her church in Franklin, Tennessee works with an inner-city church 40-45 minutes away every year.   This partnership is the result of intentional relationship building that has taken place over five – six years. The two churches are close enough that they feel like they are neighbors –’sister’ churches, in fact.   For one week of each summer, the Franklin church teen group would do a summer camp for younger children (5-12 year olds) at the inner-city church.   The youth group would pull together arts projects, games, Bible lessons and music as well as lunch and snacks.   They would offer a day camp for the low-income area at this inner-city church.   This church serviced a community area where kids come to church for community and shelter, not necessarily because they want to come to church. Some of the kids are at the church to stay off the streets.   The youth group would cook and serve the lunch, facilitate the games, prepare the lessons for study, and do everything! One summer, for example, the youth looked up on the internet the best way to tie dye t-shirts and figured out the goodies for making it fun and did a fantastic job leading this crafts project for the first time.   The one church did all the planning (under adult coaching and prompting), but once on location, the youth groups from both churches would work together. The local church’s teens knew which kids were autistic, for example, and knew all about the younger kids. They had all the relationships in place and they had the knowledge about their own neighborhood and what was what. Both youth groups benefited from learning from each other and from sharing from their skills, talents and life experiences.   The only leadership the adults did once they were on location was crowd control, and one adult leader played the guitar (but even then the youth told the adult what songs to play!)   This once a year service experience has extended beyond summer so that when the two youth groups get together at annual conference events in the winter, they come together from both churches and hang out. The friendships started in the summer carried over into the winter.



Reprinted with permission from our book Ready to Go Service Projects: 140 Ways for Youth Groups to Lend a Hand. Find more ways to help youth engage their skills, talents and passions in serving the community by picking up your own book at your favorite online bookseller OR bring us to your school, church or community organization to lead service-learning workshop!

The Importance of One-on-One Time with Youth

November 12th, 2014

“The larger our society gets, the more vague and less personal . . . I find it more and more appealing to kids to attain one-on-one time with the leaders and/or adults. Only then will you find out any issues that they may be struggling with and/or be able to successfully grow a healthy relationship with them after spending this quality time together. The activity does not necessarily have to be specific here, but the efforts must be intentional.”   Valorie Buck, youth worker and mother

We believe Valorie is spot on!  That’s why we spend so much time talking about CONNECTING with youth in our new book, Groups, Troops, Clubs and Classrooms: The Essential Handbook for Working with Youth.  It is full of strategies to help educators, coaches and youth workers bring out the best in young people!  Check it out and share it with someone else that loves young people!

Infusing Your Vision with Heart

November 10th, 2014

I’m very excited about this workshop that Susan is leading with Tennessee State Parks:

Workshop Title:  Infusing Your Vision with Heart.

Workshop Description: Visions comes and go and what they all need are inspired, purpose, passionate team members to make them happen. “Heart” is often the left out piece of planning, and yet once purpose is activated, watch out! You can change the world. Come ready to dream, explore, and work together towards positive community change.

It’s critical for teams of youth and adults to talk about vision before they start talking about planning, but often that piece of the planning process stumps us.  What is vision – really?  How can a diverse group of people find a common vision?  Do we really have time to waste on establishing our vision?  If you’re struggling with any of these questions, let us help you!  We can lead a workshop or a retreat to help you and your team establish and pursue your vision.  Call us at 615-262-9676.

Youth Heroes – Foreign Languages + Children = Powerful Service-Learning Experience

November 7th, 2014

As a junior at Harpeth Hall School, Emmie Granbery had a passion for learning foreign languages. Because her mother was a teacher, Emmie had also learned a lot about teaching and child development. She combined her skills and talents to organize a semester of language classes for elementary-age children in a low-income community center. She recruited teen volunteers to join her, and each week they brought creative lessons to teach the children Spanish. They sang songs, played games, danced and cooked, while learning Spanish. The next year, the teens taught French to the children.


Emmie says, “As an avid foreign language learner and international traveler myself, I got so much joy out of sharing my knowledge and personal experiences abroad with the children at St. Luke’s.  It was so rewarding to watch the students get excited about learning French and Spanish.  Sharing this passion for foreign languages with the children also helped me build a special relationship with them, and I looked forward each week to our time together.”  Emmie and the other teen volunteers showed the children that they were important and valued, by investing time in building relationships.


“One of my proudest moments,” Emmie says, “was when I heard from a parent of one of my students that she had started taking Spanish in the 7th grade at her middle school and that thanks to her participation in my classes over the past couple of years, she was the top student in the class.”


Reprinted with permission from our book Ready to Go Service Projects: 140 Ways for Youth Groups to Lend a Hand. Find more ways to help youth engage their skills, talents and passions in serving the community by picking up your own book at your favorite online bookseller OR bring us to your school, church or community organization to lead service-learning workshop!

Radio Show!

November 6th, 2014

Susan & I were invited to be part of a radio show yesterday.  The education specialist at Blog Talk Radio asked us to join him in a conversation about youth sparks, building on youth strengths, and focusing on positive youth development.  The host, Larry, was a hoot!  We laughed and shared stories the entire time.  Check it out here at

Wise Words on Flexibility in Education and Youth Work

November 5th, 2014

“You have to be aware of where your group is and be ready and willing to throw the plans and curriculum out the window when there are issues to be dealt with today. Forging ahead with your plans without acknowledging their issues simply shows that you are unaware, or worse, don’t really care. Adapting plans and being present builds trust and commitment for tomorrow when it is time to get back to work. Being present and being flexible are crucial.”

– Anderson Williams, entrepreneur, artist, and educational consultant

Peter Benson on Valuing Young People

October 29th, 2014

“Every kid deserves to be seen, heard, valued, included and loved by many adults in her/his neighborhoods, families, schools, programs and communities”

–Peter Benson, youth development expert

Youth Heroes & Trick or Treating

October 22nd, 2014

“In Houston, Texas we wanted to teach our kids the value of serving others and not just receiving,” explained Julie Stevens, a children’s pastor who has been in youth ministry with children, pre-teens, teens and college students for almost fifteen years and who has worked in various congregations and settings in California, Texas, Ohio and Tennessee.


“We started doing ‘Trick or treat so others can eat.’ We would go to retirement centers to love on senior adults and collect canned goods for others. We trained our group before we went to the retirement center on what to do and not do and let the retirement center know that we were coming and what to do.


“Many of the seniors would sit outside their doors waiting for us to come. If they didn’t want us to disturb them, they left the food outside their doors. The kids would put thank you notes outside their doors. If they were there, our kids would hug on them and spend time with them. We didn’t invade their space or homes but just interacted in loving ways where invited. We collected a pile of food for good causes and gave the food to food banks.


“At a time (Halloween) when kids are so used to getting for themselves, they’re able to do something for someone else, love on seniors and see that they can do for others and see that they can have fun doing it.”


“We took advantage of other holidays as well. Our bell choir would perform in nursing homes, and we would do Christmas caroling. We’d meet in a recreation room and play the bells for them. The bell choir is an easy way to involve younger children in ministry to others.”

Reprinted with permission from our book Ready to Go Service Projects: 140 Ways for Youth Groups to Lend a Hand. Find more ways to help youth engage their skills, talents and passions in serving the community by picking up your own book at your favorite online bookseller OR bring us to your school, church or community organization to lead service-learning workshop!

Quotable on Real Riches

October 22nd, 2014

“We all have riches. Some have them in money . . . but most have riches in talent, ideas, creativity, loving, caring, wisdom, or beauty.”

–Sara Teasdale, poet

Summer Days 12

October 20th, 2014

Summer Days are a 12-part blog series focused on lessons of gratitude passed on from dog to human. This human is still trying to embrace daily the lessons of gratitude, so much so that gratitude gets an entire chapter in the book I wrote with Ann Saylor for educators, youth leaders, and parents called Groups, Troops, Clubs & Classrooms: The Essential Handbook for Working With Youth. In there, lessons of gratitude are shared as a tool for maintaining personal power and strength . . . and teaching youth to do the same.

Summer, our tail wagging, body wiggling, four-pawed bundle of pure joy, showed up in our lives, in our opinion, to share with us how to live from a deeper place of gratitude and to enjoy life’s moments happily.

Summer, a beautiful black and white border collie/lab, has been THE Gratitude Coach for 12 ½ years of our lives who was sent to teach us personally. When you are daily confronted with unconditional love, acceptance and enthusiastic eagerness just because you exist, you tend to pay attention to what that person – or dog – has to communicate.

To date, Summer’s time with us has passed on these lessons:

  1. Show love first thing each morning.
  2. Be joyfully exuberant when doing what you love.
  3. Delight in the now.
  4. Always show appreciation to others.
  5. Work and contribute.
  6. Presume friendship.
  7. Just be.IMG_3955
  8. Sleep and eat regularly.
  9. Offer presence.
  10. Be patient.
  11. Play. Always play.

And it was only in a traumatic, life-changing event that Pete and I were able to articulate a final parting lesson from Summer . . .

Lesson #12: Enjoy everything, no matter what.

It was on a Tuesday, after a long weekend of Summer being sick (unusual for her because she always bounced back after a max of two days), that we went into the vet and were shocked with the news that no dog owners want to hear: our sweet dog was terminally ill and the kindest thing we could do was let her go. I won’t belabor the particulars, only enough to make her lesson point. Summer gave no indication that she was doing poorly over the weeks or months leading to her passing. She followed all the rules of the lessons she had taught us, although some days might have been slightly slower and she did sleep a little bit more (both of which we chalked up to the nearing of her thirteenth birthday). Regardless, she religiously continued to show enthusiasm for each moment and to live each moment to the fullest that she was capable of doing.

It was on her last day – armed with the new knowledge that she had probably been sick for awhile – that we were struck at how she exemplified enjoy everything, no matter what. Never did she show pain in the time leading up to this Tuesday. And on this Tuesday, while lethargic in the morning and obviously not feeling well, she enthusiastically got into the car for every trip we made that day (four total including two to the vet – a lot of jumping in and out!).

Knowing it was her last day, we made sure we had one more play day together so that she could enjoy her favorite dogs, places and things to do. At the park, she explored and made her own path off the beaten trail. At our friends’ house, she exchanged sniffs and licks with her doggie friends and received head rubs from her human friends. Tired afterwards, she pulled away to herself to rest but allowed me to read to her and be near her while we waited for the time to go back to the vet. And going back to the vet? She eagerly looked out the windows and showed every sign of enjoying the ride and being with us. Even at the vet’s, she showed interest in other dogs and humans who were around.

And then she called it a day. But it was a great day. Despite feeling awful. Despite having given up eating a couple of days before. Despite the cancer eating away inside her which was causing her to waste away. Despite it all, Summer lived her life out to the fullest, and it was in this last day that we shook our heads with amazement at how long she had been showing us how to enjoy everything, no matter what.

No matter what physical pain may grab you; no matter what disease may try to ravish your body; no matter what age you may be; no matter what job you may have or not have; no matter what obstacles life may hand you . . . you can still enjoy the life you have. You can be in each moment and savor it or devour it or inhale it. You can choose. It’s your choice. It’s within you to do it.

And that may be the best example of grateful living in action that I’ve ever seen lived out. The challenge now is to follow that example. Evidently Summer thought we were ready. Are you?

Today, live in answer to her challenge. Follow her example.

Summer, July 9, 2002 – June 17, 2014

If you need a dog in your life or want to support abandoned dogs and cats, consider one of the agencies that help support strays and abandoned animals. We got Summer from Freedom Farms who set up at Pet Smart in Rivergate on Saturdays. Good people who are doing heroic work in caring for animals.