“Working with the kids is an extremely gratifying experience; the satisfaction of watching the kids grow and develop personally and in faith is great. It enriches my own life as well.” –Greg Barnes
Greg Barnes is a second year volunteer mentor for Acts4Youth. He mentors 4th/5th grade boys from Walter P. Carter and Guilford about twice a month.
How did you hear about Acts4Youth?
I learned of Acts4Youth during the summer of 2015. I had been in attendance at church when they had shared a video about Acts4Youth. At that time, I had recently graduated college and was looking for a way to become more active in service work.
Have you done something like this before?
I had been a counselor at a Christian summer camp following my sophomore year of college. Bible study and focus on personal growth was central to the camp, and I would often spend time speaking/relating to the kids. I think that experience helped prepare me for A4Y immensely, although the set of challenges that the kids of A4Y face are much more heavy at times.
Was there certain training you had to do to become a mentor?
I met with representatives with A4Y and went through some PowerPoints and meetings about the challenges I could expect to face as a mentor, what to expect from the kids, what our goals are to help the kids, and strategies to optimize our ability to help the kids while keeping A4Y a safe and fun place.
What is an average evening is like for you with the Acts4Youth kids?
Normally I arrive when the kids are just sitting down for dinner. At that point, the class is usually divided evenly, with a mentor sitting at each table. While eating dinner, I often ask questions about how their days were, their classes, their family, etc. Oftentimes we will also have them share: the best part of the day, worst part of the day, and something that they would change if they could.
Following dinner, we clean up and then have a large group lesson based on scripture or a parable from the Bible. That lesson will become the theme for the rest of the evening. Those large lessons will also often have an activity for the kids to engage in, in a hands-on way.
From there, we will split back into our small groups (the people who sat at our table for dinner) where we talk about what we learned in the large lesson and try to help the kids open up about their personal experiences. Being with a group of about 4 or 5, the kids occasionally share deeper personal experiences, triumphs or disasters in their lives. We might have the opportunity to talk about how faith in God can help them through bad times. These moments are the best and are what truly keeps me coming back to A4Y: when a kid who may be holding pretty dark feelings of anger, disappointment, and sadness finds peace and reassurance by talking about it while developing their faith is extremely moving and inspiring.
Following small group, we will usually play some sort of sport like dodgeball and reinforce some sort of theme, such as integrity or teamwork. Then the evening is over and we drop them off at home.
How do you earn the respect of the kids?
Reaching out to them from a place of love and respect is returned with respect and is the easiest way that I have found to reach the kids as well as establish trust. It becomes the basis to allow the kids to speak about their lives and the challenges they face.
What memory/memories stick(s) out (good or bad)?
There have been times where, in large and small group, we have had very deep conversations or shared tough personal stories. These memories are both good and bad. It is sad to hear a lot of the things the boys (that are in 5th grade) must deal with at home and from their community. When they do open up, you can see the stress and struggle that their surroundings bring upon them. A lot of them do a really good job of hiding it. These moments are good as well, as they learn to deal with these conflicts they have in a positive way by sharing it with others.
What are some challenges? How do you (try to) overcome them?
When a child is acting up, he will often shut-down to those around him; i.e. laying on the floor or refusing to talk. Often times when this happens, we try to open a conversation about what happened/what caused them to become upset. We try to reinforce that shutting down (in a spiteful manner) is not an acceptable way to deal with their problems. We try to help them to recognize their problem and work to find a rational resolution.
What has been most surprising?
After being there for a year, and coming back in September, I was surprised by the response I received from the boys. This year they’ve been even more respectful and willing to participate in activities/small group. I think that could also be attributed to Kevin Good who has been leading the program lately. He is very talented at directing the boys, in the way that he talks to them on the same level and is very pragmatic in how he deals with the kids when they get upset or misbehave.
What do you hope the kids get out of it?
Overall, I hope that the kids can find a way to realize their self-worth. I would hope that the kids are able to form a foundation in their faith and in a relationship with Christ. I hope that they may be bearers of positivity back into their communities, that as they grow older, they may have a positive impact on those communities they live in.
What should people/do you want people to know?
I want people to understand that these kids are worth it. I believe that any one of these kids have the potential to do great things and be the positive change that their communities need.
This interview was conducted by Kim Irwin, Acts4Youth 2016/17 marketing intern.