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Youth volunteers enjoy winter fun break

Posted: February 26 2021 at 02:45 PM
Author: Diane Strzelecki, NIC Communications Specialist


Kids And Pastor Roger At The Rockford Food Distribution

The church youth group helped with several ministries including working at the Rockford and Galena food distribution centers.

On February 20, Pastor Roger Bronkema and families from Warren and Elizabeth UMC traveled to the Lake Carroll snow tubing hill in Lanark, Ill., for a day of fun. The trip was a “thank you” to the youth who helped Bronkema in ministry throughout 2020. Amid bright sunshine and crisp blue skies, about 25 youth and adults grabbed inner tubes and let gravity speed them along down the hill. 

“This trip was kind of a reward to them for being so good about helping out last year,” Bronkema said. “These kids helped me with our Caring Hands Ministry, teacher back-to-school luncheons and working at the Rockford and Galena food distribution sites. I thought, ‘well I asked them to do all this serving, we can go to something fun!’” 

During 2020, Bronkema sought out and seized on opportunities to gather youth from both churches to help their community. “Wherever I saw something coming up and help was needed, I thought it would be great to get the kids together, to mask up and go,” he said. 

Keith Hess took his two daughters Hadley (14) and Harper (11) on the tubing trip, and according to his wife Tonia, they had a great time. “It's nice for the kids and families to be able to get away for a couple of hours and have a little fun,” she said. 

The Hess family developed the Caring Hands Ministry with Bronkema in 2020 as a way to care for seniors in their community, and about 5 to 6 youth were consistently involved. 

“As United Methodists, we always talk about social justice, we want to do what Jesus wants us to do, ‘care for widows and orphans', and this grew out of a need we saw in the community,” Bronkema said. “Some of our elderly neighbors still living at home would have trouble getting things done, like cleaning up the yard, cleaning windows. We would hear of someone needing help and get a group together to do projects for them.” With more complicated projects – they actually built a deck at one house – Bronkema says a skilled member of the congregation assisted. 

According to Hess, Caring Hands allowed her daughters to learn new skills while helping others. “So many people go through changes in their lives and struggle to keep their surroundings safe,” she said. “We have built ramps, cleaned up yards, helped make a home handicap accessible and more. It's a great way to teach our children to look out for their neighbors and to always help others.”

Bronkema also took the youth to drive-through food distribution sites in Rockford and Galena. “We’d make a day of it: a lot of times they were loading boxes of food in trunks of cars from 11 to 1 o’clock,” he said. “The first one we did was in July in Rockford and there must have been 1,000 families that went through that day.” 

Youth also helped with back-to-school luncheon for teachers at Warren Elementary and the River Ridge Middle School, which is the church’s annual way of thanking teachers for their efforts. Prepackaged lunches were served by masked and gloved youth to start the new school year. 

Despite the pandemic, Bronkema and Warren and Elizabeth UMC youth and families found a way to serve together and lift others up. And on a sunny Saturday in February, they were all smiles in the snow. 

It’s just a matter of building relationships and getting to know them, once you do that you become friends and they want to help do ministry, it was just in a more challenging way with COVID, we had to figure out how to do it safely. 

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