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Serving Meets Learning at Youth Volunteer Trips

Making a leisure trip with someone is a great way to get to know them. But if you want to build relationships that are deep, meaningful and long lasting, the best way to go is to do some service work side by side.

Across the country and around the world, various organizations need help with charitable and ministry work, and invite church groups to come spend some time serving in their projects. These experiences can be especially powerful for youth groups, which can use them as opportunities to travel, learn about ministry and build close personal relationships.

The variety of volunteer opportunities available for youth groups runs the gamut, crossing numerous types of organizations and destinations. From Christian groups such as Youth With a Mission and World Vision to secular charities such as Habitat for Humanity, youth leaders will find numerous service trips that can take them to places as close as a neighboring state or as far as another continent.

If your youth group is eager to travel and eager to serve, consider setting up a volunteer or mission trip with one of these organizations.

Habitat for Humanity

Churches have long partnered with Habitat for Humanity to quickly mobilize their members to help build affordable housing in their own communities. The organization welcomes youth groups to volunteer with their local chapters whenever they are able. For groups that have already had a positive experience with these projects, Habitat offers a more in-depth, travel-based opportunity called Collegiate Challenge.

Many colleges send groups to participate in Collegiate Challenge at various times during their winter, spring or summer breaks. But church youth groups can get in on the action as well, providing that all travelers are at least 16 years old.

“We have a list of affiliates that will host a team for a week,” said Jenna Widmann, manager of youth and young professionals engagement for Habitat. “The affiliate finds housing for the group, and the group is able to spend time together and connect. And since they’re spending more than one day working on their projects, they begin to connect with the community, understand the housing needs and meet the homeowners that they’re helping.”

The service projects are available in a variety of areas around the country, including Lafayette, Louisiana, a popular destination during winter break, and Forsythe County, North Carolina. During the weeklong trips, participants work on building projects for most of the day but also spend some time learning about their host communities.

“We try to include some educational aspects,” Widmann said. “The affiliate can explain what affordable housing means in their community and what poverty housing looks like. We always encourage the affiliates to provide a dinner or some type of event where students get to meet people in the community.”

Widmann said most programs include a day or two of sightseeing tours, with activities such as a swamp tour in Louisiana or visits to sites affected by Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey.

World Vision

Many Christians know World Vision as one of the leading faith-based international relief and development organizations in the world; the organization works through both child sponsorship and hands-on, community-focused missions. And though its overseas work tends to be technical and intensive, World Vision has developed a number of domestic volunteer opportunities for church groups.

“We’ve done trips in West Virginia for quite a while,” said Nate Youngblood, World Vision’s service engagement director for U.S. programs. “The focus is on housing and working on children’s programs. We do a lot of home repair, trying to make homes safe, warm and dry for families. That can be insulation, plumbing, roofs, floors, bathrooms and kitchens.”

Although the West Virginia projects focus on helping communities in rural Appalachian settings, World Vision also has service opportunities in three large cities: Chicago, Dallas and Washington. In these programs, groups work alongside World Vision staff and other ministry partners to assist in warehousing and distributing donated food and supplies, hosting after-school programs for children or helping with other community outreaches.

Most service trips with World Vision are a week long and begin with several days of cultural training that can help young people begin to understand complex issues of systemic poverty.

“We want them to stop viewing a community through the lens of its problems,” Youngblood said. “Instead, we want them to think about where the community is strong, and that helps the volunteers shift their perspectives and think differently about people. We also want them to have a different understanding of poverty and think more critically about what it means to engage in the challenge of it. We have a lot of conversations about why poverty exists and reframe that for our groups.”

World Vision’s youth programs take place throughout the summer. Some are limited in the number and size of groups they can accommodate. Youngblood said that interested groups should begin researching summer trips during the fall and winter.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.