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Blossoming Community: How the Next Generation is leading the Way in Appleby

Site staff Anna shares how our value for doing things alongside neighbours has led to a flourishing kids' leadership program.

Youth led community activism
The Kids Cleaning Up The Neighbourhood

Servant Partners staff spend a great deal of time getting to know our neighbours. We want to embed ourselves into the rhythms of the neighbourhood. In Appleby, you will quickly find that many neighbourhood rhythms centre around the children living here. I have learned that the school buses come at 8 am to pick the kids up, and they get dropped off between 3:10–3:25 pm. I know that some children will play soccer between the buildings as soon as the snow is gone and the ground is relatively dry. I also know that if I drive away from the apartments and head north on Avenue W, I am likely to see a pack of kids on their way to or returning from the convenience store that is three blocks away.

To integrate into these rhythms, I try to walk my dog at 8 am. If I have messages or flyers for kids or their families, I try to be outside near the bus stops around 3:10 pm. When I’m looking for exercise, I bring an extra soccer ball, join in on whatever game is happening, and receive more than my fair share of teasing for being terrible at soccer.

Servant Partners seeks not only to live life alongside our neighbours but also to work for the betterment of our community alongside our neighbours. What does that look like when your neighbours are seven, nine, and twelve years old?

Life alongside our neighbours is not a one-way relationship. We value mutuality in relationships because this is something we experience. The kids, home from school because of Covid, were the first to welcome me to the neighbourhood when I moved in. When I got into a car accident, it was the kids who took care of my dog, ran home to get their sister to walk me home, and told their parents to call me to check on me. When I leave on vacation, the kids notice and welcome me back with questions and stories of what I have missed. I have learned their rhythms, and they have learned mine. This is what life alongside neighbours looks like for me at Servant Partners.

Servant Partners seeks not only to live life alongside our neighbours but also to work for the betterment of our community alongside our neighbours. What does that look like when your neighbours are seven, nine, and twelve years old?

It often looks like chaos. If you were a fly on the wall during our programs, you would hear lots of screaming, laughter, some crying, and plenty of weird, off-topic questions. This is the nature of working with kids. But this year, something amazing happened. 

Youth leadership development
The Kids Discipleship Team!

In September, we decided to create a group we call our Kids Discipleship Team. These are kids 10 to 15 years old who come over once a week on Wednesdays. We engage with the life and story of Jesus together, as well as playing some silly games. We also spend some time each week thinking about what ways we can make our community a better, more flourishing place. In the beginning, we intentionally labeled ourselves as the ‘adults’ and the kids that come as the ‘leaders’. They are the agents of change for the community, we just provide the space, supplies, and snacks. They created the rules for the group, and they decide what consequences come from breaking them. Over the last seven months they have created a Halloween carnival; organized a garbage clean up; handed out Christmas cookies they decorated to other neighbours; and created and ran a winter fun day in February, partnering with adult volunteers from SOAR. At a meeting this March one leader spontaneously asked me what we were going to do for Easter. When I asked what he meant, he said that we should organize an outdoor easter egg hunt for all the younger kids in the neighborhood. The whole group chimed in with ideas on how to structure the hunt, when to do it, and who else we could recruit to help out.

Children ages ten, twelve, fourteen, and fifteen (with one extremely enthusiastic nine-year-old) are asking themselves the question: “What can I do to make my neighbourhood better?” And the answers they come up with are so much better than the ones I would give them. We have seen them grow in their awareness of and care for their community. Because they are working with their own ideas, we have seen tremendous growth in confidence and leadership skills.

Kids leading kids in Saskatoon
Distributing Snack At Our Winter Fun Day

One great example is the Winter Fun Day they planned in February. We had a team of four adults and two young kids come volunteer through the SOAR program. The kids led the volunteers, showed them how to interact with the rest of the neighbourhood kids, and modeled sportsmanship and sacrifice to ensure all the other kids had a good time and got enough snacks. After the event, one of the kids led the others in thanking the volunteers for coming to help them put on their Winter Fun Day.

If you have never been hosted by a twelve-year-old in this way, I highly recommend it.

In contrast, the staff of Servant Partners could have decided to create a program for the kids here in Appleby. It would have been lots of fun, and there are a lot of organizations that see success through this model. The difference in how we choose to operate is that we want our neighbours to be involved in creating and continuing what we do, even if they are still in elementary school. We believe that it is the neighbours themselves that God cares about and is working within, and so that is where we focus as well. This means that the growth we see continues to create flourishing spaces wherever our neighbours find themselves, whether we are there or not. This value for "alongsideness" has led to immense growth in the self-confidence and leadership skills of the kids here. The explosion of creativity that our kids have far outstrips our own. Their hope-filled imaginings of what could be better in our community and what that could look like are daily inspirations to us. A constant reminder that God is in this community and that our presence is barely even the tip of the iceberg of His workings here.

If you have never been hosted by a twelve-year-old in this way, I highly recommend it.

There are so many more stories I could tell you; of friendships broken and restored, of community spaces where language doesn't matter created by children who have travelled from near and far to be here, of kids able to face their fears with the support of their peers. But instead, I invite you to see for yourself. Open your door, step out, and look for the people God is working through in whatever neighbourhood you find yourself in. You may find that the people you notice are children. Or maybe they are not. Maybe they are newcomers or from a different generation or culture. If you choose questions, curiosity, and hope, you may be surprised by which faces you find Christ in and whose voices speak hope and peace in your community.

Interested in reading more about how to live life alongside neighbours? Check out this blog post on peacemaking alongside Muslims in Ramadan and if you want to read more about our work with the kids in Appleby, check out this blog post on how they spent their summer last year.


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