Twice a year, a group of 75 youth and adults collectively known as the Conference Council on Youth Ministries (CCYM) meets in Garner, NC to discuss youth ministry in the North Carolina Annual Conference. CCYM is made up of middle school, high school, and adults from all 8 districts in the Conference, organized into a variety of committees and tasked with responsibilities such as communications, legislative affairs, and Youth Service Fund, as well as resourcing various Conference-level and district-level events throughout the year.
One of those meetings is in January, a meeting which can sometimes be affected by winter weather. The other meeting happens in September, as summer is winding down and fall is on the horizon. The meeting scheduled for September 15, 2018, ended up being rescheduled for a different, although still weather-related, reason: Hurricane Florence. The massive storm pounded the coastline with damaging storm surge and wind, before coming ashore and wreaking havoc on many of the eastern counties. All of this took place with the memories and impact of Hurricane Matthew from 2016 still very evident across much of the same area – in fact, many homes and lives affected by Matthew were reliving that storm as Florence moved through the state.
As the storm subsided and early recovery efforts were getting underway, the CCYM meeting was rescheduled for September 22, 2018. Members of CCYM were encouraged to make the drive to Garner if possible, or to join via videoconferencing. One of the youth officers invited Bishop Hope Morgan Ward to attend the meeting. Bishop Ward is an ardent supporter of youth ministry in the North Carolina Conference. She accepted the invitation and arrived wearing a bright green Disaster Ministries shirt.
After a time of worship and some preliminary business, Bishop Ward addressed the Council. She thanked the youth and adults gathered there for the work that had already been done in the week since Florence hit, and encouraging them to continue to be involved and to help lead their respective churches and districts in the recovery efforts.
As part of her remarks, the Bishop issued a challenge to the CCYM: for the youth across the North Carolina Conference to raise $500,000 for disaster recovery and relief efforts. A sizeable sum, to be sure, but the youth and adults accepted the challenge and began that day to brainstorm fundraising strategies. Further incentive came when it was announced that the Annual Conference would match the funds raised, up to the $500,000 goal, for a total of one million dollars for disaster relief.
Announcements went out across the Conference and the youth got to work in their local churches and in the districts. In November of 2018 at Pilgrimage, a large weekend-long youth event, it was announced in front of the 3500 youth and adults in attendance that $41,000 had been raised so far for what was now being called the Youth Storm Fund. As the year wound to a close and Christmas was approaching, churches and districts were asked to consider receiving Christmas Eve offerings for the Youth Storm Fund. More fundraising ideas were distributed, and in January of 2019, four months after the initial challenge, the Fund had reached $75,000.
Fast forward to June, where clergy and laity from across the North Carolina Conference gathered in Greenville for Annual Conference. Delegates heard about the Youth Storm Fund from several speakers, including Bishop Ward and Natalie van Dyke, a youth who served as Conference Youth Ministry president in 2018-2019. Delegates were also given an opportunity to support the Storm Fund at Annual Conference via a special offering taken at one of the sessions. By the time Annual Conference concluded, the Youth Storm Fund was fast approaching the $350,000 mark.
Donations to the fund are still being accepted, and the original challenge is still in place: funds received up to $500,000 will be matched dollar-for-dollar for storm relief in North Carolina. The challenge extends through November of 2019 when the youth of the North Carolina Conference will gather once again for Pilgrimage.
Hurricane Florence left its mark on eastern North Carolina over a few days in September of 2018. Through the work of the Youth Storm Fund, the generosity of the people of the North Carolina Conference (and beyond) will leave its mark on eastern North Carolina for many years to come as we rebuild homes and lives.
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