I was invited a few weeks ago to share with nonprofits in Hanover County tips on what makes a good service project and will keep youth engaged based on my experiences with our LebCamp.  This was in preparation for Global Youth Service Day.  I’ve decided to share these tips here in a 6-part series.

In 2005 I was faced with a programming dilemma. Our ministry was growing and we were unable to take all of our students on the same mission trip/workcamp without taking up the majority of the spots.  In an effort to let other churches get involved, we began looking for alternatives.  Other workcamps didn’t work out for us scheduling wise. After weeks of pondering, I walked into the Pastor’s office one day and I said, “What if . . . .”

And LebCamp was born. LebCamp is a week-long mission and retreat experience for the youth ministry at Lebanon UMC which usually takes place the last full week of July. Youth are divided into crews of about 5 youth. 2 adults are assigned to each crew, and we have a host of skilled individuals who work with the crews. At the beginning of the week each crew is given their Crew Notebook that holds all the knowledge they will need for the week – well, kinda. It holds their to-do list for the week. After a full day of mission and service, the youth gather back at the church where we have Bible study and worship – the retreat element.

Here’s my first tip:  Be a “what if” thinker. Over the course of the last 7 years these collections of youth (rising 7th – graduating 12th graders) and adults have worked on 30 houses and with 11 projects with non-profits in Hanover County. None of that would have been possible if there wasn’t a “What if. . .”

Asking “What if..” invites us to think outside of the box. And if we want to engage youth in service, we need to think outside the box. An essential piece of what makes LebCamp LebCamp is that all of the service projects are done in Hanover County.  There are a lot of groups go to Mexico, Central America, New York, Philly, or DC in the summer and that’s all great stuff.  We decided to make a difference to stay home and we had to be “what if” thinkers to vision such an undertaking.