YMCA Christian Values Conference aimed at helping young people broaden their understanding of themselves, others

Published 8:01 pm Friday, July 14, 2017

At 11 p.m. Friday night, 57 young people left the Vicksburg YMCA for Black Mountain, N.C., and an experience in personal growth.

The YMCA Christian Values Conference, held at the YMCA’s Blue Ridge Assembly in Black Mountain, is designed to bring young people from across the country together for a week of activities and to get a better understanding of themselves and others. The program is inspired by a Biblical passage in John 17:21, “That they all may be one.”

“It’s a lot of fun and games, but also a personal journey for these teens to figure out what’s important in their lives,” said YMCA director Phillip Doiron.

The teens attending the conference pay a small portion of the event’s fee, he said, but they have to perform 40 hours of volunteer work at the YMCA to earn their way to go.

“If they do those 40 hours, then the Y foots most of the bill to do it,” he said, “So in other words, it’s not just the parents writing a check for it and they don’t get anything out of it. By them earning their way, I like to think they value the experience more.”

The trip is the fourth for Doiron, who first went when he was director of the Ocean Springs YMCA.

“I’ve been in the Y for 23 years now, and it was the single most impactful thing I’ve ever been in in the Y.”

The program draws teens from across the eastern U.S., and works to develop relationships by bringing the teens together in groups of 10 or 12 called “families,” which spend the week together learning from each other.

“This isn’t like your typical church camp, where it’s just a bunch of upper middle class kids going off and talking about God, which is good in it’s own way,” Doiron said. “You’re going to have poor kids, urban kids, rural kids and very wealthy kids, and everything in between up there.”

“I didn’t know what to expect,” said Addie Shaw Buckner, a 10th-grader at St. Aloysius who attended the conference last year. “When we got there at first, I wasn’t sure, but by the end of the week, I didn’t want to leave. I was really glad I got to meet new friends and be close to people.

“I learned more about myself and other people,” she said, adding the inspiration to return was the opportunity to meet new people and renew friendships developed the previous year.

Mary Bradley Warnock, who is also a St. Aloysius 10th-grader, learned about CVC from her older cousin. Like Addie, this is her second trip to the conference.

“It was life-changing,” she said, although she admitted, “At first, I didn’t really like my family; I wasn’t comfortable, because there were a lot of different kids from different backgrounds. There are some who are like you and some who are not, and it was kind of weird at first. But by the end of the week I didn’t want to leave, and my family was like a real family. I’m looking forward to going back.

“I learned more about myself and how to accept everyone the way they are and not judge people — don’t judge a book by its cover. Some kids are going through a hard life.”

Markeith Stimage, an 11th-grader at Vicksburg High School and another CVC veteran, said he initially balked at the idea of attending the conference, but later changed his mind.

“On my way up there, I got kind of nervous and kind of scared, but once I got up there — where we were staying and what we were going to do — I decided to open up; that was one of the main things I had to do; open up to new people and learn new people.” His favorite experience, he said, was meeting new people.

Like Mary and Addie, he said the lesson he learned was to not judge people by the way they looked or acted; “Get to know them and not of them.”

Addie said one of the conference’s first activities was a dance that encouraged the teens to meet others and get together.

Mary said family members participate in activities designed to bring the teens closer together, and have periods called “family time.” 

“Family time is where you sit in the room and just talk about life situations and ask questions; get to know people,” Markeith said. “At the beginning of the week you ask their name, and by the end of the week, you get to social media and get to talk with them away from the group. (In the group) We talk about spiritual things and what we’re doing in the week.”

“You’ve got a lot of stuff that’s fun,” said Doiron, who leads a family at the conference. “In family time, that’s where the heavy lifting of the conference comes. It’s really about the delegates — the teenagers. Where they are in life, where they want to be in life and how they’re going to get there.

“And these guys, from complete strangers on Sunday, to Wednesday, they’re opening up and telling their deepest darkest secrets because they feel that comfortable in the situation.”

It becomes easy, Mary said, “Because you don’t have to worry about somebody judging you, because they’re in the same situation.”

The teens said they return from the conference with a different outlook and perception.

“You try to be nicer to people and try to accept everyone,” Addie said, adding she is more cautious about what she says and does.

“This is probably the most life changing experience for me,” said echoing the other two teens.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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