Outlook: Junius Ward Johnson Memorial YMCA takes teens to YMCA Christian Values Conference
Published 4:00 am Sunday, July 31, 2022
Twenty-one local kids loaded up on a bus heading for a teen Christian conference in Black Mountain, N.C., and returned with a richer understanding of their faith.
“They had fun, too,” executive director of the Junius Ward Johnson Memorial YMCA Phillip Doiron said.
On July 17, with the instrumental help of his wife, Kara, Doiron, along with the teen delegates and his sister Danielle Warnock, set out for the hills to attend the YMCA Christian Values Conference that was held at the YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly.
Founded in 1906 by Dr. Willis D. Weatherford Sr., the campus is nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains and offers teens a camp-like experience all while learning more about God’s creation and those who live in it.
“The point of the conference is to get kids to go on a closer walk with God in their own way,” Doiron said. “There is nobody witnessing there, no one is asking you to come to Jesus, what we are doing is what the Y always does,” he said, which is offering experiences using “Christian principles.”
Addison Averett, a rising junior at St. Aloysius High School and one of the local teen delegates attending, described her time at the YMCA Christian Values Conference as “amazing.”
“It was an inspirational experience that definitely changed my outlook on life and gave me a more positive attitude,” Averett said.
Doiron said while the conference may sound like a “church camp” or “Bible study,” it’s not.
“It’s so much more than that because what you’ve got is kids coming from all over the Eastern U.S. from different YMCAs,” he said.
Averett said meeting teens from other areas of the country was one of her favorite things about the conference.
“It was amazing to meet new friends and meet all sorts of new people,” she said. “They were really uplifting and loving during Family Time.”
Family Time Doiron explained are the groups the teen delegates are placed in once they arrive at the conference.
These groups are comprised of two adult facilitators who have been trained before the conference and between eight to 12 young people who are from Florida, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, North Carolina and South Carolina.
“But it won’t be all Mississippi kids or all Florida kids,” Doiron said. “They will all be mixed up and won’t know anyone.”
In addition to the teens hailing from different states, Doiron said, they also represent different socioeconomic groups and backgrounds.
“You’ve got inner city youth sitting right next to upper-middle-class kids,” he said.
While this may feel uncomfortable initially, Doiron said, through their talking, sharing, game playing and introspective activities they take part in during family time, by the end of the conference, the teens have all bonded.
“By the end of the week, they really are family. They are hugging and crying and wanting to say we are going to be together forever, and all those neat things. And again, this is from kids whose backgrounds would never meet otherwise,” he said. “It’s just amazing.”
Doiron is passionate about the YMCA Christian Values Conference and feels it is a place where teens can reach their “God-given potential.”
This fervor was noticed during the conference and because of Doiron’s dedication and service as a Family Time facilitator, he was awarded the Tracey Sullivan Outstanding Facilitator Award 2022.
Doiron said he was honored to receive the award, especially since he had had the privilege of knowing Sullivan, whom he called a “legend” since she had been part of the conference for more than 30 years.
“I got the chance to meet her and work with her and she truly was an amazing woman. And it was an honor to put me in somewhat of the same realm as someone like her,” he said.
During the final night of the conference, Doiron’s daughter, Ally was also recognized. She served on the 2022 Conference Life Committee. Next year, Miller Theobald will be in the leadership role.
The cost to attend the YMCA Christian Values Conference and transportation there and back is about $700, Doiron said. But because the Vicksburg YMCA believes in the importance of this conference, teens can work off some of the fees by helping at the Vicksburg YMCA. Doiron said credit is given to the teen for their service.
For those interested in learning more about the conference, Doiron said, he and or the youth who participated this year would love to share their experience.
“If you go, you are going to laugh a lot. You are going to have a ton of fun. There are cool activities from mountain climbing to all sorts of games and doing crazy stuff you thought you’d never do on the mountain and then you are going to leave a better person than you come,” he said.
Doiron said if he could take 600 kids to the conference every year and it not be mass chaos, he would.
“Because I think everybody needs this. I don’t think this is the only place in the world that offers kids this type of experience. But I do think it is critical for teens to be in a safe environment and have the opportunity to ask themselves,’ who am I, where am I going with my life and what is the best way to get there.’”
Doiron said his favorite two lines of the song “Walk Down the Mountain,” which was sung at the conference, encapsulate it completely: “We’re standing in the place of peace. This is how the world should be.”