Hands up if you ever went to a Youth Group? I know most of them are associated with churches, but heaps of people I know went to one even though they and their parents weren’t church-goers.
I can honestly say that my Youth Group days were some of the best moments of my life. You see, being a teenager isn’t easy, but having a group of wonderful friends who you feel safe with can make all the difference. Simply having somewhere to go each weekend, where you can hang out with your mates and meet new people and have fun – without worrying about getting into any dangerous or risky situations.
When I was very young, my parents ran the Youth Group at our church. I was only about 3 at the time, so I can’t remember too much about it. I know that I often tagged along to some of the events, and I know that the teenagers used to get me to say cute/funny things all the time. My parents probably wished they hadn’t done that!
Mum & Dad decided to take over the Youth Group again when I was 13, and that coincided with the time I started going myself. There were hardly any kids my age, so I invited 4 of my best friends and it grew exponentially. Within a year or so, my parents had to contend with up to 70 teenagers every Saturday night, and had to hire buses to transport us to events. Dad would borrow a friend’s van and spend a good hour or two dropping kids home afterwards. I don’t think he ever got home before midnight! It was a big group, and it was a GREAT group. I made so many lifelong friends there, and I have the best memories of all the crazy things we got up to.
Some of our antics probably weren’t particularly sensible. I wouldn’t encourage anyone to drive around a roundabout the wrong way 5 times … even if it was in the middle of the country and no others cars were around. And I don’t think my parents were very happy about our group getting kicked out of several places and asked to please never come back again. Queen Street McDonalds, Georgie Pie in Glenfield, and Auckland International Airport, just to name a few. We were loud, the girls were all completely dizzy (yes, myself included), the boys were mischievous and we used to do silly things sometimes (when our leaders were not looking, of course). At Queen St McDonalds, we liked to throw pickles on the windows to see how long it would take them to slide to the bottom. We would also throw fries off the mezzanine balcony onto the heads of unsuspecting patrons below. Georgie Pie had a huge ball pit upstairs, and we may have thrown all the balls OUT of the pit and around the entire restaurant. Management got a clue when balls began tumbling down the stairs and into the kitchen area. As for the Auckland Airport episode, well, let’s just say that some people don’t actually like being asked “Are you a fruit loop?” … especially not 100 times in one evening.
Silliness aside, we were a good bunch of kids who (mostly) didn’t cause the Youth Group leaders any concern. Most of the time our naughtiness was just a bit of innocent fun. Definitely VERY innocent compared to what some young people get up to these days! And the best part of all was that we always looked out for each other, and we grew and matured together over the years. Our parents knew where we were at the weekend, they knew we were safe, and that we were busy having plenty of good, clean fun.
Now I have a son who goes to Youth Group. And a husband who helps run it. Our church Youth Group starts at age 11 (or Year 7), and it’s fantastic. They meet every second Friday night, and they do all sorts of fun stuff. Games nights, movie nights, progressive dinners (I’m yet to convince the leaders to have a backwards progressive dinner, like we did “back in the day”. Dessert before Main? Always good). Outings are to super fun places like Inflatable World, Action World, hot pools, mini golf, ten pin bowling. They have food-themed nights where they make burgers or pizzas or pancakes or have gross food/eating challenges. BBQs and picnics and fireworks at the beach. All variety of scavenger hunts, usually the brainchild of my clever hubby. One week they made their own rafts and then raced them down at the estuary.
Ethan has invited several of his mates along, as well as his cousin who is just 3 months older than him, and they have become regular attendees. I was talking to the mother of one of Ethan’s best friends last night, and she said her son just can’t stop raving about Youth Group. He’s been to every single event this year, and never wants to miss it. The best thing about that is that he and Ethan still get to hang out together on a regular basis, which is more important than ever since they are no longer at the same school or in the same waterpolo team.
Ethan absolutely loves going to Youth Group every fortnight. I hope he will continue to enjoy it, and that he will want to keep going during his teenage years. I hope he will look back on this time in his life and have the same fond memories that I do. I hope he will still be friends with most of the kids he is socialising with now (because they are great kids). Maybe he will eventually become a junior and then a senior leader – that’s what I did. Maybe he will even meet his future wife at Youth Group – that’s how Rob met me!
Here are a few photos of what Ethan’s Youth Group gets up to. I go along and help out sometimes, and it’s always a lot of fun. Tyler cannot WAIT until he’s old enough to go. Sadly, he has to wait just over 2 more years!