Youth volunteers unite at C.A.R.E.S. of Farmington Hills

Twelve-year-old Rayann Hasaba likes “organizing and painting stuff,” skills that served her well as she volunteered last week on the C.A.R.E.S. of Farmington Hills campus.

Youth United
These youth from The Huda School in Franklin volunteered with Youth United.

Hasaba was one of 138 young people from local churches, mosques, and synagogues who participated in the service project through the Youth United program, now in its second year.

Her sister learned about it last year, when about half as many kids participated.

CARES tours Youth United
Youth United volunteers Abdullah Al-Ejel and Ariel Ser gave a tour Friday to Ron and Gloria Bozak, former Servant Church of St. Alexander members.

Senna Sankari, 12, said her mother heard about Youth United and introduced it in a group chat with her sister. When she learned her friends were going, she decided to join as well.

“I thought it was really organized and very effective,” she said. “We got a lot of things done.”

While racking up community service hours was a draw for the girls, who are students at The Huda School in Franklin, they got more than that out of the experience.

“It makes you more grateful,” Hasaba said.

CARES Community Garden
These signs and stakes will be installed in a community garden next spring.

Progress on meeting rooms, grounds

Housed since 2017 at the former Servant Church of St. Alexander property on Shiawassee east of Middlebelt, C.A.R.E.S. offers a “one-stop shop” for local residents in need. The church building now houses a food pantry, clothing bank, and satellite offices for other nonprofits.

Plans include making use of other buildings on the property, and C.A.R.E.S. Executive Director Todd Lipa said young volunteers and adult leaders cleared out and painted rooms that will serve as meeting spaces for addiction recovery and other groups.

Around the grounds, they created raised beds for community gardens, spruced up landscaping, and created artworks to brighten building walls (and a special painting that will hang in Lipa’s office.)

Two-year grant

Youth United launched in 2018 with a $2,000 grant from the Faith in Action grant committee of the Presbytery of Detroit, written by Karen Linnell, a member of First Presbyterian Church of Farmington.

“I grew up in an area where everyone was the same,” the Minnesota native said. “I didn’t get to know people of other faiths until I went to college.”

Laura Hedgecock, who has coordinated the program with Linnell, said the Farmington area provides a unique opportunity to bring together a diverse group of young people. Last year, Youth United volunteers came from 10 faith communities; this year, it was 12.

Laura Hedgecock Karen Linnell
From left, Laura Hedgecock and Karen Linnell coordinate Youth United.

“We didn’t do much in the way of publicity this year, and it grew from 60 or 70 last year to 138 this year,” she said.

“It surprised us,” Linnell added. “But we found more projects for them to do.”

The new, $20,000 grant covers this year and next; Youth United also received a $1,000 grant for art supplies through the Farmington & Farmington Hills Foundation for Youth & Families. Hedgecock and Linnell said they welcome more faith groups to join and hope to find other service projects outside of C.A.R.E.S.

CARES banner
This Youth United artwork features English words that describe C.A.R.E.S., translated into other languages.

Faith conversations

The adults involved in the Youth United week say that along with the physical work, young people gained spiritual insights. Linnell said this year, they added an activity in which submitted questions about other faiths were answered by a young person from that community.

“They were questions like, ‘Why do you wear what you wear?’ and ‘How can Mary be a virgin and a mother?’,” she said. “They were so introspective. ‘How do you combine your faith with our culture?’.”

Donnie Lehmann
Hope Lutheran Church pastor Donnie Lehmann speaks during the Youth United wrap-up ceremony.

Hope Lutheran children, youth, and families pastor Donnie Lehmann – known during the week as the “youth whisperer” – said he believes this generation “really wants to serve people and their needs. To give back, to give of themselves, is really important to them.”

Lehmann said at his church, the Youth United week energy won’t end with C.A.R.E.S.

“Our Vacation Bible School starts next week, and we have youth signed up to lead and teach,” he said. “They are willing to step into leadership roles and serve others.”