Back to School… No Matter Where You Live!

Hey All! Sorry for the silence last week- it was one of the craziest weeks because I was knee deep in my latest adventure of room renovation, but guess what? That means that you’ll get to see all of the before and after fun this week! Hooray!

There’s a twist to all of this- the latest room makeover is actually nowhere to be found in our house. Nope, I wasn’t hard at work at home- I was hard at work at… work! Being that it’s back to school season, I figured I’d show you what that means in my line of work. No, I’m not a teacher, but the school year is definitely go time for me.youth room 063I am a Youth Director (yeah, it’s a thing) and I work with the Middle and High School students at our church. The easiest way to describe what I do is this: I am in charge of teaching students about Jesus Christ and walking with them as they grow up and explore their faith in God. Sounds fairly simple, but trust me- it’s a full time job! Think teacher, event planner, cheerleader, parent (in that I attend more soccer games and school musicals than I probably will with my own kids), counselor, friend, and maid service all wrapped into one. That’s what I do and truly- I wouldn’t have it any other way. Mitch and I always joke that we don’t need any kids of our own just yet- we’ve got well over a couple hundred with all the students we work with on a day to day basis and have worked with over the past few years.

All that being said, I know that my job doesn’t make the blog all that often (you can see a few Youth Ministry posts here, here, and here, and here), but it’s a huge part of who I am and largely where my heart lies. Soooo, this week you get to see a bit of the passion I have for what I do for a living. Ok, back to the Back to School excitement. Let’s kick this week off with a fun project I did for a few of our students that are dear members of our Youth Group family, but moved away this summer and are starting the year in a new home, neighborhood, and toYou know I love a good care package (check out an India-themed one here) and I knew that getting a bundle of love and encouragement from “home” could be just the right thing for our kids who are working through such a big transition.

The first thing I did was scour Target for fun and funky school supplies. I got a few tried and true favorites (like mechanical pencils), but also threw in some things that are a bit more exciting than your average notebook and pens. I grabbed some fruit snacks (classic school lunchbox snack, right?), washi tape, post-its, and a pack of pretzel erasers (they came in a four pack that I just divided up between the four kids- 2 boys and 2 girls).youth room 021Also included were a pack of stationary that the kids can use to write to their friends and family and a devotional called “Jesus Calling” (it’s a really neat book if you’re hunting for something of that sort).

youth room 023

For the guys, I did my best to hunt down some non-girly things (which was actually pretty challening!) that were still cooler than just regular school stuff. I came up with some arrow- shaped magnets and these large-and-in-charge paperclips. Nate Berkus for the win.youth room 032The next step was to figure out how to package everything up. One of the kids is moving down south, so his I just sent in a fun envelope, addressed with love from the Youth Group.youth room 019

The other three are siblings and are moving northwest, so I wanted to create three separate bundles, but package them all in the same box for shipping purposes. youth room 025I just took some yarn and wrapped it around the bundle, taking care to clip the pencils on and thread the yarn through the center of the washi tape and eraser. Each student got a letter (I’m totally on Team Handwritten Note Whenever Possible) with their package to help identify whose was whose.youth room 024From there, all three packs got put into a cardboard box and cushioned by scrunched up scrap paper.youth room 018And now… for the fun part: decorating the packaging. I couldn’t do too much with Luke’s because of the cool print on the envelope, but I didn’t want to send just a boring old cardboard box to the others. So I took  it upon myself to “decorate” both the inside…decorated box

and out…the challengeLet me introduce you to Leslie’s Moving Away Challenge. If you can’t quite read it, this is what the four sides of the box said:

The Official (insert last name here) Challenge:

  1. Check out a new youth group and attend one of their fall events.
  2. Send us a postcard of your favorite (insert state here) attraction…
  3. Give us a tour of your new home.
  4. Go explore your new neighborhood.
  5. Go out of your way to introduce yourself to 3 new people every week.
  6. Take a three person selfie (or however many kids/siblings there are) in each room of your house.
  7. Do something nice for mom and dad. (Bonus Points if you can surprise them!)
  8. Find an amusement park in (enter state here) and have everyone go on a ride together. (Bonus Points if it’s a roller coaster!)
  9. Learn about something that is unique to (enter state here).
  10. Write a letter to yourself that is to be opened in 2020.
  11. Find and memorize a Bible verse to mark this new chapter in your life.
  12. Try something that you’ve NEVER EVER done before!

Then I shipped everything off and prayed that each package found it’s way okay… and a few days later, we got word that everything had been received and that everyone was liking their gifts and having fun with the surprises. Hooray!youth room 020So there you have it- a bit of Back to School fun- Youth Ministry style. Oh, but the fun doesn’t stop there- this week we’ve got a brand new Youth Room to unveil, a few school-ish DIY projects, and some tips on how we communicate things with students and parents throughout the year in fun and energizing ways. Happy September all!


DIY “Going Away” Box

We are coming off a week of blogging neglect and I apologize… computer issues, mixed with traveling to far off places with no internet connection is a recipe for a week of no posts. But not to worry, we have so many things lined up for the next couple of weeks that are sure to make up for the MIA-ness. As this past weekend was a time of travel for most (we enjoyed an awesome mini-vacation to our beloved Chesapeake Bay and a day trip to Hershey Park), I decided to dedicate the rest of this week’s post that very notion… travel and adventure. Except this time, I’m not taking you along with me to the bay… we’re going to India baby! Let’s rock and roll…

This week is a special week because it marks the one year anniversary of a really cool adventure I had the privilege of being a part of. About a year ago, I packed two weeks worth of clothes and… wait, hold on. Let’s back up a bit…

In January of 2013, this sweet girl (who I got to know through a college internship) made a bold move and spent a semester abroad in Kodaikanal, India… oh, and did I mention: she was in 10th grade? Meet Jess:jess Yeah, she’s every bit as awesome as she looks… and brave too (I never would have had the courage to study abroad in HS)! Anywho, Mitch and I are close with Jess and her family and I knew Jess was excited, but a bit nervous to leave home for a semester (she was there from January-May) because it would mean leaving her family, school, friends, and youth group behind. Sooooooo, I took it upon myself to make her a little something to take with her. A “little piece of home”, if you will.

Meet the going away box:

box 3

That picture was taken right after I gave it to her- she was leaving for her 20 week adventure the very next morning! I wanted to share this project because it’s something you can easily do for someone else… have a friend or family member that is taking a big trip? Moving away? Trying something new? Could just use a pick-me-up? This may be the project for you… Here is the simple “how-to”:

Step 1: Tell people!!! (well, tell everyone except the person you are gifting it to) I sent out emails, texts, FB messages, etc. to as many people as I could think of that knew Jess, had been a special person in her life, or mentored her in some way. I asked them to send me a letter for her to open sometime during her stay in India- and the feedback was incredible. I got letters in the mail, digital copies which I then printed, original artwork from kids in her neighborhood… you name it, I received it.going away boxThe letter in the top left (“open me on the plane”) was from me and had a send-off message, along with instructions on what the box was and how it worked. There was an element of suspense to all of this because she wasn’t allowed to open the box until she read the letter and wasn’t allowed to read the letter until the plane ride and so on and so forth… cruel, I know.

Step 2: Sort It. The method for sorting is up to you, depending on the situation you are working with. I decided to divide all of the letters into 20 groups- one for every week that she would be there. The idea was that each week she would have 3-4 new letters to open.going away box

To keep things interesting, I capitalized on some “stand out” weeks too… above, you can see that Week Nine was “first week of March!” and Week 11 fell on her “half birthday week”. Valentine’s Day even made it into the mix…going away box

Step 3: Gather supplies. Along with all of the letters from her well-wishers, I raided Michael’s and A.C.Moore for other goodies to pack the box with. The box itself came from A.C.Moore (it’s actually a photo box) and was big enough to hold all of its contents, but not too large that she could not travel with it. The box came with a design, but I added a personal spin to the top with some scrapbook paper and painted wooden letters:going away boxgoing away boxbaby showers and boxes 052Other fun trinkets that made their way into the mix were: candy, a watch, a water bottle (that acted as the “package” to hold that week’s letters), a few scraps of material that she could use to get crafty, photos, and an itunes giftcard (that came with the half birthday week). By the end, that box was packed to the gills with letters and gifts for Jess’ opening pleasure. Which brings us to…

Step 4: Pack (good luck with this one). It’s all well and good to gather a ton of stuff for your care package, but if it doesn’t fit, none of the previous steps matter! It took a few tries, but eventually, I had a system that squeezed  in everything. Remarkably, we were even able to get the later weeks toward the bottom and the beginning weeks toward the top!boxThankfully, I had some help (meet Jess’ sister, Katie) and we got the bow tied on top just in time to give it to her!

box 1Step 5: Hand it over! At some point, you have to stop working on the project (which was harder than I thought because I had developed a strange bond with that darn box) and send it off with them. Trust me, it will mean the world to them that you put so much time and thought into it. And really, in the end, this was the best part…

box 3So that’s the quick “how-to”! Off she went the very next morning… and you’ll have to wait for the rest of the story until tomorrow. Here’s a clue: it involves a surprise that was way bigger than the box itself…

Update: Want to see the next chapter of the India Adventure? Check out the follow-up post here!

Anyone else make (or receive???) a going away box? They are serious work, but also serious fun. 🙂 Or maybe you’re now thinking of a person that could use a box of love from you and are grabbing your keys to take a trip to Michael’s? Go for it- I got your back.

See you tomorrow!


This project has been featured on the following blogs:

Pioneer Momma