First Presbyterian Church

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Austin's Community Story

Posted by Austin Hill on

In 2015, our session decided to contribute financially toward two local youth programs. We contributed to the ecumenical youth center, ICKY’s and to Athletes For Education and Success (AFES). Our mission ministry team visited both organizations and felt strongly that our dollars would make a tangible impact in our community. In addition, both of these local organizations provided opportunities for our church to volunteer, doing mission work in our own town.

            When our staff decided to spend time working in community, I wanted to spend time at AFES, continuing to build the partnership we had established through our financial commitment. There was only one problem. I’m a terrible athlete. What could I offer that would be of value?

            I met with Charles Clayton, the director, and told him that I would love to get involved at AFES, but I wasn’t sure what to do since I wasn’t an athlete. He responded, “That’s ok. There are many ways to work with the kids. What I really could use is somebody with some musical background. In fact, we just received some acoustic guitars, and we’d love to be able to teach the kids how to play the guitar.” I could hardly contain my excitement! This has been a passion of mine for the last 15 years.

            Once the school year began I started to visit AFES 1 to 2 times per week, working with 7 students. These kids ranged in age from about 8 to 12, and all have varying degrees of enthusiasm for music. We always have a lot of fun, and there’s never a dull moment.

            I’ve spent the bulk of our time teaching the students how to play a G, C, D, and E minor chord. As an FYI, if you can play those four chords, you can play most popular songs on the radio throughout all generations of music. We’ve been working on committing those chords to memory, strumming patterns, and learning the notes on the guitar.

            To be honest, working on strumming patterns and learning the same four chords is not as glamorous as one might think playing the guitar would be. So when the kids had their breakthroughs, it truly was a highlight. I’ll never forget the smile on Kayla’s face when she played through the four chords, in rhythm, all by herself. The rest of the group could tap their foot along with her, and she knew she was making music.

            Similarly, a time when Desiree and Taysia were working on strumming 8th notes, they could both feel the rhythm of the music. They started to tap their feet, and then the student who was watching couldn’t help but get up and dance while the other continued the beat. In that moment, the girls saw the joy of music, how it can invite others into a shared experience together.

            Ultimately, it’s all about these shared experiences. One of our church members recently donated some music equipment that we will use for playing with students at AFES so they can learn to play in a band. We’ll have students learning the guitar, bass, and drums. And I don’t have to do this teaching by myself. This summer I plan to bring other students from our church to learn with the AFES students and play music together.

            This last year has been a great chance for me to build relationships with kids I never would have met otherwise. And how amazing that the summer when AFES would receive musical instruments would be the summer a non-athlete, musician would want to work with kids?

             God has given each of us specific talents, life experiences, and abilities, and God wants to use you right here in Fort Dodge. What impact could God make through you in our community?

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