Minnesota Youth Group Fights Homelessness and Hate
The Walden Hill Youth Group of First UU Rochester Helps Lead the Fight Against Homelessness and Hate Crimes
By Ryan Shriver, Director of Religious Education and Elena Druktainis, Walden Hill Youth representative
Members of the Walden Hill Youth group with Youth Programs Coordinator Samantha Olson and Director of Religious Education Ryan Shriver at the IHN Cardboard Box City
The Walden Hill Youth Group
at First Unitarian Universalist Church of Rochester, Minnesota has helped lead our congregation’s fight
against homelessness and hate crimes this past fall forming multigenerational bonds
in the process as we continue our church’s work within the Standing on the Side of Love movement.
Four youth and our Youth Programs Coordinator raised $650 in pledges for Rochester’s Interfaith Hospitality Network during that organization’s annual Cardboard Box City fundraiser held on October 21. 180 people from many different organizations spent the night at the Cardboard Box City event, an annual tradition in Rochester that raises awareness about homelessness in our community. This year, Cardboard Box City raised around $16,000 for IHN and the Salvation Army.
Walden Hill Youth group leader Elena Druktainis offers this perspective: “Participating in Box City was probably one of the best activities the church offered this year. Four of us youth went to raise awareness for the homeless folks in Rochester. We slept behind the Family Y Center for the entire night. It was pretty cold but it was a good experience for all of us. It really gave you an in-depth look at what homeless people in Rochester have to deal with every day.”
Only a couple of weeks later, a neighborhood of immigrant families in northwest Rochester endured a vicious hate crimes attack which terrorized the families and resulted in serious property damage. Rabbi Michelle Werner from B’nai Israel Synagogue in Rochester and director of the Rochester Alliance of Interfaith Leaders led a multi-faith effort to publicly denounce these acts and to reach out to the victimized families with food baskets and cards.
First Unitarian Universalist Church quickly joined the effort and on Sunday, November 19th, the children and youth of the Religious Education program at our church led a fundraiser and card-making effort that raised $350 to assist in the families in restoring their property. We also made over 60 welcome cards and collected donations of foods for the baskets that were then delivered the following Wednesday. Rabbi Werner, several congregants of all ages from our church and a handful of local and state government officials drove to the neighborhood and met the families to warmly welcome them to our city and to wish them a warm and safe holiday season.
Our congregation writing welcome cards for immigrant families on Sunday, November 19th.
First UU Rocherster's message: "First Unitarian Universalist Church of Rochester Says NO to Racism and Hate Crimes"
Elena writes, “The other activity a few other youth and I participated in was the response to the hate crimes in Rochester. We brought care baskets to the families who were targeted in these crimes. Being involved in the response was a very motivational experience. It made me stop and think about how we can’t just dismiss these things because they do happen and when they do we need to be able to help out as a community as much as we can.”
Members of our church and the affected Rochester immigrant community with Rabbi Werner (left of sign in white and black).
Standing on the Side of Love has been a powerful movement for our congregation to become involved with, as we can address these issues in thoughtful and meaningful ways that not only enable us to act, but to demonstrate to our younger generation the importance of speaking up and addressing issues of oppression, abuse and hate. Our children and youth can speak up and act and learning they have a voice is one of the most important lessons we can pass on to them.