An Inspired Strategy
"I won the argument," she says proudly.
A self-possessed young woman with a penchant for pink sweaters and pearls, Kimbrey is hardly the type you'd expect wielding a power saw in a mountain holler. But on a church trip after ninth grade to repair a home in Southwest Virginia, she was asked by her chaperon, Rob Boyle, to saw a 4-by-8-foot sheet of plywood into pieces for the roof. Using a power saw is noisy, messy and potentially dangerous and most of the kids stopped after their first cut. Kimbrey, however, kept going. On another mission trip to a housing project in Philadelphia, Kimbrey taught songs to preschoolers, holding the hand of a little boy one morning as gunfire erupted outside.
Mission work at Glen Mar can be just around the corner, literally -- like the homeless shelter where kids in February took turns delivering food they had cooked themselves. Wherever service takes them, it sometimes is the very thing that will turn around a kid in trouble, says youth director Veale.
Kimbrey's life never needed turning around. This year, she is captain of the color guard at Long Reach High School. She's carrying a 3.96 grade-point average, won early acceptance to St. Mary's College in Maryland for the fall, and planned a Valentine's dinner-dance for senior citizens in Glen Mar's neighborhood. She will take another mission trip this summer.
"I know some kids do service because it looks good for college," she says. "I do it because I like to. I can't tell you how many people I've met through mission and church. They gave me a sense of worth, boosted my confidence."
So could her schoolteachers, couldn't they? Or a Girl Scout troop leader?
"But they don't connect me to God. Helping other people is how I feel close to God."
Sociologist Wilcox would not be surprised to hear Kimbrey say this. "Too often, youth organizations try to foster virtue by appealing to self-interest," he says. "These programs don't seem to realize that adolescents are also looking for something bigger than themselves."
The last testimonial comes from, of all people, a would-be Wiccan -- Andrew's 12-year-old sister, Kathleen. Her mother bribes her to Sunday school with doughnut holes.
"My brother is like one of the sheep," Kathleen says one Sunday morning with all the disdain someone her age can muster. "He'll go along and do as he's told, pretty much. I'm one of the little lambs that keeps wandering off and my mom is the shepherd pulling me back into the fold."
She has considered becoming a Catholic or a Jew. "And I was an atheist for about a day."
Becoming an atheist "felt weird," she says. "I had this empty space that I didn't know how to fill. What should I do? Meditate? Sing or dance?" She decided that she did need God, whom she defines as "a bigger power you can confide in, find comfort in, someone who makes you feel more safe and secure."
Wicca, a form of pagan nature worship, could be the answer, she says. Because "in Wicca, you have a goddess and a god. God will still be there for me."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company