A group of 20 freshmen and sophomore youth at St. Paul went through Youth Peer Ministry training during the month of February. Utilizing The National Peer Ministry Training Center’s curriculum, the group learned effective conversational and communication skills, how to initiate a social relationship, how to explore values and decision-making, leadership, and much more during their 12 hours of training. St. Paul’s director of youth ministry, Andy Langdon, was sparked with the idea because he had previously been through peer ministry training during his time in college.“Youth Peer Ministry is a series of sessions that gradually teach you more and more about who you are and how you can be thoughtful of other people,” Andy said. “It helps kids develop better friendships with people, it helps them to be more open and honest about what they think. And it also helps them come alongside people who may be hurting in different ways, or outsiders or strangers.”
And there couldn’t have been a better time to initiate the program.
“I’ve held on to this curriculum for a long time, waiting, but we thought that right now our kids were feeling more isolated so Haley Rhoads and I decided it could be an opportunity to invest in the leadership of them in this very unique way. This was the time to try something new. It is a very relationship-heavy, conversational activity so it could be done easily, without jeopardizing the integrity of the program.”
And the peer ministry group is putting its leadership into action by volunteering for numerous projects and events at St. Paul and beyond.
“We wanted them to say “yes” to more service projects and to consider themselves leaders, that they have something to offer. We need people to say “yes” to things. The students learned to decipher what is valuable and to try something new. You get out what you put in.”
The Youth Ministry team plans to continue the program next year with a more traditional weekend retreat.
Meet a few St. Paul Peer Ministers:
Adrianna Blackwell is a 16-year-old sophomore at North Scott High School. Adrianna decided to jump in and join the peer ministry group.
“Andy [Langdon] reached out to me and asked if I would be interested in a group he was starting, and I said yes because I’m typically willing to take risks and try new things at church. This training was beneficial to me because I learned how to better support my friends, family, and classmates.”
Adrianna is challenging herself to reframe the way she views others after the training activities.
“A few things that really stuck with me were how easy it is to make assumptions about our friends, classmates, coworkers, and random strangers we see. It’s necessary to show more kindness and less judgment to the people in our lives. I also learned that it’s important to give appreciation and acknowledge individuals who have had an impact on your life.”
Adrianna has even been using the training to educate her classmates. In school, she was asked to give a presentation to her student leadership class on effective communication and chose to use the W-H-E-A-T method she learned in peer ministry. The W-H-E-A-T method is a conversation-starting guidebook. The acronym stands for Where you live, Hobbies, Experience, Aquaintances, and Travel and are each ways to initiate a conversation.
“I found it really rewarding that my classmates liked the idea and were willing to get outside of their comfort zones and make a new friend that day,” she said. “I consider myself a friendly and social person, however, I sometimes find it hard to step out of my comfort zone and meet someone new. This strategy will help me communicate with others, and I encourage anyone to take the first step and talk to someone you normally wouldn’t.”
Asa Mahn, a 15-year-old freshman, attends Rock Island High School. Asa believes the training brought this group of students, who attend different schools across the Quad Cities, closer than they otherwise would be.
“Over the training, I was able to build much stronger relationships with everyone in the group,” he said. “Before the training, I didn’t feel like I knew many people very well. However, now I feel that my relationships with these people are much stronger as we all went through this [program] together.”
Asa plans to continue utilizing the training he received in his daily life.
“I think since the training I’ve been able to initiate conversations better, whether I’m intentionally utilizing the things I learned, or because I received more practice from the training,” he said. “I intend to use the skills I learned to have deeper conversations and connections with people, whether at St. Paul or in other spaces. The training made me more willing to initiate conversations in day-to-day life.”
Abbie Torgerud is a 15-year-old freshman at Bettendorf High School. Abbie said the one-on-one time with her peers helped her to build strong and healthy friendships where she can share openly and trust her peers.
“What really stuck with me was knowing how to help someone that was struggling with something and needed a push to see what was best for them,” Abbie said. “I plan to use this with people at school and activities as well as St. Paul people that need suggestions on what to do and how to get involved.”
Since the training, Abbie has developed a keen eye for watching body language in her peers.
“The main thing that has changed in my day-to-day life is watching social cues. I can now spot things in someone’s body language that I may not have before.”