Twenty-one local children boarded a bus bound for a Christian teen conference in Black Mountain, North Carolina, and returned with a richer understanding of their faith.
“They had fun too,” said Phillip Doiron, general manager of the Junius Ward Johnson Memorial YMCA.
On July 17, with the instrumental help of his wife, Kara, Doiron, along with teenage delegates and his sister Danielle Warnock, traveled to the hills to attend the YMCA Christian Values Conference held at the Blue Ridge YMCA meeting.
Founded in 1906 by Dr. Willis D. Weatherford Sr., the campus is nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains and offers teens a camp-like experience while learning more about God’s creation and those who live there.
“The goal of the conference is to bring children closer to God in their own way,” Doiron said. “There’s no one witnessing there, no one asking you to come to Jesus, what we do is what the Y always does,” he said, which offers experiences using “principles Christians”.
Addison Averett, a rising junior at St. Aloysius High School and one of the local teen delegates in attendance, described her time at the YMCA’s Christian Values Conference as “incredible.”
“It was an inspiring experience that definitely changed my outlook on life and gave me a more positive outlook,” Averett said.
Doiron said that while the conference may look like a “church camp” or a “Bible study,” it is not.
“It’s so much more than that because what you have are kids from all over the eastern United States and from different YMCAs,” he said.
Averett said meeting teenagers from other parts of the country was one of his favorite things about the conference.
“It was amazing meeting new friends and meeting all kinds of new people,” she said. “They were really uplifting and loving during Family Time.”
Family Time Doiron explained which groups teen delegates are placed into once they arrive at the conference.
These groups are made up of two adult leaders who were trained before the conference and eight to 12 young people who come from Florida, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, North Carolina and South Carolina.
“But it won’t be all the kids in Mississippi or all the kids in Florida,” Doiron said. “They will all be mixed up and know no one.”
In addition to teens from different states, Doiron said, they also represent different socioeconomic groups and backgrounds.
“You have inner city kids sitting right next to upper middle class kids,” he said.
Although it may seem uncomfortable at first, Doiron said that through their discussions, sharing, games and introspection activities that they participate in during family time, at the end of the conference, the teenagers have all related.
“At the end of the week, they really are family. They hug and cry and want to say we’re gonna be together forever, and all that beautiful stuff. And again, this comes from children whose backgrounds would never meet otherwise,” he said. “It’s just amazing.”
Doiron is passionate about the YMCA’s Christian Values Conference and believes it is a place where teens can reach their “God-given potential.”
This fervor was noticed at the conference and due to Doiron’s dedication and service as host of Family Time, he received the 2022 Tracey Sullivan Outstanding Facilitator Award.
Doiron said he was honored to receive the award, especially since he had had the privilege of knowing Sullivan, whom he called a “legend” as she had been with the conference for more than 30 years.
“I had the chance to meet her and work with her and she was truly an incredible woman. And it was an honor to put myself in a bit of the same field as someone like her,” he said. he declares.
On the final night of the conference, Doiron’s daughter, Ally, was also recognized. She served on the 2022 Conference Life Committee. Next year, Miller Theobald will assume the leadership role.
The cost to attend the YMCA Christian Values Conference and round-trip transportation is about $700, Doiron said. But because the YMCA of Vicksburg believes in the importance of this conference, teens can save some costs by helping out at the YMCA of Vicksburg. Doiron said credit is given to the teenager for his service.
For those interested in learning more about the conference, Doiron said, he and the young people who attended this year would like to share their experience.
“If you go there, you will laugh a lot. You are going to have a ton of fun. There are cool activities ranging from mountaineering to all kinds of games and doing crazy stuff that you thought you’d never do on the mountain and then you’re going to leave a better person than you came,” he said. .
Doiron said if he could take 600 kids to the conference each year and it wasn’t mass chaos, he would.
“Because I think everyone needs it. I don’t think it’s the only place in the world that offers children this type of experience. But I think it’s essential for teenagers to be in a safe environment and to be able to ask themselves: ‘Who am I, where am I going in my life and what is the best way to get there? to arrive”.
Doiron said his two favorite lines from the song “Walk Down the Mountain,” which was sung at the conference, sums it up perfectly: “We stand in the place of peace. This is how the world should be.