By Stan Friedman
KNOXVILLE, TN (May 17, 2012) – Shannyn Stoffel volunteered at CHIC 2009 to make a difference in the lives of teenagers, never expecting she would help bridge a racial divide to a tearful local police officer.
Matt Meyer, who attends First Covenant Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has returned to volunteer at CHIC every year since 2000. He has helped with stage security, driven students in shuttles, worked as a general laborer, and served as a counselor to teens with special needs. This year, he and friends are traveling to Knoxville early to construct the graffiti wall and easels for artwork.
When the call for volunteers goes out before every CHIC, there are people who wonder whether it is worth paying the registration fee ($545 this year) and take a week’s vacation to maybe do routine work at the triennial gathering, especially if they have no family members attending.
It’s not even a question for Stoffel, Meyer, and others who keep returning. The experience is so powerful at every event.
There was that police officer that Stoffel met. The volunteer was working at an information booth alongside a busy road where a local police officer was stationed to help students get across for athletic events.
“Since the kids were in mini sessions during the morning, there was nothing for this officer to do,” recalls Stoffel. So she and the other women at the booth invited the officer to sit with them. They talked about families, jobs, and an array of other experiences. The next morning, they invited her again.
“After a little while, she started crying and told us how touched she had been by us inviting her to join us in the booth,” says Stoffel, who attends Salem Covenant Church in New Brighton, Minnesota. “She told us that in Knoxville, white women don’t generally ask black women to associate with them.”
The officer also told the volunteers that she had been “slipping away from her faith,” Stoffel says, and the kindness of the women had led her to reconsider where she was at spiritually. At just that moment, Judy Peterson, campus pastor at North Park University, walked by and was introduced to the officer. Peterson and the woman were able to talk and pray together.
Meyer is grateful for the opportunity to minister to the attendees, even if indirectly. “I have seen broken lives healed,” he says. “I have seen the impact of packing simple plastic bags of food for the starving change those doing the work.”
Stoffel and Meyer say their lives have been changed because of CHIC. Both highlight the worship in Thompson-Boling Arena.
“It is so amazing to see an arena full of teenagers singing and praising God,” Stoffel says. Worship has never been the same for me after that.”
Meyer recalls having “felt the presence of the Holy Spirit like a heavy weight come down on the band and us as we prepared for worship to the point of us falling down on our knees.”
Most of the experiences are not as dramatic, but Meyer hopes potential volunteers will consider helping because of how even the smallest acts are critical to transforming lives.
“Your presence, whether you are acting as a counselor, a security person who makes sure everyone crossed the street at the crosswalks, or a prayer warrior, or simply someone who moves lunches from one station to another, means the world to the students,” he says. “Those students will remember that there were adults who invested their time and their money to encourage them.”
Even those young people – who might at first wish certain adults didn’t volunteer – have a change of heart. Stoffel and her husband, Mick, volunteered in 2006, when he was asked to be on the transportation team.
“Our daughter was less than thrilled that her parents were going to be at CHIC with her,” Stoffel muses. “She did find out that it wasn’t so bad having your parents at CHIC, especially when she needed extra money or a ride to another place on campus in an air-conditioned van!”
Editor’s note: the CHIC adult registration deadline has been extended to June 1. Click here to obtain a PDF of the adult volunteer application form. Visit the CHIC website for more information and to register online.