Midwest IOCC Conferences give Orthodox teens fresh outlook on philanthropy
BALTIMORE, MD [IOCC] — It was not summer as usual for some 50 Orthodox Christian high school students. They came together in Minneapolis and Chicago from nearly 30 different dioceses under the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the United States of America to experience Serve-X-Treme, a program focused on strengthening their understanding of Orthodox philanthropy and putting it into practice.
Orthodox Christian high school students representing 27 different dioceses across the US gathered this summer in Minneapolis for an IOCC Serv-X-Treme! Conference. The youth took part in reflections on social service in the context of their Orthodox faith and joined in service activities ranging from building homes for the disadvantaged, distributing books to at-risk youth, and preparing and serving meals to the homeless.
During each of the weeklong youth conferences, teens participated in workshops led by Orthodox community leaders, and experienced hands-on service activities ranging from building homes for the disadvantaged and distributing books to at-risk youth, to preparing and serving meals to the homeless. Dimitri Godur of Miami, Florida, and his peers were appointed by their respective hierarchs to represent the pan-Orthodox community from around the country. “Being given the opportunity to practice my faith in so many different environments was truly a blessing,” said Godur. “Our projects and discussions truly gave me a different and fresh perspective on what it means to serve God through others, and being able to put these ideas into practice was also a blessing.”
“Serv-X-Treme Conferences give our young people the opportunity to learn about the ethos and approach of Orthodox philanthropy and then go out and do it,” said IOCC US Country Representative, Dan Christopulos. “Our goal is for the participants to continue engaging in such philanthropy and helping to lead such efforts in their own parishes and local communities.”
For many of the participants, like Sia Konstantinopoulos of Akron, Ohio, the conferences also provided the first opportunity to interact with youth from Orthodox Christian jurisdictions other than their own. “I didn’t have a lot of experience with community service and philanthropy coming in and this trip opened my eyes to all the ways I could help others,” she said. “I think the greatest ‘ah ha’ moment for me was just interacting with the people we were serving. I had never really been around poverty before and I think I had a lot of judgements going in. When I actually got to know the people we served all of my negative stereotypes were washed away.”
Serv-X-Treme! Youth Leadership Conferences are part of a broader effort by IOCC to develop the Orthodox Christian Action Network (Orthodox CAN!), a US-based initiative to nurture and activate the Orthodox community’s philanthropy through volunteerism across all age groups. The program also promotes and supports an Orthodox Christian Emergency Response Network (ERN) of more than 100 clergy and laity members, trained to respond in times of disaster, and the development of volunteer opportunities through parish-based community service projects such as emergency kit assembly and emergency preparedness.
The national conference in Minneapolis was made possible with the generous support of the Archbishop Iakovos Leadership 100 Foundation while the Chicagoland gathering received the generous support of the John C. Kulis Charitable Foundation.
IOCC is the official humanitarian aid agency of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America. Since its inception in 1992, IOCC has delivered $534 million in relief and development programs to families and communities in more than 50 countries. IOCC is a member of the ACT Alliance, a global coalition of more than 140 churches and agencies engaged in development, humanitarian assistance and advocacy, and a member of InterAction, the largest alliance of U.S.–based secular and faith-based organizations working to improve the lives of the world’s most poor and vulnerable populations. To learn more about IOCC, visit www.iocc.org.