BJU students began using their creativity this semester to reach out to the at-risk youth at the Greenville County Juvenile Facility.
Eight 10-person outreach groups go to the detention facility to interact with the 13- to 17-year-olds on either a weekly or biweekly basis.
When Dr. Bruce McAllister, director of outreach ministry, introduced the new outreach opportunity to students last semester, about 100 students quickly signed up the same week to become involved. After attending a meeting and receiving information in January, students connected with one another and formed the outreach groups, ranging in focus from basketball and fitness activities to music and drama.
“It gives you the opportunity to reach people who are at one of the lowest points in their [lives],” said Casey Johnson, assistant to McAllister.
The Greenville County Juvenile Facility houses about 20 minors incarcerated on various charges. Because the outreach is a religiously based program, inmate participation in activities is completely voluntary.
Sarah Ward, Tiffany Radle, Justin Crews, Catherine Peek, Rachel Comparetto, Daniel Michalek and Israel Jones go to the detention facility every other week to conduct science experiments with the youth and to share the Gospel with them.
Each experiment session revolves around a theme, such as gravity or acceleration, with one main experiment for the inmates to watch and three smaller, hands-on experiments.
“It’s so cool to see them look at the science and say ‘wow, that’s really cool’,” said Radle, a freshman biochemistry and molecular biology major. “They get involved and get messy.”
Experiment sessions can be compared to educational television shows like “Mr. Wizard” or “Beakman’s World.” One week’s experiments were centered around an “unbreakable” theme. The main experiment featured one of the students walking on eggs, showing how to evenly distribute pressure among the eggs. The small group experiments used unbreakable bubbles and facial tissues made unbreakable by salt.
During the hands-on experiments, the students are able to interact with the youth on a personal level.
“They’re usually hard to get engaged, but once they do, they become really open,” said Sarah Ward, a freshman organismal biology major and the leader of the outreach.
After the experiments are completed, the team of students share biblical life applications from the experiments.
For example, the “unbreakable” theme was used to explain that Christians need to hold a balanced view of life and interact with other Christians so that they will not “break.”
“A lot of the kids are really sweet, and it’s great to be able to share the Gospel with them,” Ward said.
“Afterwards we’ve actually had kids come up to us and thank us,” Radle said. “Some of them really latch on to what we’re saying.”
Not only do the youth enjoy the interaction, but the students also enjoy the outreach opportunity.
“I love getting people excited about science,” Radle said. “They’ve allowed us to come in there and use the passion that God has given us to share [science] with others. It’s so cool to help the [teens] see how incredible this world is and how God made it. It’s giving God the glory through science.”