Taco San Pedro in Hawaiian Gardens, CA is one of those taco shops where it is easier to order if you know some Spanish. The year is 2003, and my hungry teenage self would always get two carne asada tacos and an order of flautas.
I went there once with my friend, Nate, (whom I called “Nate-Dawg.”) Nate was about my father’s age, and he volunteered at our youth group. When we get to the counter, Nate looks at the menu, and he tells the cashier, “One asada taco, and one lengua taco.”
“Dude, Nate-Dawg! You know you just ordered a tongue taco, right?” He confessed he just picked something random and then said, “Well, I guess I’m trying the tongue taco.”
A few months later, as I graduated high school, I remember looking up at the bleachers. There was Nate-Dawg, cheering me on loudly as if I had just hit a game-winning shot.
Nate was an adult in my life that I saw as a spiritual leader, someone to look up to, and most of all, a friend. He gave wise counsel, but mostly he was a listener and a cheerleader. I trusted him differently than I trusted my high school friends. I knew he had my best interest in mind, and he did not judge me.
Every teenager needs a Nate-Dawg in their life - or two or three. I’m not just saying this because I had one. I’m saying this because it is what our teenagers at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church have asked for.
A group of nine of us (five adults and four teenagers) have been working on The Log College Project that commissioned us to create a new type of youth ministry. The Log College Project came with a $15,000 grant from Princeton Theological Seminary’s Institute for Youth Ministry.
Our Fifth Avenue teenagers shared they wanted to address the pressure to be perfect. They noticed that this problem had symptoms of anxiety and depression for many teenagers across the Tri-State area.
To help alleviate the pressure to be perfect, our Fifth Avenue teenagers wanted to become friends with adults in the congregation that were willing to listen to them and be their friend. I knew what they wanted; they wanted a “Nate-Dawg.”
In 2021 we identified adults in our congregation as a good fit for some of our students. We are matching them with students in our youth group who opted into this initiative that we are calling Project: You&Me.
We had our first event last month on February 26 and we participated in a virtual cooking hang out. We sent each person a meal kit, flowers, and cookie dough. We started in a big group but then went into breakout rooms and cooked the meal in small groups.
Cooking together led to great conversations. Salome, a junior in high school, said, “I had a lot of fun and thought it was really nice to get to know some of the adult members that I don’t get as much of a chance to interact and connect with.”
One of the questions we asked the group was, “What is something that your younger self would be surprised to learn about your life today?” Both our students and adults answered the question, and it gave each other glimpses into each other’s life.
The power of Intergenerational relationships goes both ways. Yes, the intention is for the adults to be a resource and a breath of fresh air for our teenagers, but I strongly suspect that our adults will get a breath of fresh air as well. “The opportunity to connect and hear from the youth was amazing. They have such positive energy—which is exactly what I’ve needed lately,” said Jorge Valencia-King, who is one of our adults in Project: You&Me.
The success of our kick-off event is bringing excitement to our group. Although we do not wholly know which adults will be matched up with each student, we were thrilled about the conversations and introductions that happened over cooking together in February.
Our next event will be in April, and we have a few more spots for some of our youth group students to join the program. (Email me if you’re interested!)
One of the best parts about planning and executing Project: You&Me is that I have been doing so alongside some of our Fifth Avenue teenagers. Their leadership and desire to see this ministry thrive has been so encouraging. We cannot wait to see what these relationships will look like a year from now and beyond.
*Thank you, Nate-Dawg, for being there for me as a teenager. I cannot wait to eat tacos with you on the other side of eternity.