'Reload' Urban Youth Worker Conference Celebrates Tenth Anniversary
Urban Youth Worker Awards given; early registration through April 2
CHICAGO (March 6, 2014) — On April 5, the Chicago Reload Urban Youth Worker Conference will celebrate its tenth year of providing valuable resources and networking opportunities to youth advocates throughout Chicago and the Midwest. The daylong conference, held annually at North Park University, serves hundreds of urban pastors, youth leaders, volunteers, social workers, teachers, and parents.
“Reload is a place for urban youth workers to connect and meet with other urban youth workers,” said Alison Burkhardt, associate director of the University’s Center for Youth Ministry Studies (CYMS). The conference was established, she said, out of recognition that “there wasn’t necessarily a place for them to go and gather together. Reload highlights what these people are doing so that they can hear each other’s stories, then collaborate or serve as resources for each other.”
At its tenth anniversary, CYMS Director Dr. Daniel White Hodge finds the conference more relevant than ever. “Reload is very important to the growing number of urban churches—particularly in the Evangelical Covenant Church, where many of the churches experiencing growth are urban, multiethnic church plants,” he said.
“This has become a place that people look for in the early spring to come congregate, process, and pray,” said Hodge. “We get people not only from Chicago, but from Wisconsin, the Twin Cities, Detroit, Iowa, and Cincinnati. If you’re interested in working with young adults, you’re going to find something here that is relevant for you.”
When Chicago Reload launched, Burkhardt said, conference planners were uncertain of how many attendees to expect and how best to plan their experiences. “The overwhelming response was, ‘Thank you for providing a place for us to talk to and meet each other,’” said Burkhardt. It’s in that spirit of gratitude that Reload’s tenth anniversary conference seeks to celebrate and recognize youth workers for the servant leadership they demonstrate.
The inaugural Reload Urban Youth Worker Awards will be given at this year’s conference, including the Urban Youth Worker Award, selected from among those nominated by an external committee; the People’s Choice Youth Worker Award, chosen online from among those nominated for the Urban Youth Worker Award; and the Student Leader Award.
“We wanted to be able to highlight people who are doing the work on the ground,” Hodge said of the awards. “Oftentimes in ministry, there’s not necessarily a lot of recognition. So we really wanted to honor leaders and say, ‘Thank you for the work that you’re doing and the service you’re providing.’”
“Youth ministry’s often a thankless job,” Burkhardt agreed. “So this is a celebration of this group of youth workers continuing to push forward in ministry, as well as a look back at the ten years and what has developed and come from it.”
Celebrating and honoring the achievements of youth workers is a theme that will run throughout Reload this year, one reflected in the conference’s keynote speakers, House Covenant Church Pastor Phil Jackson and life coach Justine Conley.
“What’s particularly interesting about our two keynote speakers is that Phil brought the idea of Reload to North Park, and Justine has been on our planning team since that first year,” Burkhardt said. “So this really is coming full circle. Phil is the one who said, ‘We need to do this at North Park.’”
Author Romal Tune will give a pre-conference intensive workshop on Friday, April 4, addressing how current models of youth ministry both succeed and fail at reaching vulnerable teens in the urban context.
More than 20 workshops with a variety of speakers are planned throughout the day, including concurrent sessions and lunchtime forums. Featured workshops include a session on mentoring with gang interventionist and youth advocate Amy Williams; a session on introverts in youth ministry with North Park Theological Seminary student Nilwona Nowlin; and a session on work-life balance with the Urban Youth Worker Institute’s Larry Acosta.
“We also have an early-morning workshop track for people who want to get a little something extra at no additional cost,” said Burkhardt. Among the early-morning sessions will be a fundraising workshop led by Axelson Center Director Dr. Pier Rogers, with the goal of “building connections between youth workers and nonprofit resources,” Burkhardt said.
In addition to the workshop schedule, the conference will include times of worship, featuring University student Leslie Moore leading a Chicago Reload band.
Another new addition to the conference schedule this year will be an optional pre-conference intensive workshop led by author Romal Tune. The session, “Should Christians Act Like Crips? Innovative Approaches for Urban Youth Ministry and Evangelism,” was added as another way to celebrate Chicago Reload’s ten-year anniversary, Hodge said. “This year, we’re extending Reload into an all-day Friday session, so we wanted to bring in Romal.” Tune will address the effectiveness of current models of evangelism aimed at reaching vulnerable teens in the urban context.
Discounted early registration for individuals and groups ends April 2. Walk-in registration is available April 5. Chicago Reload is sponsored by the Center for Youth Ministry Studies, in partnership with the Urban Youth Workers Institute.
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