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Pete Gives Hope and Gets Hope

The summer before he entered sixth grade, Pete signed up to volunteer at his church’s annual Vacation Bible School (VBS). VBS at First Cary United Methodist Church, located in a western suburb of Raleigh, North Carolina, resembles numerous VBS programs around the country. Through prayer, demonstrations, fun activities, and hands-on lessons, elementary-aged children experience the love of God in a safe, inviting environment. 

Pete attended VBS through fourth grade, the longest a participant can enroll, and looked forward to being of service as a volunteer. He chose to assist at the snack table, but quickly realized passing out small bags of crackers and cookies didn’t stimulate him like he’d hoped. “It was boring because I could only do one thing,” Pete said unabashedly. “I wanted to do more.”

So, Pete did what many eleven-year-olds would do: he expressed his boredom to an adult leader. That particular summer, that person was Kristi. In addition to leading VBS, Kristi has also served on First Cary’s Zoe Empowers volunteer team and visited groups in Rwanda and Kenya. 

Collectively, First Cary’s partnerships have spanned over ten years, impacting hundreds of families and thousands of kids. But their impact has not only transpired overseas. Every summer, the First Cary Zoe Empowers team has made an effort to be present at VBS to teach the youngest members of the congregation about the empowerment program. 

Pete grew up hearing stories about Zoe kids, so when he approached Kristi for more to do, and she asked him if he’d like to teach a lesson about Zoe to the younger campers, the answer was an instant and enthusiastic, “Yes!” He went home and started brainstorming ideas.

The next day, Pete challenged VBS participants to a water-carrying contest. The objective was to carry a bucket of water on their head, just as he’d seen in Zoe’s photos, from one hula hoop to the next, without spilling or falling into the scary crocodile pit, which was drawn on the blacktop with chalk by Pete of course. The game was a hit, but Pete didn’t stop there. 

Later that week, VBS campers learned how Zoe equips program participants for long-term success through vocational and business training. To illustrate the lesson, the youth and other church members assembled dozens of taco seasoning packets. Pete observed this exercise and was struck with another idea. 

Pete collected dozens of spice bags in a wagon. Then, during the VBS camp child pick-up, he towed the homemade goods along the sidewalk. As parents rolled up to the curb to collect their child(ren), they were met with Pete’s charismatic smile and an enticing sales pitch. He made $630 in three hours.

Give Hope Get Hope

The following summer, a few weeks before VBS started at First Cary UMC, Kristi took Pete out for ice cream. She had a favor to ask. Unfortunately, a scheduling conflict would force her to miss VBS, so she wondered if Pete wanted to take on a larger role in the Zoe Empowers programming at VBS on her behalf. Pete accepted without hesitation. 

With Pete’s new role came additional responsibilities. He would assist with managing expectations among campers, create games, teach class, and manage the schedule. A lot for a twelve-year-old, but Kristi assured him the other VBS leaders would help if he needed them. 

Pete handled his duties at camp expertly. For one fundraising exercise, Pete asked the kids to make daily donations based on their possessions: $0.25 per stuffed animal, toys, or windows in their house. For another, he suggested each camper collect all the loose change in their homes and donate it. 

Then, on the classroom wall, Pete hung a large piece of paper featuring a thermometer to track the donations. When he added that day’s offering, he gave personalized shoutouts to keep kids motivated and inspired. By the end of the week, Pete had helped the kids raise more than $2,000 in donations. And he had a ton of fun doing it. 

After VBS ended, Pete joined the First Cary UMC adult volunteer group dedicated to Zoe’s mission. Every fall, the group sells jars of dry soup, and with Pete’s persistence and excitement, he helped raise $4,000 in 2022.

“I’ve sort of become a mascot for Zoe Empowers,” Pete said proudly. “It’s fun because I’m just a kid, but I found what I’m really good at.” 

Pete believes his biggest strength is communication, talking about Zoe, and inspiring others to act/give. As a young person working with many adult volunteers, he adds a unique point of view. “I have ideas that adults never thought of,” Pete stated, “and then, ultimately, my ideas make bank.”

Give Hope Get Hope

However, Pete is quick to say that the Zoe team’s mission is more important than who drums up the fundraising plans. He’s learned that volunteering is a group effort. For a young person like Pete, finding a community of people where he feels a sense of belonging means the world. 

With a shy smile, Pete said, “I think they [First Cary Zoe team] accept me. I feel like I’m an important part of something, and we get to work together to make the lives of others better.”

Even Pete’s mom mentioned to Kristi that since her son began his volunteer endeavors, he has become more confident and connected with his peers, who see him at church, actively fundraising and advocating for Zoe. 

Pete’s experience echoes the stories regularly told by Zoe participants, who often report feeling isolated upon entering the empowerment program. Partly this is due to systemic stigmatization of orphaned and vulnerable children, and partly because the child is unable to contribute to their community in a meaningful way. 

But once Zoe participants unite in an empowerment group, they realize that their struggles are similar. A sense of belonging, trust, and accountability is fostered, eventually transcending into the broader community. Participants receive training and small loans, but group members must take responsibility to implement and utilize what they learn and receive. 

Creating self-sufficiency is at the center of the program. The Zoe Empowers program believes that if young people are empowered by a supportive community of peers, they can lead their own journey from extreme poverty to self-sufficiency. This theory of change is exemplified by Zoe’s >95% success rate, and it came full-circle when Kristi and Stephanie introduced the program to Pete. 

Kristi gave Pete an opportunity and support that allowed his innate gifts and abilities to shine. As a result, Pete found his voice, purpose, and community. He gained skills that he wants to carry with him into adulthood. Pete proved that there’s as much to be gained in the giving as in the receiving.  

Are you a VBS volunteer, parent, or caregiver interested in teaching about Zoe Empowers? Good news! We’ve created an easy-to-follow VBS curriculum to help you. Click here to download and get started.  


Learn more about how you can give hope and get hope like Pete.

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