As a high school student it is routine to do community service hours over the summer in order to qualify for Bright Futures scholarships. For senior Megan McKeel, Converge, a week-long sleep-away camp at EPIC Youth Orlando, is that something more.
“One of the most amazing parts of Converge is the ability to help people in what seems like such a simple way to you,” McKeel said.
Every year there is a theme for the students to follow as the week goes on, this year the theme was “full circle.”
“The theme really hit me because the whole retreat brought all of us full circle in our life and stopped us from only living a half circle life,” senior Matthew Mero said.
During the camp, small groups volunteered at organizations such as Clean the World, Harvest Time and the Ronald McDonald House. Groups would also visit the homes of people in the community and help out by doing various odd jobs for them.
“The look on a person’s face after helping them with their yardwork for just a few hours is indescribable,” McKeel said.
Each individual group also received $20 for their spontaneous outreach. Spontaneous outreach allows the groups to do something beneficial in the community using only the money given.
“It was a full circle moment for me [to see] that the spontaneous outreach had been knitting us together in surprising, random moments, and it turned into a really beautiful community in our group,” intern Holly Fohr said.
Students are placed in groups with other students they aren’t familiar with so they can leave with new friends and memories.
Between meals, free time, at the job site and even the van rides, there are multiple opportunities to interact and enjoy time with others.
“I thought it was a great way for students to learn new ways to connect with people they haven’t made connections with,” University Carillon United Methodist Church pastor Phil Coleman said. “Those bonds formed during the course of the week are priceless.”
The thought of not being surrounded by close friends all week can be terrifying, but most would say it is worth it.
“While students were sharing testimonies on Wednesday and Thursday night, this theme kept being repeated in different ways and from unique students,” Fohr said. “[The] theme was: at the beginning of the week, I looked at my group and thought, ‘Yikes, this will be a long week.’ But now I love my group, they’re like family.”
At the end of the week it is tradition for each group to perform a skit in front of everyone. The groups get a first and last sentence and four words that must be included in the skit, yet are given free over the rest of the skit’s content. Since many people in the community know about skits, there is usually a full audience and even some guest stars from friends and family.
“Our skit was actually planned two hours before we went to perform,” junior Nicholas Hurley said. “I got to play John Cena; it was fun being hyped and yelling all the time. I’m very proud of how well my group thrived under pressure.”
“So much sweat, random dance parties, lack of sleep, lifelong friends and memories all come from one week. I see students’ lives change, relationships formed, walls come down and lots of joy,” EPIC program director Patti Thue said.