Young Adult Volunteer Program transforms lives not just for a year but for a lifetime

March 29, 2023 by by Emily Enders Odom

LOUISVILLE – Yuriko Beltran doesn’t ask for much — just an opportunity to change the world.

Which is exactly why the 23-year-old entered the PC(USA)’s Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) program.

“I like the fact that I actively contribute to change, which is what the YAV program mainly seeks to accomplish,” she said.

The YAV program, an ecumenical, faith-based year of service in sites across the U.S. and around the world, has been changing the lives of young people ages 19–30 for nearly three decades. In addition to service, the YAV experience emphasizes living in intentional Christian community, spiritual formation and vocational discernment.

Beltran, a native of Peru and a recent communications sciences graduate of the Pedro Ruíz Gallo National University in Lambayeque [lahm-bai-EH-kei], is completing her 2022–23 year of volunteer service at the Peru YAV site, managed by PC(USA) mission co-worker and site coordinator Jenny Valles.

“This is a program where young people can experience dramatic transformation in their lives through their experiences serving in different parts of the world alongside our global partners,” said Valles, a native of Moyobamba [moi-oh-BAHM-buh] who now lives in Lima with her husband, Jed Koball, also a PC(USA) mission co-worker, and their son Thiago. “To be able to accompany the young adults in a personal way through these experiences is such a privilege and makes this ministry both fun and meaningful for me.”

In 2021-22, the Peru YAV site underwent its own transformation in that it was staffed for the first time by two Peruvian YAVs — like Beltran — under Valles’s direction.

“The Peru YAV site had to shift during the pandemic when it could not accommodate U.S. young adults due to the health concerns and safety of the volunteers, host families and partners,” said Destini Hodges, coordinator for the YAV Program in Presbyterian World Mission. “Still yearning to bring transformational ministry to young adults through mission, Jenny decided to develop a plan and shift her attention to work with young adults locally. It was a great cross-cultural mission engagement experience to have the Peruvian YAVs engage in the virtual orientation and bring their perspectives around Christian identity, race, poverty and social justice to the table with their U.S.-based counterparts.”

Beltran said that she was attracted to the Peru YAV site primarily because of its emphases on protecting the rights of the LGBTQIA community, empowering women to become agents of change in their communities and “reorienting the culture toward protecting our bodies, water and land.”

“I believe that being able to hear firsthand the testimonies of people who face a certain problem and the goals they set to generate positive changes, makes me identify and empathize with people and their needs,” said Beltran. “It is nice to be able to meet people who care about achieving a positive change in their environment. This motivates me and fills me with admiration.”

Young adults like Beltran, who seek to transform not only themselves but also the systems that perpetuate injustice in the communities where they live and serve, are supported, in part, through the Pentecost Offering, one of the PC(USA)’s four Special Offerings.

Not only do gifts to the Pentecost Offering benefit the YAV program, but the Offering also supports the Office of Presbyterian Youth and Triennium and the “Educate a Child, Transform the World” national initiative. A hallmark of this shared offering is that 40% of it is retained by individual congregations for local ministries, while the remaining 60% is used to support children-at-risk, youth and young adults through ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

Although the Pentecost Offering may be taken anytime, most congregations receive it on Pentecost Sunday, which this year falls on May 28.

“Having the opportunity to deal with people and know their problems directly is important for me,” Beltran said, “since I can then generate strategies to support their efforts from my strengths and abilities.”

While each YAV in Peru has traditionally been placed with Red Uniendo Manos Peru (the “Peru Joining Hands Network”) — an ecumenical network formed by eight Peruvian non-governmental organizations and churches located throughout the country — Valles spoke enthusiastically about a new partnership with the Evangelical Association of Theological Education (AETE) Faculty of Theology and Religion. Faculty members of the non-profit academic institution, which identifies as Christian, will work with the YAVs in reflecting on and integrating their experiences and empowering them in their vocational discernment.

“We are very grateful for the past 15 years of partnership with the Red Uniendo Manos Peru, with whom we will continue to interact,” said Valles, “and we are also excited about the opportunities to come for YAVs — both from the U.S. and Peru — with our new partners at AETE.”

The new partnership with AETE will also allow for even deeper engagement with the Matthew 25 movement.

“The focus of the YAV program in Peru has always been addressing systemic poverty and racism,” Valles said. “Many of our partners have been working on these issues for years at the local, national and international levels. Our volunteers are involved in these issues from the first day of service until the end of their YAV year. They have an orientation and retreats during their YAV year to further address these issues and others specific to the context of Peru, such as rights and challenges of the LGBTQ+ community, Machismo in Peru, political context and economy of Peru, climate change, personal self-care and intercultural challenges.”

Since the pandemic, the YAV Program has been exploring additional ways to embody the Matthew 25 vision by being an accessible program for all.

“We are evaluating how to better fund YAVs who have difficulty meeting the program’s fundraising requirement, offering a virtual option to YAVs who want to serve but due to life responsibilities cannot physically afford to relocate and spend a year serving in person, and dreaming up different models like the Peruvian YAV site to offer this transformational ministry to more young adults,” added Hodges.

That’s where the Pentecost Offering becomes especially significant.

“Without the Pentecost Offering, it would not be possible to work for the development and empowerment of the women, men, girls and boys who make up our community,” Beltran said. “We are community. We are people who collectively can achieve great things. For this reason, it is important to have the support of all those who want to contribute to change, since it’s only step by step that great things can be achieved.”

Mentoring and advising the YAVs during their year of service — and watching them blossom — is one of Valles’ greatest joys.

“If we all had the opportunity to have experiences like the YAV program offers, I believe that we would all be more empathetic, more just and more supportive of one other,” said Valles. “We need to continue giving young people more opportunities — not only young people from the United States but also from other parts of the world so that learning is mutual and equal. I invite potential donors to walk hand in hand with us through their support of Young Adult Volunteers. Their prayers and donations transform lives not just for a year but for a lifetime.”

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By giving to the Pentecost Offering, your congregation participates in helping our children, youth, and young adults grow up to proclaim with the Psalmist, "O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds."