Church: Minnehaha UMC
Submitted by: Leilani Thompson
By Amanda Willis
What’s the power of a single hug from a stranger? Does the good deed stay with the recipient all day? Will the recipient in turn perform a good deed for someone else?
That’s what youth at Minnehaha United Methodist Church in Minneapolis asked each other before setting a goal to complete 15,000 good deeds by 2015; their own good deeds counted as did the good deeds of those who benefited from their efforts and then decided to join them.
Each January, members of the church’s Confirmation group—made up of sixth- through 10th-graders—decide on a project they’d like to work on for the year. At the beginning of 2014, they unanimously decided on 15,000 good deeds.
“It’s a chain reaction,” youth group member Kate Graham said. “If you make one person happy, they will make other people happy. We were more aware of our actions when we were doing the project.”
The first good deed of the group, comprising eight to 12 youth, was to give a hug to anyone in the congregation who wanted one after worship one Sunday—those who the youth knew well and those they didn’t really know at all.
“We did different things to push us outside of our comfort zones,” said Leilani Thompson, coordinator of youth ministries for Minnehaha UMC. “Hugging strangers is not something I would normally do, but it was rewarding.”
A favorite good deed for many of the youth was making sandwiches for the 363 Days Food Program, a local nonprofit that provides sandwiches to the homeless and hungry.
“I really enjoyed making sandwiches even with my broken arm,” said youth group member Calvin Mattson. What he learned from the good deeds project: “Don’t give up.”
Some other good deeds included packing meals through Feed My Starving Children, cleaning up and washing dishes after a worship service, babysitting at the church during special events, playing games with special needs students at school during breaks, holding the door open for groups of students at school, and buying coffee drinks for strangers in line at Starbucks.
Their efforts paid off. They reached the 15,000 mark in early December and decided to keep going. As of early February, they had completed more than 19,400 good deeds.
The youth worked together to figure out how the good deeds would be counted and how to invite others in the church and community to participate. They decided to put a large glass jar in the church narthex, where anyone could report the number of good deeds done each month. They then communicated to the congregation by kicking off the project with a video introduction, a website, and updates via social media (Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram). They updated the congregation on their project during worship services throughout the year.
The students also chronicled their work through photos and video. They sent the finished video to The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and the popular talk-show host shared it on her website right before Christmas.
Even with no budget, the youth figured out how to positively impact their community in a big way—and through their good deeds, they answered God’s call to heal a broken world.
By using creativity and having fun, the youth and congregation put their faith into action, said Rev. Cooper Wiggen, who served Minnehaha UMC until June 2014 and was there when the youth began this initiative.
“We got to share the gifts and talents that God has given us,” he said.
Minnehaha youth now challenge you and/or your church to participate in the good deeds project. People from as far away as California have joined the effort. For more information about the project and how to get involved, visit the website. To view photos of the project, click here.
Amanda Willis is communications associate for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church