Jul. 5, 2011
Some 30 alumni of the 2010 Youth Theological Initiative (YTI) Summer Academy are returning to Emory University’s Candler School of Theology July 20-24 for the first-ever Alumni Academy, a program designed to help these young scholars reconnect with each other and support their ongoing development as engaged, critically thinking people of faith.
“We see YTI working with youth as they go into adulthood, not just for one summer,” said Elizabeth Corrie, director of YTI and assistant professor at Candler. “We’re making it possible for everyone who is interested to come back.”
YTI’s Summer Academy is an intensive residential program of theological education for rising high school juniors and seniors started in 1993 with a grant from the Lilly Endowment Inc. Since its inception, more than 900 youth from the United States, the Bahamas, Jerusalem, Mexico and beyond have attended to learn how to engage in respectful and effective interfaith dialogue, and to study the intersection of theology and the public sphere, including issues such as environmental justice, structural racism and civil rights, migration, immigration and labor. Held annually until this year, the Summer Academy moves to an every other year schedule with the launch of the new Alumni Academy, which Corrie says was created to fill a gap experienced by Summer Academy graduates.
“After their intensive summer experience together, where they’ve changed and matured, Summer Academy scholars can’t believe they aren’t going to see each other again. Knowing they can come back for the Alumni Academy helps get them through the tough year that lies ahead,” she said.
Claudia Martinez, a 2010 YTI alum, says she’s attending the Alumni Academy because “YTI has always been in the back of my mind since I left.”
“I’m excited to reconnect with my faith and with the people there again. Their personal stories changed me, taught me that despite family problems and issues with growing up, they still had faith and their relationship with God stayed strong,” she said.
The Alumni Academy will offer a series plenary addresses, workshops, and worship services interspersed with focus groups, an interfaith picnic, and free time. It also gives older alumni, many who are now leaders of churches and religious organizations, the chance to contribute to the young scholars’ formation. Several older alumni will be conducting workshops, such as “Does God Think Girls Have Cooties?: Feminism and Christianity,” and “So, now what?: Discerning One’s Path in a Distracting World.”
The two-day event then merges into a weekend alumni reunion open to all alumni and former staff, with special celebrations for the classes of 1996, 2001, and 2006. On the agenda are workshops and panel discussions, a fundraising banquet, and a keynote address by 86-year-old Ethel R. Johnson, a beloved member of the YTI community who was on the faculty of the Methodist Theological School in Ohio and a civil rights activist.
“It’s a time of building community across the years and a way for older alumni to mentor younger alumni,” said Corrie.
The Summer Academy returns in 2012 with gifts from the Finegan Family Foundation and the Morgan Family Foundation totaling $105,000. Some $75,000 will provide scholarships and travel funds for five students from the Northern California region as well as support for YTI’s “Faith, Ethics and the City” project for 2012-2014. The remaining $30,000 is a three-year challenge grant to encourage YTI alumni to raise money for scholarships.
“YTI needs strong alumni support to become sustainable in the future. If older alumni keep returning, hopefully they will give back in gifts of time and money,” said Corrie.