Outreach Teen Relief program strives to help those who need it most
DRYDEN — A heartfelt effort to support area young people has become a notable—and noble—mission for members of St. John’s Episcopal Church.
Founded in 2018, St. John’s Outreach Teen Relief has raised more than $4,000 and provided coats, clothing and more for Dryden teens—especially those who need it most.
Whether it’s providing cold weather gear in winter or prom dresses and/or tickets in the spring, the outreach program has made an impact, says Russ Underwood, Outreach Teen Relief’s founding member.
“It’s a very successful program over the past four or five years,” Underwood says. “We’ve been able to sponsor a lot of teen activities at the high school.”
Among those sponsorships are covering costs for teens who can’t afford to play sports, purchasing tickets for large families to attend sporting events where a family member is participating, offering prom ticket, dress and tux rental assistance and more.
Working with Dryden Jr./Sr. High School Counselor and Yearbook Advisor Kim Fleming, Outreach Teen Relief is able to help the youths who need it most while demonstrating the giving spirit.
Though the COVID-19 pandemic stalled the program for a bit, when safety protocols were lifted Outreach Teen Relief sprung back into action. For the past two years they’ve sponsored the Project Graduation All Night Party at the high school. Sponsoring the party was an easy decision to make, Underwood says.
“What humbled me and made me want to jump on it was when I went to the township hall for some business there was a woman with children in the parking lot selling plants out of a pickup truck,” he says. “She was raising funds for the graduation party. I went back to the church and asked for a check for $200, and we’ve done that for the past two years now.”
Currently, Outreach Teen Relief is expanding their support by sponsoring visits to Camp Skyline for teens who may not otherwise be able to have the camping experience. Underwood says students are currently being selected for a week’s stay at the popular camp from a list provided by area schools.
To make the camp experience more accessible to teens who would benefit the most, Outreach Teen Relief is seeking grant funds to support the expansion.
“With the grant money we want to include as many teens as possible,” Underwood says. “We’d like to send more than one to Skyline, and to other day camps in the area that families can’t afford.”
Members of St. John’s Episcopal Church started Outreach Teen Relief when they learned of a teen who attended school in a warmup hoodie during a winter snowstorm. The next day, the teen was presented with a new winter coat in the privacy of the high school counselor’s office. The following month, another teen’s parents’ house burned down. That teen was presented with a $100 gift card on the next school day, again in the privacy of their counselor’s office.
“The basic nature of caring and nurturing always encourages us to come forward without hesitation and do what’s right,” Underwood says. “Teenagers should always be at the top of the list. We were there at one time—remember your frustration at times when you had no recourse?”
Residents can support the effort through clothing donations at community collection boxes located at the Dryden Twp. Hall, the Dryden Twp. Fire Dept., and St. John’s Episcopal Church. To donate funds, send a check to St. John’s Episcopal Church, note ‘Outreach Teen Relief’ in the subject line, and mail to St. John’s Episcopal Church, P.O. Box 86, Dryden, MI 48428. Call the church at 810-796-2371 for more information.
Catherine Minolli is Managing Editor of the Tri-City Times. She began as a freelance writer with the Times in 1994. She enjoys the country life, including raising ducks and chickens.