News Release: People, Religion and Ethics, Student Life

Apr. 28,  2010

Emory Receives $1 Million Grant for Youth Theological Initiative

YTI International Service Day Students from the Youth Theological Initiative join with youth from various faith groups to sort and pack books for Books for Africa at their Smyrna warehouse. Photo by Cindy Brown.

Youth Theological Initiative: Exploring the Questions That Shape Us

Emory University's Candler School of Theology has received a $1 million sustainability grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. for its Youth Theological Initiative (YTI).

YTI has been a center for research and the theological education of youth and youth ministers at Candler since 1993. Its work is focused on theologically grounded, socially conscious ministries with youth and young adults. A key part of the initiative is the YTI Summer Academy, an intensive, residential program of justice-seeking theological education for rising high school juniors and seniors.

"Candler School of Theology established the first summer theological institute for high school youth. Now scores of other theological schools have followed Candler's lead and established theological programs for young people," says Craig Dykstra, senior vice president of religion for Lilly Endowment. "The Endowment is certainly pleased that these youth theology programs are inspiring a new generation of young people to take their faith seriously and preparing them to become leaders in their congregations and communities. Inspired by these programs, many of their alums have gone on to seminary after college and become pastors."

Candler's summer academy is a formative and transformative experience for participants who live in dormitories, study theology and faith in a way most never have before, and meet peers who have backgrounds quite different from their own. The 2009 class included United Methodists, Baptists, Catholics and youth from the Methodist Church of the Bahamas.

"We are thrilled to have been awarded this generous grant from Lilly Endowment because it means that we will be able to continue to offer a transformative experience of theological education, covenantal community and empowerment for youth to be leaders in churches and in healing our world," says Elizabeth Corrie, director of YTI and assistant professor at Candler.

"Over the past 18 years, YTI has involved nearly 900 youth and more than 200 graduate students working on the staff," she says. "I am humbled to realize that YTI will not only reach, but continue past its 20th birthday. Imagine — we're moving into a new generation."

Funds from the grant will provide infrastructure support to help build the endowment to sustain YTI, Corrie explains. "We have been working steadily to build this fund to a level where we could begin to draw on it to provide scholarship support for students. Now our future donors will be able to contribute directly to the long-term sustainability of the program and know that their donations will make it possible for youth to participate well into the future."

Originally funded fully by Lilly Endowment, YTI has been moving steadily toward becoming a self-sustaining program, supported by individual and congregational donors, and a variety of foundations.

In 2001 and 2008, YTI surveyed its alumni to determine the impact of the summer academy on participating high school youth. In the 2008 survey, 86.7 percent reported remaining active in a faith community, and 70.6 percent agreed that the academy had a significant impact on their vocational choices. Of those alumni participating in the 2008 survey, 65 percent studied or are studying religion/theology in college.

Contrast these statistics with a recent national survey by LifeWay Christian Resources which found that 72 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds say they're "more spiritual than religious," 68 percent did not mention faith, religion or spirituality as something  "really important in life," half do not attend church regularly, and 36 percent rarely or never read the Bible.

There is no doubt that the YTI Summer Academy shapes leaders for tomorrow, says Corrie.

"Many will become ordained clergy, and some will enter other fields," she says. "No matter what their profession, they will have a sense that God has called them to work for the common good, drawing on their religious tradition as a formative resource."

This grant is part of Campaign Emory, a $1.6 billion fund-raising endeavor that combines private support and the university's people, places, and programs to make a powerful contribution to the world. Investments through Campaign Emory fuel efforts to address fundamental challenges: improving health, gaining ground in science and technology, resolving conflict, harnessing the power of the arts, and educating the heart and mind.


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