American society is far more complex and challenging for teenagers to navigate than it was 50 years ago. As the traditional middle class lifestyle slips away from more families, it creates fractures in the economic and relational foundations supporting those families.
Sadly, substance abuse, domestic violence, hunger, bullying and school shootings are increasingly becoming more commonplace for a growing number of teens today.
This is why Campus Life started “Taco Tuesday” for Cottage Grove High School students in early October. The free meal is served across the parking lot in the Riverside Community Church gym during lunchtime.
With the challenges facing high school students today, Campus Life leaders say they offer the free lunch to connect with kids in a positive way and to offer them support and encouragement in addition to a meal.
Lane County Youth for Christ offers weekly club meetings for Cottage Grove’s middle and high school students. Campus Life Clubs combine healthy relationships with creative programs to help young people make good choices to establish a solid foundation for life and positively impact their schools. Led by Richard New, the High School Club meets on Mondays at Calvary Chapel at 7 p.m. The Middle School Club meets at Riverside Community Church on Tuesdays at 7 p.m. and is led by Tim Sinclair.
On Tuesdays, Riverside Community Church Youth Leaders Kyle McGowen and Lourdes Doerflinger join New to serve all-you-can-eat tacos, freshly baked cookies and beverages to more than 40 high school students.
“All kids love food,” McGowen said. “It’s really a great way to meet and connect with kids and give them a positive experience.”
On a recent Tuesday, three 16-year-old sophomores Brook Anderson, Kristina DeVoe and Aydin Berry, walked over to share the meal together. The trio met at Lincoln Middle School and became best friends. They are regular attenders at the Monday night Campus Life Club.
All said they appreciate how inclusive club activities are and they provide a safe and welcoming environment.
“I love all the people involved,” Berry said. “They are very nice and caring to everyone.” Anderson agreed and added, “The club activities are fun and very different. We do lots of crazy stuff.”
At a different table three other sophomores enjoyed the tacos and each other’s company. Sixteen-year-olds Shelby Trisler and Ian Shepherd and 15-year-olds Evie Smith and McKenzie Baker said they loved the free lunch and it wasn’t as noisy as the high school cafeteria so it was easier to talk to each other. They don’t attend club meetings but enjoy the weekly free lunch.
“The food is good and I love learning more about what’s going on in the community,” Trisler said. His friend Ian chimed in and said the tacos are good and he likes hanging out with his friends.
After eating, some of the guys gather at the other end of the gym and shoot hoops before heading back to class.
When the lunch began on Oct. 1, the attendance was 12-15 students. As word spread more began showing up and now 40-plus students regularly enjoy the meal.
As the first students arrived, Lourdes Doerflinger pulled freshly baked cookies from the oven. She said she has always loved connecting with kids.
“I wish I’d had an experience like this when I was growing up,” Doerflinger said. “I do this because I want to create a fun, safe place for kids to enjoy.”
High School CL Director Richard New also enjoys the time he shares with youth because he believes the world is becoming more and more challenging for the youth of today.
“It seems like there is a lack of available mentors for our next generation,” New said. “I’m just happy I have the opportunity to be available to be there for our future leaders.”