New youth director at Christiana
'Kids will be successful as long as we give them attention, as long as we mentor them.'
By Susan Shinn For The Salisbury Post
As an educator, Brittney Barnhardt wants her students to thrive. As the new youth director at Christiana Lutheran Church, she wants the same thing for the young people with whom she works.
“I have done youth work previously,” says Barnhardt, 35. “I’ve always felt like I needed to work with youth, so I went into teaching. I loved it, and I still love it. But this gives me a way to share my faith we really can’t do in public school.”
Barnhardt, a sixth-grade social studies teacher at China Grove Middle School, took on the part-time position in August. She’d seen an ad in the Salisbury Post, and decided to apply.
“I’ve always had that calling to be in youth ministry,” Barnhardt says.
At Christiana, Barnhardt leads the Little Thrive youth group of upper elementary students, as well as the Thrive@5 youth group for middle- and high-school students — so named because it meets twice monthly on Sundays at 5 p.m. She also directs the Thrive tutoring program on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons from 4 to 6 p.m. About 10 church members volunteer, serving some 15 students from Rockwell and Granite Quarry elementary schools, and Erwin Middle School. Two high school students also come to help and do their own homework.
Barnhardt is also focused on mission work. The Thrive@5 group has been doing community outreach, volunteering at Rowan Helping Ministries and the V.A. The youth group will be going to Costa Rica this summer to volunteer.
Barnhardt had a hand in creating the Thrive concept, new this year at Christiana.
“We want kids to thrive in their Christian walk,” she says.
Susanna Paskiewicz, the daughter of the Rev. Carl Haynes, Christiana’s pastor, developed the branding, Barnhardt says. “I gave her the ideas and she went with them.”
The word “Thrive,” Barnhardt explains, stands for Thankful, Hopeful, Redeemed, Inspired, Valued, Embraced.
“I see kids on all levels,” she says. “I see kids who come from single-parent families, from two-parent families and those being raised by grandparents. I see all of us together can make a huge difference. Kids will be successful as long as we give them attention, as long as we mentor them. We can give them that hope of Jesus Christ.”
Since Barnhardt’s arrival, the youth program is growing, with about 30 kids attending from Christiana and other nearby congregations.
“I’m thrilled to be here,” Barnhardt says. “This church is the most supportive and giving congregation I’ve ever been a part of. The kids are excited about Christ, excited to do things, and show others about Christ.”
The feeling is mutual.
“Brittney is doing a phenomenal job,” Haynes says. “Our youth group is growing. She brings an enthusiasm for her job and a love for the Lord. Her goal is to be in this job full-time, and it’s going to grow into that.”
“We love her,” says Christiana’s Bonnie Lowry. She and her husband, Scott, have three children, Carly, 15, Michael, 12, and Ainslee, 10, all active in the youth program. “I love her energy. Our children really like all of the activities. The kids aren’t just sitting in a room each week. They’re out and doing and seeing. The kids want to go to church.”
“The activities are fun, and I like to go places in the RV,” Ainslee says.
Barnhardt owns a 1977 Dodge Surveyor RV, and often loads it up for youth events.
“Brittney is amazing,” Carly says. “She is an outgoing and spiritual person, and her enthusiasm for her job is contagious among our youth group. She always brings out the best in all of us, and encourages us to bring any new people to church. I’m extremely proud to call this lovely lady my youth director.”
Over the years, Barnhardt has developed a strong faith. She lost her only sibling, her brother Bradley, 20 years ago, when she was 15.
“If you don’t have God, then you’re gonna be in a world of despair,” she says. “Our family has grown in our relationship with Christ because of Bradley’s legacy, and I think that’s why I’ve always had that calling. Our purpose on this earth is to share God’s love.”
During that difficult time, Barnhardt had strong support from her own youth leaders, with whom she still stays in touch.
“If I can be like my youth leaders, I’ll be doing really well,” she says.
A graduate of South Rowan High School, Barnhardt is a 2002 graduate of Catawba College, with a degree in religion and philosophy. She became a teacher through lateral entry, and has a master’s degree in administration from the University of Phoenix.
She remains close to her parents, Terry and Stacey Barnhardt, spends time with her friends, and loves to travel.
“Having summers off helps a lot,” Barnhardt says. “It’s definitely a balance. I love my life. I could not be any happier. I think my brother would be real proud.
Freelance writer Susan Shinn lives in Salisbury.