Two weekends each summer at Cairn, the gym is taken over by bouncy houses, middle schoolers in bright matching T-shirts trek elementary students around campus, and a llama inevitably poops by the back parking lot.
This is JAM (Junior High Adventures in Ministry). First occurring in 1995, this carnival-like youth intern event has since expanded into two of the most iconic weekends at Cairn. Each year, over 30 youth groups from the surrounding area bring their junior high students to Cairn to spend a weekend learning how to effectively share the gospel. After receiving training from Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) volunteers on Friday night, the middle school students prepare to share the gospel with a child on Saturday afternoon. The JAM weekend climaxes each year with Kids’ Day—an afternoon where busloads of children come for a day of fun on Cairn’s campus.
JAM is a 48-hour event for the junior high students and only a 4-hour event for the Kids’ Day participants. All of the simple, childish indulgences of stuffed animals, hot dogs, and puppet shows may make one assume that JAM is nothing more than a short day of fun. Yet, for the past 25 years, lives have been changed, initiatives have been started, and JAM has continually been credited for starting or playing a major role in those experiences.
Here are just a few of those stories.
Rose Bryant is the chair of programming at Lucien E. Blackwell Community Center in the Mill Creek neighborhood of Philadelphia. This state-of-the-art center offers an open gym for basketball, soccer clinics, and movie nights. Free breakfast and lunch are served daily, and students can use the computer lab to study or play games. The community center has only been open since October 2018, but providing activities for her neighborhood’s kids has been Rose’s mission for over 20 years.
Rose knew that the kids needed a safe place to hang out. Seeing that that
place did not yet exist in her neighborhood, she opened up her backyard, running book clubs and organizing games of tag and hide-and-seek.
“Inner city kids endure a lot,” says Rose. “I wanted to give them a safe place to just be kids.”
She didn’t have any funding, but her tenacity drove her to find free activities and programs for her kids. While attending a Push the Rock sports
camp in 1999, Rose was introduced to JAM. A free bus ride to a day of fun and a gospel presentation was exactly what Rose was looking for.
According to Rose, JAM is “a little piece of heaven. The kids can run, they can be themselves, and they have a buddy that pays them attention all day long. They like to sit outside in the grass and eat hot dogs—I don’t know what it is about those hot dogs. They just always taste better at JAM.”
JAM gave Rose a place to bring her neighborhood kids when she did not have any resources or funding. 20 years later, she is now able to serve these kids every day at the community center. But she is still bringing a busload of kids to Cairn every year for a very important reason: “I want to see Jesus, and I want them to know about Jesus so maybe one day they can see Him too. I love children, and the streets will eat them up. So when they’re on the streets, they can remember what they were taught at JAM and call on the name of Jesus.”
We’re helping at JAM this weekend. . . . Do you want to come?”
It only took this one question to get TD Bank manager Rick Carrion to volunteer at JAM for the next 15 years. In 2004, a few Cairn students went to the local bank to open accounts—nothing out of the ordinary. But their friendly conversation with the branch manager about their college majors and weekend plans changed everything:
“We were just talking. And then they told me about JAM. When they asked me if I wanted to help, I jumped at the chance. I love doing stuff like that for the community. So I got a bunch of volunteers together and we came over.”
What do you do at JAM?
We help serve lunch every year. We help wrap hot dogs, make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and ensure that all the food is prepped and ready for lunch on Kids’ Day. We then bring all of the food out and help distribute it to the 500-some kids who come every year.
Who volunteers with you?
I broadcast this opportunity to the whole company to see who would be interested in helping out. The majority of the people are those who I know are in the area—other branch managers or other team members in our bank. But because I invite everyone at TD Bank, there are people I don’t even know who show up. Over the past few years, it’s been nice to see them bring their family members as well.
What keeps you coming back?
It’s such a rewarding experience; my colleagues say the same thing. I love seeing all of the smiles on their faces. The kids are all so polite. To see the type of demeanor they have and how grateful they are for the experience they’re having—that’s the rewarding part. It takes nothing to come here a couple hours on a Saturday and do that when you know that you’re making a difference in a kid’s life—even just for a day.
Growing Hearts for Ministry
Bouncy houses, puppet shows, and BMX bikes are just a few of the reasons why Josh Reoun recalls Kids’ Day as “the highlight of my summer when I was a kid.”
Living in a low-income neighborhood in Northeast Philadelphia, Josh and his classmates at Logan Hope School rarely had the opportunity to leave the city. Kids’ Day was the time for Josh and his friends to have a fun day enjoying the food, games, and entertainment scattered around the grounds of Cairn’s campus.
Josh’s childhood memories of JAM are from over a decade ago. But to the credit of junior high kids at JAM who “explained the gospel to me in a fun and understandable way,” Josh grew a heart for ministry, and he decided to pursue a degree in youth and family ministry at Cairn. Now attending JAM—this time as a leader—he has a broader perspective on the weekend:
“I understand JAM more, and I really appreciate the philosophy of it. Training junior high students to share the gospel one-on-one with each of the kids is so effective; the small age gap between the students and the kids makes it easier for them to understand one another.”
Josh still loves everything about JAM that he did as a kid: the bouncy houses, the puppets, the BMX bike shows. But his favorite part? Seeing Logan Hope School return to campus every year.
“I really have a heart for the students at Logan Hope; I used to be one of them. It’s awesome to see that they’re able to learn about Jesus and have a blast doing so.”
“On the first day of school, I had multiple kids come up to me and ask, ‘When’s Kids’ Day?’ They talk about it all year long. They love being able to run outside on the grass, win a stuffed animal at bingo, and pet the live animals. . . . Even though they go to a Christian school and hear the gospel daily, my kids benefit from JAM because they get to see kids just a little bit older than them living out what it means to be a Christian and share the gospel with others.”Kristy (Douglas) Godwin ’15
Teacher at Gospel of Grace Christian School in Cheltenham, PA
Bringing children from her school to JAM since 2018
Kevin has run a for-profit business that helps families—mostly of middle or upper income—through the process of college admissions and financial aid for more than 20 years. When asked by his church to help bring a rowdy bunch of junior high students to JAM, Kevin didn’t think any more of it than an opportunity to give back to the youth group his kids were attending. But God was working in Kevin’s heart, and for the next decade of JAM weekends, Kevin would feel a growing compassion and desire to help children who couldn’t afford the services his business offered.
After a long, heartfelt conversation with a struggling single mother at JAM, Kevin felt the prodding of the Holy Spirit to start a nonprofit more than he ever had before. It was that afternoon that Kevin wrote the plan for what would become Wise Up, a 503c status nonprofit that helps at-risk students through the overwhelming process of college admissions and financial aid with an added benefit of providing each student with an adult mentor through college graduation—all at no cost to the student.
Currently, Wise Up is helping 20 students, and with more funding they foresee helping an additional 25 at any given time. Wise Up partners with community organizations to identify students who are in need and driven to go to college. Kevin hopes that one day, he will be able to offer these services to a student he has met through JAM.
“Even though my kids have long since left the youth group, I still return to JAM so I can share the experience with the next generation of young people. JAM gets me re-energized and reminds me about how God is using my unique expertise and skills to serve students and show them the love of Christ.”
Cultivating Spiritual Growth
Many JAM connections are made through alumni. This is exactly how Jessica (Hogue) Griffin ’18 ended up coming to JAM as a junior high student and later to Cairn as a Christian studies major. She grew up attending Fellowship Bible Church in Winchester, VA, where Mike Lukens ’91 was
her youth pastor. Mike had met Matt when he studied at Cairn, so he was eager to bring his youth group back to Cairn’s campus when JAM first started. Now a recent University graduate, Jessica still testifies to the lasting impact of JAM in her life as both a junior high student and as a student-leader:
What did you like most about JAM as a junior high student?
During my first year, I was partnered with a six-year-old girl who had never heard the gospel before. After sitting down with her at the end of the day and presenting the Good News, she prayed with me and spent the rest of the afternoon proclaiming that she was now a Christian! It was one of the sweetest, most humbling moments of my walk with Christ. JAM was an opportunity to witness the incredible power of evangelism and the work of
the Holy Spirit! I remember coming home with a new fire and enthusiasm in living out the gospel in my own life.
What made you want to serve at JAM in college?
After having the opportunity to witness the growth of middle schoolers, both personally and through watching others, I was so excited to be a part of JAM once again during college. It was an honor to join the team each year! Fun fact: I met my husband (Arthur “AJ” Griffin ’16) while serving at JAM!
Why do you believe JAM is a valuable experience for junior high students?
Before JAM, I can honestly say that I had never learned about evangelism outside of loving others and reciting John 3:16. Evangelism is at the core of Christianity, and Jesus calls us to make disciples of all men and women. This training does not–and should not–wait until high school or college (or later!). CEF is equipped to train teenagers and beyond, and their program for JAM is concise and engaging. JAM has transformed my life and walk with Christ. It opened up my eyes to other parts of the world, nurtured my compassion for the lost, inspired me to pursue Christ daily, and changed my perspective on evangelism.
After helping out with JAM throughout her time as a student, education major Paige Schamko ’16/G’16 was always open to the idea of one day bringing her own classroom to JAM for Kids’ Day. When that classroom ended up being a third grade class in a public school in Kensington, it seemed like bringing her classroom to hear the gospel on a Christian school campus would be an uphill battle.
In an effort to get her classroom on Cairn’s campus, Matt McAlack set Paige
up with Christina Saxon, who worked at a church local to Paige’s school. Coming from the church, Christina was able to meet with the principal to ask for permission to invite Paige’s classroom to JAM. Paige was able to hand out flyers in her classroom later that same day.
The parents were happy for me to take the kids off their hands for an afternoon,” said Paige. “After we returned from JAM, I had a lot of parents thanking me for bringing their kids and saying that their kids wouldn’t stop talking about it. I knew this was something I had to keep doing.”
Her students are hearing the gospel—some for the first time—on Cairn’s campus, but the impact of JAM goes far beyond the events of Kids’ Day. The junior high group that Paige’s classroom was paired up with decided they wanted all of her kids to own their own Bible. The group pitched in the funds so Paige could purchase a copy for every child in her class.
“There are 19 families in Philadelphia who now have the Bible in their homes, and that is a direct result of Kids’ Day,” said Paige. “Those Bibles can now be read by anyone living in those homes.” Additionally, her students are now connected with a gospel-preaching church in their area, and
Paige has the opportunity to have more gospel-centered conversations with the parents of her students.
JAM may just be one weekend, and Kids’ Day may just be four hours, but God has used JAM over the past 25 years to do great things. Whether it’s bringing Bibles to the homes of public school students or sharing the love of Christ through hot dogs, JAM stands as a testament to the eternal impact of serving Christ through the seemingly simple.