By Virtue First Foundation,
Kids are Canaries; Virtues are Mustard Seeds! That seemed to be the underlying message of the second annual Virtue First Foundation Conference held at Corban University in Salem, June 16. The mission of the Foundation is the promoting of virtue to re-build the character of America.
Seven Northwest motivational speakers provided an inspirational presentation and re-charged the spiritual batteries of those in attendance, which included teachers and coaches, business and youth leaders, parents and students. The half-day conference was a cooperative effort on the part of the Virtue First Foundation, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and Corban University.
Speakers at the conference included:
Dave Johnson, Greg Bradstreet, David Stavros, Randy Traeger, Jeramy Williams, Wally Ybarra, Tony Smith, Don Robison, Dr. John Vawter, Jason Kidd, and Erma Brundidge.
The Virtue speakers were well-experienced in working with youth. Several of them had struggled to overcome personal difficulties in their own younger years.
Wally Ybarra is a counselor, youth pastor and advocate. He came from poverty, was abandoned by his father and raised by a mother who struggled. Ybarra was involved in gangs, violence, and drugs– ultimately incarcerated for choices he made.
“Virtue First” founder Randy Traeger pointed out that Wally “eventually rose from the streets, gave his life to Christ, and became a graduate of one of the best private universities in America. He now invests tons of energy in seeing lives change…lives transformed.”
Ybarra conveyed the message that much of today’s youth have an “I don’t care” attitude and have no fear of failure. “Many are meth addicts,” he says, “who embrace the street-life with no confidence in life itself or in the future, and with no trust in people. They have a negative outlook on everything.”
Wally mentioned how American society suffered through the Great Depression of the 30’s and how people then sought to band together for a positive change. Ybarra emphasized the “building of relationships” as the motivational instrument in effecting such a positive direction in society. “Loving people and trusting them as winners” becomes a magnetic force.
Speaker Jeremy Williams has been involved in youth ministry for 17 years. He was a two-time All-American football player at Western Oregon University and assistant football coach at McNary High School for 14 years. He was named the city of Keizer’s “First Citizen” in 2011. He recently accepted a position as College Director at Salem Alliance Church.
His message emphasized the communicative value of “listening” when working with youth and that merely “hearing” them is not adequate. Rather, careful listening is the key to building a relationship. This message was echoed by several of the conference speakers. Williams referred to the statement of Robert Montgomery who said, “Are you really listening…or are you just waiting for your turn to talk?”
Tony Smith, athletic director and head football coach at St. Paul High School, has been teaching and coaching for over 25 years in Oregon. He described the underlying disturbances of many young students who come to school each day with a family background (or even a lack of family) which represents deplorable conditions, emotionally and/or physically. That is the gigantic challenge of the teachers and coaches who try to teach their subject matter to an unhappy student, an unhappy human being.
Keynote speaker Erma Brundidge worked as a Family Therapist for over 24 years. Since retiring from her own practice, she has worked as a trainer with the State of Oregon for 11 years, training Foster and Adoptive Parents. She has dedicated her life to be an advocate for children whose voices are not being heard in schools, churches, and treatment facilities.
Erma likewise conveyed the importance of the need of effective communication among the youthful members of our society and their educators, youth and business leaders, parents/guardians, and peers. She indicated that the bond of love, of caring for and helping others, is a powerful psychological force in raising up the fallen youth, often the innocent victims of negative circumstances and conditions which plague their daily life.
Virtue First conference director Randy Traeger looks upon our national youth as the vigilant “canaries” of our times. He points out that “it is well known that animals and other living things can be used to detect a problem before people become aware of it. These are called sentinel animals or indicative species.”
Indeed, for more than a century, canaries were used in coal mines to detect toxic gases. They became sick before people became sick, thus giving miners a chance to escape. But there were limits to what the canaries could tell the miners.
Dead canaries didn’t tell where the gas was coming from or the specific type of toxic gas present in the min. Once the canary fell off its perch, the miners know they were facing a hazard, but had to investigate further to find the source, exact nature and severity of the problem…and then decide what to do about it.
“Today’s kids are the ‘canaries’ of our times,” Traeger says. “They are dropping off their perches in droves, and it seems like very few people are paying attention to the disaster they are foretelling: the death of character; the vulgarity and violence in our society; drug and alcohol abuse; sexual promiscuity and sexual abuse; unemployment and the pressure it puts on families, and the overall decline in our standard of living. In their day, canaries in a coal mine communicated the presence of a problem by silently expiring.”
However, Traeger continues. “Promoting virtue is like sowing mustard seeds. We go about scattering seed on the ground and, day in and day out, while we continue to do our work, the seed sprouts and grows, though we really don’t understand how that happens.”
Is Traeger optimistic? He explains that “spreading the good news about virtue can start in the smallest of ways, just as the mustard seed is the smallest of seeds on earth. Yet, when planted, the seed grows and becomes the largest of all the garden plants which such big branches that all the birds (canaries) can rest under the shade of its limbs!”
The recent Virtue First Foundation Conference was an effort to encourage people to diligently keep spreading those mustard seeds (virtue). Traeger realizes, “We don’t know exactly how or where they will take root, but rest assured they will sprout and grow so that ‘canaries’ can take comfort and rest under the peaceful shade cast by virtue.”
Indeed, those who attended and participated in the Virtue Conference walked away with a clearer understanding of today’s “canaries” and the urgent need for the spreading of “mustard seeds.”
“Virtue First” founder Randy Traeger may be reached at 503-910-2072. Email: [email protected]
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