Summit County community gathers to recognize longtime youth mentors
Celebration of The Gallaghers
Sunday, May 15, 3-5 p.m.
103 Sawmill Rd, Breckenridge
Breckenridge residents Phil and Anne Gallagher have been writing the story of their lives in Summit County the last 15 years, and they’re about to start the next chapter.
After growing up in Illinois and Minnesota, respectively, the two met in college at Taylor University in tiny Upland, Indiana, and, as a married couple, found their way to the region to further develop the growing Summit County Youth (SCY) program. SCY in Breckenridge has been around for more than three decades, with a mission of inspiring healthy relationships between students and their families and peers through faith-based teachings, working with about 200 kids each year.
Initially expecting to be here no longer than three-to-five years, the Gallaghers fell for the scenic, small-town vibe and have been chronicling their lives and connecting with thousands of the area’s minors ever since. Once they arrived, they organized, along with adult volunteers, weekly SCY evening sessions for elementary, middle and high school students. They say the goal has always been to provide a fun, interesting and inclusive opportunity for all youths — most of who have never attended church or belong to a religion — to simply talk and learn about what it is to be a responsible human being.
“We all live very busy lives,” said Phil. “A lot of people live on auto-pilot but feel the depth of life and recognize there’s something more going on, so we want to offer an intentional space to engage. We challenge them with subjects that matter and students can explore spirituality and learn how to be compassionate, considerate individuals.”
Aside from the once-a-week evening meetings — Tuesday for grade schoolers, Thursday for middle and Sunday for high school — SCY attendees participate in winter retreats, weeklong summer travel out of state and occasionally international to countries like Honduras and Guatemala. There’s also weekly breakfasts for the middle and high school-aged members of the community with adult SCY volunteers and camp for the middle group. Always at the center of the curriculum is Phil’s penchant for storytelling.
His work and ability to spin a good yarn, and together their development of SCY’s GOODness Epidemic — a weeklong event each year focused on community-first activities — even landed him recognition as the 2013 recipient of The Summit Foundation’s David Olbright Outstanding Youth Mentor Award. At the end of this month, after a decade and a half in the county, three children later and feeling completely at home in the community, the Gallaghers will begin building a new narrative as they transition away from SCY and toward a new nonprofit they’re calling “More to Life.”
“He’s the word guy,” explained Anne, who in her full-time work manages the HOA in the Wellington Neighborhood where the Gallaghers live. “So when we started to think about stepping away from SCY, we wanted him to have an outlet and give him a place to use those gifts. It’s the same philosophies, you don’t have to ascribe to certain beliefs and anyone is welcome.”
The couple took a shot in the dark and started the “More to Life,” or MTR for short, meetings going on a year ago — what they call “Year Zero” — in order to gain a feel for its appeal and gauge the interest level. Presently, the group meets once every other Wednesday at the Breckenridge Grand Vacations Community Center for an hour from 6:30-7:30 p.m. over dessert and coffee.
“I like to joke that we start late and end early,” said Phil, who recently started a deejay business and now also officiates weddings. “I’ll start looking at my watch and then people say, ‘No, no, no, finish your story.”
With a tagline of See, Give, Live, the two envision MTR as a SCY for adults, meaning covering similar topics, again, in a deliberate environment and with no set expectations of those who choose to attend. So far, they have SCY alumni, parents of those who were previously involved in SCY, some of their current middle and high schoolers, 20-somethings, community members in their 60s and so on.
“There are a lot of people where church isn’t their thing, and they’re just looking for group of people,” said Phil. “We wanted to create an intentional space like that where people and families that come to this area have a positive place to go in the local community. Topics we’ve covered so far are life as a gift, forgiveness and seeing the world through the idea of there being enough for everybody and how that might change the way you live.”
“Phil and Anne really understand their faith in terms of those practical things,” said John Balma, a Breckenridge resident and former chief board member of SCY who initially recruited the Gallaghers to the county. “Starting with the grade-school level, they to give a picture to students that there’s more to life and just sports or school and begin to get them ready to starting thinking about how to do life.”
Granting that life remains a bit pieced together for the meantime, the Gallaghers may be stepping away from SCY, but they will remain in Summit County. Just as when they first arrived to Breckenridge, they still appreciate the familiarity of knowing most faces around town, their perceptions of being able to have a larger impact in a smaller community, and the entrepreneurial mindset they think brings many to the mountains. And with MTR, their new endeavor, the stories — and the telling of their own — also carries on.
“We’ve never known life here outside of SCY in Summit County, so the next phase will be an interesting one for us,” said Anne. “And in living life like a story, we like to ask people, ‘What would you look back on and wish you had done less or more of?’ and then suggest they live in a way now with that in my mind.”
“When you do what we do long enough, people contact you to talk about their problems,” said Phil. “I just want to try to pursue that a little more, see what happens and talk about the idea of living a good story in your life and what are the ingredients to a good life.”
Before he and Anne can transition entirely from Summit County Youth, however — and they still won’t completely with their three sons staying involved in the program — SCY is hosting a celebration of the Gallaghers this Sunday, May 15 from 3-5 p.m. at its offices at Breckenridge Christian Ministries, located at 103 Sawmill Road. All are invited to come honor the couple’s contributions to the local community and, most likely, also hear a story.
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