Simpson Youth Academy

Simpson Youth Academy SYA is year-long educational program for high school students to explore issues of faith and social justice.

At the Simpson Youth Academy we believe that young people have power and gifts that are essential for the healing of the world, not just in the distant future, but now. Grounded in the Christian tradition and utilizing resources from the United Methodist Church, we are an ecumenical community of youth and adult mentors who explore deep theological questions and take action, in order to equip youth to live into their vocations as agents of peace and justice in the church and world.

At SYA we believe that our faith must address the most pressing issues of our times. So please pray for our deferring sc...

At SYA we believe that our faith must address the most pressing issues of our times. So please pray for our deferring scholars & our alumni as these two cohorts come together for their first virtual sessions this week to wrestle with where God is amidst pandemic, protests, & pain; & how we are called to respond as leaders in the body of Christ. Thank you all for your support which makes this vital ministry possible!

Our wonderful Advisory Team met last week to pray, discern, & plan. Thank you so much to these visionary leaders for the...

Our wonderful Advisory Team met last week to pray, discern, & plan. Thank you so much to these visionary leaders for their commitment to our young people!

SYA is excited to present two alternative virtual options for young people this summer:"Faith & Leadership in Times of C...

SYA is excited to present two alternative virtual options for young people this summer:

"Faith & Leadership in Times of Crisis" will give our deferring students an opportunity to gather to build skills for Christian leadership during the COVID-19 crisis.

"The Prophetic Imagination Cohort" will give alumni a chance to regather to explore the Biblical prophets' practices of grieving & hoping and to express their own grief & hope.

SYA students - contact us to register before June 1. Send prayers for our students and staff as we dive in!

The SYA Alumni board held a special Listening Session this weekend to discern our way forward amidst COVID-19. Stay tune...

The SYA Alumni board held a special Listening Session this weekend to discern our way forward amidst COVID-19. Stay tuned for some announcements about SYA opportunities this summer for young people to be supported & equipped as leaders during this challenging time! We are proud of this group & their commitment to walking alongside youth amidst uncertainty.

We're THRILLED that a dream of ours is coming to fruition - the Simpson Youth Academy will be hosting a state-wide ecume...

We're THRILLED that a dream of ours is coming to fruition - the Simpson Youth Academy will be hosting a state-wide ecumenical gathering for adult leaders who work with high school youth!

The Called & Sent 2020 youth leaders training day will provide clergy, youth pastors, and volunteers concrete skills to more effectively nurture teenagers as Christian leaders. It will also provide attendees new connections to colleagues with whom to learn throughout the year. So please join us as we share what we are learning, gather your wisdom and insights, and connect youth leaders to one another. The training is August 8th from 10:00-2:00 at Walnut Hills UMC in Urbandale, IA. You don't want to miss this! (Virtual training will be provided if COVID restrictions inhibit physical gathering). CEU credits are offered for UMC clergy. Email director Eric Rucker - [email protected] - for details and registration!

Welcome to our five new SYA Alumni Board members - Madison, Avery, Nathan, Vincent, & Kylee! These students will join th...

Welcome to our five new SYA Alumni Board members - Madison, Avery, Nathan, Vincent, & Kylee! These students will join the growing ranks of our board to receive more leadership formation this year & to assist SYA in our programming. We are grateful for their gifts!

Dear Youth Academy community, It’s with great sadness that we have decided to cancel the Simpson Youth Academy summer re...

Dear Youth Academy community,

It’s with great sadness that we have decided to cancel the Simpson Youth Academy summer residency in June of 2020. This decision is made in concert with Simpson College at large, who has prohibited any on-campus activity during that time. We made this decision because the safety and health of our students and staff is our first priority. Though we considered a re-formatting of the program (online, etc.), we ultimately decided not to take this route this summer, since the incarnational, communal, and relational aspects of the program are so central to its power to transform lives.

That being said, we are still heartbroken - supporting youth and nurturing them as Christian leaders is the central passion of this organization. And losing opportunities to do so is disappointing.

BUT this cancellation does not change our commitment to continue supporting young people. At SYA we emphasize the importance of adaptive leadership in the face of change, and we will embody this type of leadership as we move forward together. In fact we believe that, at this time in particular, the Spirit calls us into creative engagement to form young adult leaders for social change.

So please stay tuned, because we will still be getting to work over the next year - engaging young people in theological reflection, nurturing youth as leaders through formation opportunities, and gathering support to assure that this vital program is available to future youth.

We are able to meet these challenges because of the courage and resilience of each one of you - and especially our young people. And we have faith that God will continue to work through our students to heal this world, if we are available to new possibilities emerging.

Please be safe, love one another, and stay tuned for ways to support our youth community moving forward.

- Eric Rucker, SYA Director

Check out our second graduation reflection below from Jerad, an SYA scholar who attends Immanuel United Methodist Church...

Check out our second graduation reflection below from Jerad, an SYA scholar who attends Immanuel United Methodist Church. For his project, Jared organized peers from across different central Iowa high schools for study, prayer, and service, culminating in a large-group event to encourage students in their faith!

"I attended SYA this past summer. The ten days there were enlightening and amazing. They allowed me and twenty-three other high schoolers an opportunity to see the importance and impact of faith on people’s lives, regardless of their background or prior experiences. We built a community of active learners and dedicated followers who helped each other grow. The summer residency had so many amazing parts. From taking field trips to see first hand how vocations look in the world, to meeting in covenant groups to discuss our own vocations.

A lot of us showed up scared, not really sure where our faith was compared to others. But quickly we realized we were all in different places, but that we have the same destination. That allowed us to open up about our beliefs and share our perspectives. My faith personally has been impacted by this. By opening up about my faith at SYA I’m now able to open up and share it with people everyday without the fear of judgement. As a leader, SYA motivated me to do more. I saw a lot of problems in the world at SYA, and a lot of them are bigger than just one teenager. But I feel motivated to find problems that I can manage and do everything I can to help.

Finally fellow scholars, we never had a chance to say proper goodbyes. We never got our final chance to laugh and enjoy time together. Because of that I want to challenge you all. Let us spend everyday not knowing if it’s our last time with others. Let this moment be a remembrance of how not everything is promised:

'Look straight ahead, and fix your eyes on what lies before you. Mark out a straight path for your feet; stay on a safe path. Don’t get sidetracked; keep your feet from following evil.” Proverbs 4:25-27'"

To empower future SYA students, you can give a gift here:

PROJECT FEATURE: For her community project this year, one of our students wrote and preached a sermon at her church - Wa...

PROJECT FEATURE: For her community project this year, one of our students wrote and preached a sermon at her church - Walnut Hills United Methodist Church. Take a few minutes to be challenged and encouraged by her words below!

My name is Brooklynn and I am currently a junior at Waukee High School. As some of you may know, I attended the Simpson Youth Academy this past summer. This is a program that you have to get nominated for, and then complete an application process full of recommendations and essays. When accepted, about 24 of us got to live on Simpson Campus for about a week and a half. These 24 youth are all from different religions but we were able to come together to share. When we were there we considered it a college experience. It was full of faithful classes, worship, and service projects as well as free time. Following the summer residency, we picked a local mentor to help guide us through a project of our choosing. To help us stay connected and grow through our projects we also have weekend retreats, one in the fall and one next weekend. SYA helps people from all over Iowa get connected and grow in our faith while focusing on a couple of main topics throughout the week.

One idea we focused on was the difference between the act of service and the act of justice. At Simpson, I was able to experience both and here are some examples. Every other morning, we would go on a trip to either learn about a new topic or do a service. One day, we went to a homeless shelter with the option of either making bags out of shirts or serving a meal. It was a great experience helping others, so when we got back to Simpson College, we talked about how that was an act of service. Service is putting a bandaid on the issue. Some of you may be more familiar with calling these works of service either ‘works of mercy’ or ‘works of charity,’ but it all means the same thing.

So in this example, we helped eliminate some of the struggles when living this lifestyle. Service is very important to start experiencing different issues and how unfair some may be. When experiencing these problems, it pushes the thought to try to change this issue from occurring. Now, this is an example of justice. Justice is changing the problem in order to stop it from occurring. This takes bravery and passion, but it is not impossible. Honestly, we need more people in this world to be comfortable with the idea of justice to actually start making the change it needs. When people hear about an issue, usually their first instinct is to donate money. This is a great start, but it is also just an act of service. It’s easy to give money or an hour of our time to help the problem and then call it good for the day. This is never enough to make a change. In order to make a change, we need to use our voice.

At SYA we learned how important our voice is. One priority of the week was to gain confidence in ourselves in order to feel comfortable using our voice. One of the phrases repeated throughout the week was ‘the youth are the future.’ This helped motivate all of us in order to go out and do justice. We learned no matter an introvert or extrovert, our voices are all important. We learned no matter what race, sexuality, or faith we are, our voices are all important. A lot of youth feel as though they don’t have enough power yet to use their voice. That an adult might not even listen to what we have to say, but this is not true. There have been multiple movements recently led by youth. Here's one example: The Sunrise Movement is led by youth in order to stop climate change. The young adult who created this idea came to talk to us at SYA. She explained how she used her voice in order to use justice which has now turned global. Along with this idea, many youth have been involved in climate strikes, most of which are planned by them. When we have examples of youth empowering the world around us, it makes us more comfortable with the fact that we can do it too. Although I have mostly talked about the voices of the youth, all of you here this morning, no matter your age, are important too. Nobody is ever too old to stand up for what they believe in, and the more people that do speak up, the more possible the change is.

Now, I’m standing up here using my voice, and although I’d rather not be doing this due to my introverted personality, I feel it is important. The fact that I am stepping out of my comfort zone is huge for me. Never would I have thought I would be standing up here talking in front of a large group of people, but here I am. Having grown up here within these walls, I feel it is a safe place. This is an example of an act of justice. I’m trying to make a change and inspire others to do the same. During that week I felt very inspired to use my voice, so I’m hoping everything I learned that week can inspire you in just a short sermon. When we feel motivated to make a change, it is the best time to act on it. The thing is, you shouldn’t just do something once. It’s important to continue doing justice so that it becomes a habit for your body. It takes 21 days to change a habit. I know this habit is much bigger than some other typical habits, but it’s important to consider. Even if it is a little step every day in order to achieve a larger goal of justice, it could turn into a habit. These acts of justice don’t need to be huge. It could look like buying a coffee for someone, and not only buying it but sitting down and talking to the individual as well. It could be getting in contact with different social justice organizations and becoming a part of the group. Whether you become a part of this group in the next two weeks, or sometime this year. It could also be related to the climate change issue and maybe you buy reusable products so you cut back on your plastic use. Here are some examples of what I’ve done: I have participated in two work trips where we did different acts of both service and justice. I have picked multiple angels off the angel tree in winter and delivered the gifts to the families while hearing their stories and spending time with them during the giving season. There are many different opportunities around our community to get involved with social justice. More people just need the determination to act on this and get involved to truly make a change.

A quote from Martin Luther King Jr. states, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is. ‘What are you doing for others?’” It’s very easy for us to get so caught up in our own lives that it feels like we don’t have enough time to serve others. This all stems from having the right mindset. It’s very easy to have the mindset of, ‘I need to care about myself first and others later.’ Although it is important to look after your own health and mind, it’s just as important to do that for others as well, and this ‘others’ category could be human or not. Think about the climate change issue. Although it really isn’t affecting our health personally, we should still care about the issue and want to resolve it. The Earth’s health is not in great shape. We have multiple wildfires, pollution crowding the ocean, and destroying animals’ homes. There are simple ways to change how you live to help reduce these issues. It’s all about the growth mindset. As long as we are willing to analyze these issues and make a change resulting from them in order to help, it can go a long way. Your community that surrounds you and gives you energy is just as important as you are.

I’ve recently looked back on my life and realized where I spend most of my energy. I want you all to think about this for a second. Where do you spend your most energy? Where do you spend your least? For me, being a junior in high school I spend most of my energy toward schoolwork. For those out of school, it could be work, or grandchildren, or maybe even social media. I feel we should spread this energy out. I want to give some of my energy from schoolwork to my volunteering area and some more to my relationships area. Think about what you could do to transfer some of your energy. Hopefully, you think about putting some energy toward social justice. More energy pushes for more change, and spreading that energy can help you find where you enjoy putting it the most. This feeling could also relate to what you feel called to do. If your mind is telling you that maybe you need to put more energy toward your relationships, you could consider what you’re being called to do, even if it is just for a smaller time period.

At SYA our overall focus was to find our vocation. This is where our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need; it is where we feel called to serve. In simpler terms, it relates to what I was explaining before; the idea of being called to do something to make change. Throughout the week I struggled with finding an exact vocation, but in the end I knew what I needed to do. With how much that week opened my eyes, I wanted to pass that along. I am a big believer of the idea of filling someone's bucket. Although it is a story I learned in elementary school, I still feel it is one of the most important stories I’ve learned. With that, I believe it should be shared throughout our life so we never forget the story. This is why I choose to volunteer, making it a big part of my life. I always feel good after helping someone else feel good. Simpson helped open my eyes to more social justice organizations which is where I’m starting to head now that I feel confident with volunteering. SYA helped me see a new perspective of what I need to do to continue my love of volunteering. I believed the inspiration, motivation, and passion I felt during that week should be shared. This is why I’m up here. Over the rest of the summer, we had to come up with a project relating to our vocation. This is my project. Standing up here and spreading my knowledge and passion with all of you is what I chose to do. I even had the opportunity to choose the music we are singing today. They all have a meaning behind why I picked it so I encourage you to think about that as you’re singing. Music was a very important part of my Simpson experience.

In about a month, all of the youth from SYA will get together and celebrate our projects by presenting them. I want all of you to be a part of my project so I’ve got some homework for you. Don’t worry, I promise it’ll be more rewarding then any math class. To show how supportive of a congregation you are, I challenge you all to think about what I have said over the next two weeks, and hopefully apply it in your own life. Again, social justice doesn’t have to be a huge thing. It can be whatever pushes you out of your comfort zone a little, but also makes you feel comfortable. I would prefer you all bring something back to me to show what you did. Whether you became involved with an organization and bring back a brochure, or write a reflection after your experience saying what you did and how it made you feel, or bring a picture, I want to collect them. You can use any of the ideas I talked about earlier, or come up with your own. There is no wrong way to do this. I will keep my bucket here so you all can be a part of filling my bucket. Drop whatever artifact you brought in there so I can reflect on how my voice was heard. Feel free to jot down a goal on a piece of paper you have for later in the year. I’m giving you two weeks to decide what you want to do so it can be the best choice for you individually. Then in two weeks I’ll be here with my bucket, and hopefully it can be filled to the top by all of you. Remember the artifact doesn’t need to be huge, but I would like to reflect on how I’ve made a change. I hope you all consider going out and making a change whether it’s big or small. And don’t be afraid to reach out to me if you need any assistance during this experience.

Before I conclude, I would like to thank Jean for being my mentor throughout this whole process. I appreciate your encouragement, prayers, and time.

And thank you all for helping to fill my bucket this morning by letting my voice be heard, and now I encourage all of you to go out and help me fill my bucket while filling your own bucket too.

Thank you.


701 North C Street
Indianola, IA

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Tuesday 09:00 - 17:00
Wednesday 09:00 - 17:00
Thursday 09:00 - 17:00
Friday 09:00 - 17:00


(515) 961-1406


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Evening music improv!!
Lillian and the skinny Eric
Introducing Lillian and the skinny Eric! 😂