Amazing Grace met The Amazing Race on Saturday as nearly 300 junior high and high-school students took on challenges Saturday at Liberty Station.

But they had to do something for others, not just themselves.

In keeping with sponsoring Rock Church’s emphasis on local service, entrants were invited to step out of their comfort zones and find a sense of community in their “tribal” groups.

“This day is called the Do Something Church Race, a very creative way for students to have fun but most importantly give back to the city,” said Allison Mercer, a student pastor at Rock Church.

Twenty-two stations were created, similar to an “American Ninja Warrior” course, including ones that gave brains a workout in a trivia game and served other young people.

“What if we do something like ‘The Amazing Race’ but include opportunities for kids to give back?” Mercer said organizers figured.

The 6th- to 12th-graders are at an impressionable age, she said — when their decisions help form who they will become. The winning team chose which charity would receive $1,000.

“We always encourage our students: Do you want to be a consumer or a contributor?” she said. “And we want them to understand it’s OK to go somewhere and ‘Hey, I’m going to get something.’ But at the same time: What are you giving back?”

On Saturday, those opportunities included creating welcome baskets for young adults transitioning out of foster homes into housing of their own.

Students gathered kitchen utensils and appliances, decorated the packaging and wrote notes of encouragement to the foster youths.

Participants also worked on a beautification project with the Point Loma Association’s “Mean Green Team” by pulling weeds and laying down mulch. They wrote notes to preschoolers and parents for the first day of school at Rock Academy in Point Loma.

And the kids made colorful yarn pompoms for a mural, “Brian and the Bugs,” at the New Children’s Museum.

Emily Yu, a spokeswoman for the downtown museum, said: “This experience will not only help us reach more families in our community with free art kits, but also further engage teenagers to get more involved.”

Working as a team and developing relationships were important parts of the equation.

“We were really intentional about every experience to help bring kids together. So for example, we wanted to make sure that kids did not compete by themselves,” Mercer said.

“Through the past year and a half, students have essentially been isolated — gotten used to not going out and communicating with people. Through these groups, we want you to get back into understanding that you being in community and having fun with friends is actually part of life.”

Challenges included “Tongues of Fire,” in which representatives of each group chose to eat XXtra Flamin’ Hot Cheetos with tabasco sauce, a green chili pepper or “Da’ Bomb Beyond Insanity” hot sauce rated at 135,000 Scoville units. (Bread and milk were on hand for those needing relief.)

G3Kids, a youth-centric gym in Liberty Station, invited entrants to complete an obstacle course featuring balance and parkour challenges. Kids also walked shoeless over tiny Lego bricks and used cushioned jousting poles to knock each other off their pedestals.
The physical activities won rave reviews.

“We had a lot of fun,” said Amaya Hudson, 15. “It’s just nice to be outside. A lot of the people in my group don’t get out a lot. It’s nice to be out here, spending time together.”

Malekai Dillon, 11, of Rock Church said he enjoyed the new experiences and challenges, and hanging out with new people.

With COVID variants and guidelines in flux, the race wasn’t a forgone conclusion. Three weeks ago, organizers decided to stage the event primarily outdoors.

Making contributions to the San Diego area is nothing new for Rock Church, although the youth race is in its inaugural year.

“That’s in our DNA,” said Mercer, known as Pastor Allie . “Letting the community know that we are here, not only when tragedy happens but all the time 24/7. So even when COVID hit, we spent hours upon hours putting together N-95 masks.”

Church members assembled a couple hundred thousand masks, she said.

“We spent time asking the city: What is it that you need? And we’re going to provide spaces for us — rally up our volunteers, our community, to help serve the city.”

About eight other churches also took part in the race, including New Vision Church, Pacific Beach Presbyterian Church, Zion Church, Torrey Pines Church. Wesley United Methodist Church and Mission Trails Church.

“I think the really cool thing about seeing youth ministries come together is that youth ministries in history’s time have been very territorial,” Mercer said. Like: ‘Hey, your kids here, your kids (there).’ And we decided like: Hey, we’re actually better together.”

Mercer said the youth race is just a fraction of what they’ve been doing this summer. Every Friday night, they host events that are safe for kids to come out with the assistance of other churches.

“We really believe that … the Do Something Church Race will be something that we do in different parts of San Diego with the hope that those areas will be impacted in a positive way because kids are going to give back to those areas,” Mercer said.

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