Students support kids in need at Unitarian Universalists Congregation


Community High School students Shannon Kahan and Elizabeth Shaieb are having some fun while wrapping apples in pastry. Both have been attending UUAA and giving back to the community for years. “I like getting involved in things like this [volunteering],” Shaieb said. “But also, I don’t have a lot of opportunities to volunteer so I like to give back here [UUAA].”

On Nov. 17, the members of Young Religious Unitarian Universalists — also known as YRUU, a youth program at the Unitarian Universalists Congregation of Ann Arbor (UUAA) — came together to start their annual apple dumpling fundraiser. “It feels really good to give back to the community, especially when you’re doing it with people you really enjoy being around,” said Shannon Kahan, a long-time member of UUAA. “Just volunteering is such an important thing, and it’s really great to be able to do it here.”

The peeled apples are ready to be turned into dumplings. Over 450 apples were peeled and wrapped in pastry in a span of about two hours.

Every year, the members of YRUU gather to make apple dumplings as part of a fundraiser for  the Peace Neighborhood Center. They make hundreds of dumplings every year and sell them after UUAA Sunday services for the following weeks. “I really like doing things like this specifically because you put in the work,” said Geneve Thomas-Palmer, a sophomore from Community High School and a member of the YRUU program. “It’s not like you’re just giving money towards a charity where you don’t really know what’s happening to it. With this fundraiser, we’re the ones making the food that’s bringing in the money. We’re the ones purchasing the gifts. We’re involved in everything that’s happening.”

Geneve Thomas-Palmer packages the apple dumplings in bags of two. She had been going to UUAA since she was in second grade and has found a new home in her congregation.

All of the money raised goes toward supporting the children and families at the Peace Neighborhood Center. In mid-December, the members of YRUU will get together and take a trip to the local Meijer, where they will buy holiday gifts for the kids at Peace Neighborhood Center who would otherwise not be receiving holiday gifts.

However, UUAA gives the community mores than just apple dumplings. They have a plethora of opportunities for their members to get involved and help their communities. “I personally think that everybody has their purpose in life, and I think my purpose in life is to help other people,” said Anja Jacobson, a junior at Community High School and a recently joined member of the congregation. “Some people say that it’s sad that my purpose in life isn’t something involving myself, but I genuinely think the reason God put me here was to help other people’s lives become improved. And I think that being a member of UUAA and YRUU helps me do that.”

The UUAA congregation has a very unique spiritual growth and development program that supports youth along their journey of personal discovery. The program exposes youth to a wide range of religions and calls upon youth to develop a personal credo representing their own beliefs which is presented in front of the entire congregation. “It’s a way to just see different perspectives on life,” Thomas-Palmer said. “When you’re a younger kid, you often think that the way you see the world is the way everyone else sees the world, but you slowly learn that that’s not true.”

From religious and spiritual discovery, to sexual education classes, to engaging in volunteer work in the community, UUAA has created an unparalleled environment for their youth.“Throughout the week, I’m just looking forward to going to church,” Thomas-Palmer said. “Whenever I’m having a bad week or just a bad day, and I come to church, I just feel surrounded with love. And even if my closest friends aren’t there, I still feel like everyone there cares about me to some extent, I’d never feel alone.”