One of the things that we champion is people who make a difference in the lives of others. Erin Olson and Tucson Student Ministries step into the lives of students through performing arts and honest conversations around topics such as anxiety, drugs, mental health, and more.
She is a pioneer in Tucson who has a heart not only for teens but to equip parents as we enter into unknown territory with our kids.
Recently, we had the opportunity to partner with Erin and her team as they took a spoken word that Valerie from our team wrote and Erin and her team then turned it into a performance that is so powerful!
That video will be launched on Monday, April 4th on our Reclaimed Story's social media platforms and Youtube.
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students, volunteers, reclaimed, student ministries, youth groups, Erin, community, Tucson, god, life, amazing, website, anxiety, hope, people, social media, big, love, podcast, performance
Erin Olson, Denisha Workizer
Denisha Workizer 00:00
One of the things that we champion is people who make a difference in the lives of others. Aaron Olson and Tucson student ministries steps right into the lives of local students through performing arts and honest conversations around topics such as anxiety, drugs, mental health and more. She is truly a pioneer and Tucson who has a heart not only for teens but also to equip us as parents as we parent during some unknown territory with our teens, right. Recently, we had the opportunity to partner with Aaron and her team as they took a spoken word that Valerie from reclaimed story wrote, and Aaron and her team the Tucson student ministries turned it into a performance that is so powerful. That video will be launched on Monday, April 4, both on our reclaimed story social media platforms on Instagram and Facebook, as well as on our YouTube channel. Be sure to check it out. The link will be in the show notes. We love collaborating with Aaron and her team as God has called us to help different generations reclaim their stories. I think you are going to love this inspiring episode with Aaron Olson. Welcome to Living the Reclaim life Podcast. I'm Denise Shia, we're glad you're here for conversations that revive hope, inspire healing and encourage you to live a vibrant life with Christ. So grab a cup of coffee as we chat with today's guest. Well, welcome to today's episode, I'm excited to introduce you to Aaron Olson. Now, Aaron Olson is the executive director of Tucson student ministries. And I love Aaron's heart for this ministry. You're gonna hear all about it today in here how to sound student ministries are impacting this next generation for Christ. And I love that she says to Tucson student Ministries is God's ministry, not mine. We take an entire team to run and I'm so grateful for the volunteers. God has reclaimed my story so that I was perfectly prepared to start two sons student ministries, which can in turn help others. So Aaron, welcome to the podcast today.
Erin Olson 02:12
Hello, I'm so excited to be here.
Denisha Workizer 02:14
We are happy to have you. So tell us a little bit for those listening that don't know about to some student ministries. And tell us a little bit about how you got started how God led you to this. And I yeah, let's unpack it. Amazing.
Erin Olson 02:26
Okay, cool. So Tucson student Ministries is a peer to peer ministry that uses performing arts conversations and connections to provide knowledge of healthy life choices to the students of Tucson. So we have two different programs that we use. Our first program is our productions program. With that we do skits, dances, spoken words, we're hoping to start a band, anything that we can do in the arts realm, to talk about difficult issues. Everybody in our productions team is high school aged. So they're making all of these things. We also have a podcast as well, that's part of our productions team. So our productions team's biggest goal is to bring up difficult issues such as like mental health and home life and showing students like positive ways to deal with things, healthy coping, things like that. And then our other program is our outreach program. And this program is made up of 18 year olds and older, so it's all adults. But they go back into the communities that we do the performances for. And they connect students one on one with resources, and are able to just be a listening ear and to love on and talk to the students. So, you know, our outreach volunteers are trained to, you know, what is mandatory reporting? What is like, how do you if a student comes up to you and says like, there's domestic violence at home? What do you do? That's a very scary, difficult topic. So you know, like, contact, first off, that's a mandatory report. But second, like how do you love a student through that? Where do they go? Who do they call? How do they connect? So that's what our outreach team is in charge of doing. So those are our two programs. And our heart really is just for students. We believe that students are smart. We believe that students are capable. A lot of people are like, Oh, they're high schoolers. They're going to sleep around, they're going to do drugs, they're going to do whatever. But we think that if high school students know what to do, like they have healthier options that not everybody's doing it. They don't have to make mistakes that they can learn from past generations from past people, that they're going to choose healthier options and make healthier decisions. So like I said, our focus is really on like mental health and home life because we want to focus on the root causes. And when we focus on those root causes, we can really help them with healthier coping because most behaviors are coping good or bad. You know, if a student really just delves into academics because as their anxiety is so bad if they're not 1,000% focused in school, that seems like a good coping mechanism, because they're so focused in school. But nobody's addressed that root cause of, it's being driven by extreme anxiety. So just talking about those root causes, and hopefully helping them be like, maybe surround yourself with community, know that you're not perfect breathe, take breaks, drink water, join a club, like, you know, just providing more healthy options for these students. So that's, that's our biggest heart for this community.
Denisha Workizer 05:29
That's amazing. And as a mom of an 18 year old and 16 year old, I have never seen the social pressures and anxiety and everything as high as it is today. I know growing up, you know, we had different things, right. We had the, you're gonna laugh, but we had like the teen magazines, or the things to compare ourselves to or be pressured by, but now it's in their fingertips. You know, it's social media. It's all the pressures. It's COVID. Right? How did That's it? That's a question I have is, how did how does COVID? How has it impacted the students that you're seeing?
Erin Olson 06:05
I've definitely seen a two different things for that one, just a complete drop in community. A lot of students I'm talking to it's, you know, we're in year two, almost year three of COVID. Some of these students have never really been to high school like they I've talked to many students who they're now like sophomores and juniors. And they're like, Yeah, I really haven't been to high school, I don't, I don't have any friends at school, I don't really know anybody, because I've just, every time we barely start getting back together, we ripped apart again. So that everyone that I've talked to that's in their younger years of high school, or even, you know, halfway through high school, they're having a really hard time with community. So I think, you know, connecting people to, to communities here in Tucson is going to be really helpful. But I also, you know, I personally went on social media more during COVID, because I was bored, I didn't have anything else to do. So I think that there has been this extreme uptick in just social media usage, which, you know, brings. First off, it brings a false sense of community that these students feel like, Oh, I've talked to my friends every day, but you just text them every day, you don't you don't get that one on one interaction, you don't get that, you know, real quality time with your friends. So that's being damaging, but also, if you're constantly on Instagram, if you're constantly on Tik Tok, those have models on them and these, like ideal lives. And, you know, these students, like you said, the comparison is, like, tremendous. And I also think, something that I've really noticed with this generation with, like Gen Z, is that they, they are more accepting, especially of like social media, of sorry, of mental health, which seems great on the outside. But every single student is like, Oh, I have anxiety. Everybody has anxiety, therefore, I don't need help. Like, it's it's no longer stigmatized to the point where nobody thinks they need help. But it's like, I don't care if the entire world is anxious right now. If you as an individual are anxious, you're deserving of help. And you're deserving to take time to find healthier ways to deal with that. So like, I know, I'm, I'm on tick tock, and there's like a whole side of TiC tock that's like mental health tic tock, and everyone on that side of TiC tock is like, Oh, we're all depressed, we're all anxious. It's just what our generation is like, that doesn't that doesn't need to be where we live, that doesn't need to be who we are. We don't need to be the generation of mental issues. And if we have them, let's find helpless. It's it's great that we're accepting of people, because people who are anxious need to feel loved, and they need to feel validated. But that's not where it stops. It needs to keep going in need to seek help and seek things. So those are definitely the biggest issues I've seen since COVID. With our students, especially in the Tucson community,
Denisha Workizer 08:56
yeah, that makes perfect sense. Like you said, their community's been taken away. I have a sophomore. And so when she started you her into her eighth grade year into freshman year, I don't know that she's had a normal, high school experience for sure. Yeah. When what is the typical day look like? So let's say you're gonna go in I know you're partnering with youth groups and different clubs and things like that, eventually, you're going to be doing like, big auditorium things for schools. But in the meantime, as you're doing youth groups and things like that, when you go in, give me an example of like, what is one of the performances look like? And how do your kids you know, your students and how are they involved in that to then have the peer to peer relationships?
Erin Olson 09:39
Yeah, absolutely. So an example of this is that in March, we're going to Empire Fellowship of Christian students club. But for the past, we went in February and we went in November, our adult volunteers went in and we were just kind of a presence there. You know, we did like small groups with them. We've been able to talk one on one with students and learning names, they're able to learn our names. So we're like a familiar face around the Empire club. And then in March, we're going to go in and do a spoken word performance, and also show them a video, and then break up into small groups again, and be able to talk with them one on one. And we're hoping to go back again in April and just be that presence. So since we're so small right now, um, because we just started in 2021. So we're pretty little we, we want to be able to build those partnerships with different, like you said, youth groups and clubs. So just being able to go in there and have them see a trusted adult, a regular face, that is there to specifically talk about these issues. Because, you know, in youth groups, they do have their youth pastors, and they do have their youth leaders. But you know, a lot of times it's intimidating to talk to your youth pastor that you see. And you know, you're gonna see for the next four years be like, Hey, I'm really struggling with drugs. Like that's really hard for a student to do. But a new adult that's coming in and specifically saying, talk to me about this issue is a more comfortable person to talk about. So we're hoping to be that kind of presence and partnership within different youth groups, and hopefully clubs and schools right now, as before we can do the, the bigger performances,
Denisha Workizer 11:14
the big things. Well, for 2021. For the last year, you have about six to eight volunteers that are students, right. And then you have 10 to 12 that are adults. I think that's pretty fantastic. Yeah, Scott actor out there and getting able to, you know, Johnny's youth groups,
Erin Olson 11:32
yeah, God has been just swinging open doors left and right. It's been crazy. I personally thought like, Oh, we'll get volunteers and then we'll try and get show equipment, and then we'll raise funds that, but God is like, nope, here, the floodgates have opened, like, so many volunteers came to me very quickly, we're hoping to get more but. And then I was talking to a donor. And I gave them a wish list of show equipment. And I was like, here's a wish list of all of the show equipment that we could possibly need. Like, you can pick whatever items you want to buy, and they bought the entire wish. Like God's just been like, this ministry is going, it's needed. It's needed now. So we're doing as much as we can. And every time I'm like, Oh, we're too small for that. He sends 10 more volunteers my way. And I'm like, Okay, we're big enough now, like, we we performed at the reclaimed hope trauma conference. And before that, I was like, I don't think we have enough volunteers for this. And then we got like, three more volunteers. And I'm like, we have the perfect number. Let's go. So God says, Every step of the way, I get intimidated, because I'm human. And I'm like, Oh, I'm really nervous about this. I'm really intimidated by this. And God's like, Nope, I got you. We're moving this as needed.
Denisha Workizer 12:43
Sounds amazing. I love hearing that, because we're taking the same steps of faith in our ministry. And it is so cool to watch him show up in that. I would love to hear a little bit. I know some of your background. But tell us a little bit about you just how God dropped this dream and this vision in your heart, and then how you implemented it because you are amazingly young for having started this organization and doing such amazing things for students.
Erin Olson 13:09
Yes, absolutely. So I think it's crazy to just look back on my life and see, like, almost literally everything that has ever happened to me has perfectly prepared me for this ministry. So I am only 23 years old, and I have graduated from college. But I am young. First example. In college, I started out as a theater major. And then I realized that that wasn't really what I wanted to do. And at the time, I had like extremely bad anxiety. So I was like, but it's comfortable. So stay here. And then God set me free from anxiety, which is a whole other thing that I could talk about. But so then I switched to being a psychology major with a theater minor. And as I was going through school, everyone I told that to was like, What are you going to do with that? And I was like, I don't know. But I'll figure something out. So, you know, like, my very last semester at the U of A, I took a class called How to start a nonprofit. And at the time, I was volunteering for other nonprofits. So I thought, Oh, this will be easy to take. I know nonprofits pretty well because I volunteered for a few and it'll be fine. And then as I'm in this class, I'm like, building what was what is TSM I like built the bylaws and I did all the like infrastructure work as a part of a class and then as I'm graduating the UV, I'm like, this could be real. I can actually start this and this this is something that like, literally again like perfectly accumulates everything that's ever happened in my life just like the fact of my majors and where I switched my majors being the psychology and the theatre background like perfectly set me up for helping students with mental health issues through the performing arts. So that alone I was like, Thank you God for doing that. Because when I kept my theater minor, I was like, I love performing arts but I don't know what I'm gonna do with this. I think I'm just gonna keep doing it because I love it. but it's not going to be helpful in the future. But it was helpful in the future I was wrong.
Denisha Workizer 15:04
It was so helpful. I love what you said about God took everything that I've done and suddenly put it together. That's, that is so amazing. I love that well, and I got to be at the reclaiming hope conference to watch your like your baby kind of come to light there. And we had such a cool, such just such a cool joint venture in that Valerie on our team wrote a spoken word called reclaimed. And you guys did an incredible In fact, it's going to launch, we're launching it publicly this month for us, we've been kind of saving it as this, we just thought it would be so amazing around Easter time to really just launch that. And we're gonna put it along with some fundraisers as well. So we're excited about that. But the video quality, I mean, I thought you guys just got started. And these are youth doing amazing, amazing. So you can check that out, that'll be coming out on our social media. And also, if you're subscribed to our email list, that's going to be coming out as well. But I got to watch your team perform that in person. And not only was Valerie a hot mess, because she got to see her writing come to life. But your students did such an amazing job. And it was so impactful to the audience. And we were all adults, I can only imagine coming in with those things. There's so much power in, you know, kids seeing that other that they're not alone, you know that other kids have struggled with things. And so you had these signs, and you flipped them over to go along with the spoken word and that I thought was so powerful, because sitting in the audience, as you know, a grown adult, I'm like, yes, yes, that is what Christ has done for me. And to imagine you going out even into public schools and, and giving that hope giving that that love when you say that you have your adults that come back and kind of follow up. What does that little you do the performance? Let's dream for a second, right? Because it'll be like, Oh, two seconds from now, when God provides everything you need to go big. So if you can imagine going into like a public school, for instance, and doing you know, it's something in the auditorium, what? What would it look like? So you finish the presentation? And then how do you? How do you follow up? How do you connect them with adults? Yeah, so
Erin Olson 17:19
our hope and our dream, we would obviously need to coordinate with the school specifically and what they would want us to do. But our hope and dream is that the day that the performance happens, we would have a group of outreach volunteers there. And then every day for the next week, we let them know we'll be here at lunch. And after school, like we set up like a booth or a table. And like we'll be here we actually have one of our board members and our volunteer, she has therapy dogs, and she's already doing amazing work in the Vale school district. And she brings her therapy dogs, and she's had amazing conversations with students. So we're hoping to utilize that as well like having things that draw students to us to start conversations. And then we're able to have those conversations and make those connections, just letting the students know, like we are here, we like we want to talk to you will, you know, go up to students and talk to them. And then hopefully after that week, once we get more outreach volunteers going back to the schools, like hopefully once a month, once we get enough volunteers just being a constant presence in this, again, it would depend on the school district and what they would want from us. But that would be like, our ideal way to do it is the immediate week following the performance, being there. And then being able to be a constant presence in the schools,
Denisha Workizer 18:33
you're meeting such a valuable need. That's, that's pretty awesome. You know, when you're talking about people coming into maybe not telling their youth pastor, something they're struggling with, but when you come in with this specific message that that really gets them talking and, and being more vulnerable and a little more open. We see the same thing with women. You know, we're not a church, we're not here to replace the church, but we provide a safe place. We have a group right now that 17 women from seven different churches, and I love that because they have a place to come where maybe their Bible study of 20 years, you know, they have 10 years, you know, they haven't wanted to share some things from their past or God's beginning to peel those layers away. And those things are really prevalent. That's a safe place that they can come and we're finding the same thing where maybe they haven't talked about something at church, that they can come to this, I love that you're providing a safe place for students to just show up and bring their real and not have to just smile and get through the day that they can actually bring their real and get support from people who are trained in that as well.
Erin Olson 19:37
Yeah, we're a big emphasis of who we are, is we want to be a safe space for all students. So we really don't care. I mean, we do care because we care about them as a person but you know, they any race, gender, socioeconomic status, any religion, any sexual orientation, anything. We just want to be there to Love students, you know, one of our, the way that we function one of our needs is, you know, we are a Christian organization, all of our volunteers, and all of our employees, which right now is just me, are Christians. But we, we want to help immediate crisis is first. So you know, if a student comes up to us, and they say, I'm an atheist, and I'm so depressed right now, I don't know what to do. You know, one way we could say is like, well just love Jesus, and then you won't be depressed. But they're in such like a hole, that they don't need a lecture, they need a ladder. So we want to first help them maybe get therapy and maybe connect them in a community, and maybe that community could be a youth group. But you know, we want to respect whatever students tell us. So if a student comes up to us and says, like, Oh, I'm actually like, I'm Muslim, and I, I'm really depressed. And we're like, is your religion a large part of their life? When they say yes, then we're going to want to try and find them a Muslim resource. So that could be like a counselor, or you know, something in that community, because we want to be respectful of whatever our students say. But we want to help every student. So that's a big emphasis for us as well. So
Denisha Workizer 21:11
love that. Love that. So going forward, what, what are your dreams? What are you looking for? Maybe somebody is listening today and thinking, Man, I can really get behind this. Like she's helping the next generation. You know, so many of our listeners, we're reclaiming our past from painful past. And a lot of that started in our teenagers, and stuff it started earlier, but begin to play out then. And so you're meeting these kids. So if someone has a heart and is like, Oh, my goodness, I love what she's doing. How can we help? How can we come alongside you?
Erin Olson 21:42
Yes, absolutely. We need, I need a whole army, we need a whole team, we need the whole community. For sure. One easier way to help. But you know, donation is definitely something that we need. Prayer is the biggest thing that we need. We need lots and lots of prayer. This is a big community. And we got to just cover it all in prayer. Another way that people can help is if they are already connected to youth communities in our city, getting us connected to those youth communities as well. So if you volunteer for a youth group, if you have an in at a school, being able to be our like middleman and being our connection point would be incredibly helpful. But also, if you have a heart for these students, and you want to be a part of our outreach team, we need volunteers as well. So if you want to volunteer to come to be on our team, be a part of our outreach and be able to have these one on one conversations with these students. And that is absolutely a place of need as well.
Denisha Workizer 22:39
And no theatre background is needed. Now.
Erin Olson 22:41
As needed for no theatre background is needed for anybody on the team. So if a student wants to volunteer and they have no theatre background, we will still find a place for them, maybe they'll move props for us, or they'll help run the camera. For the technical side of things. The biggest part that we look for is just a heart for the students. And I'm just loving prayer for these students. That's definitely the the biggest need and then we will find a spot for you. So you know, theater is a big part of what we do. But it's not necessary for for volunteers.
Denisha Workizer 23:14
That's really awesome. Because everybody like I cannot act or write a script or anything like that. But I can move a prompt, I can pay our prompt. I can paint something, I can push buttons if you tell me what to do or what lights or whatever. So
Erin Olson 23:30
it's funny that you say that because I actually do have a few students who you know, they're like, I don't have a theater background. I don't have anything. And I'm like, Well, why don't you try and write a poem about this and they're like, Okay, I'll try and they are amazing they're there. You know, it's part God and part they don't really tell amazing they are and how good they are at what they're doing. So you know, you'd be surprised when you push yourself a little bit how creative most people can be but you know, no experience necessary.
Denisha Workizer 23:57
Getting their heart just say sit down and write a poem says I believe in you I believe let's tap into something maybe you didn't even know existed inside of you some creativity and just unleashing that and serving that's really beautiful. Alright, Aaron, how can we find you? I know you have your website, you're on social. Tell us all about that. So we know how to reach out to you. If we want to volunteer. We want to donate I know that's available on your website. So give us all your details.
Erin Olson 24:23
Yes, absolutely. So we you can find us on most social media. So we have a Facebook which is at Tucson student ministries. We have an Instagram and a Tik Tok, which are both Tucson student underscore, we have a YouTube which is Tucson student. So if you follow any of those, we kind of connect them to each other. But if you follow us on social media, you get updated with our newsletter. You get our podcast if we do any performances, we put them up on our Youtube as well. We do like encouraging posts, we do funny skits, things like that all over social media. And our website is two sons student ministries.org And if you want to volunteer, there's a little signup form on the page, you can fill that out. You can also email us at Tucson student firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you want to donate it is also all on our website, we have a PayPal, we have a Zell, and we can have checks or cash money, what is it called? Monetary donations, that's the property. So, you know, following us on all of those things, and you know, our website is very helpful. I love our website, and I love your website to another plug for our website is potentially for parents listening, we do have an entire resource page on our website that links you to other helpful resources. So like, I know, off the top of my head, there's a bunch of like, crisis lines on our website, there is, you know, different hotlines for different things. There is information websites for parents, like I know, we have like fight the new drug on there, which is like about pornography addictions, you know, just different, different categories that we talk about, we do have resources on our website. So it's definitely all on there. And I would definitely recommend checking it out. If you you know, don't know where to start, like another one on there is like helping you find a therapist in your area. I know that that's an extremely intimidating thing. So maybe just starting with that page, and going from there might be a helpful thing to do.
Denisha Workizer 26:23
And again, that's two sons student ministries.org We do have a lot of Mama's and a handful of teens too, that listen to this podcast. So that is a great resource Mama's two cents student ministries.org You can get involved if you have extra time to volunteer and just sew into the lives of these kids. That would be amazing. And if we don't have time, we can always donate and help support you there. Well, Aaron, thank you for following the big God dream that he put on your heart and just walking this out every day. Thank you for being such a vital part of this community.
Erin Olson 26:55
Of course, I'm so blessed to be you're born and raised in Tucson and I love my whole heart. So I'm so excited to be pouring back into it.
Denisha Workizer 27:02
Amazing. Well, thank you for helping students reclaim their stories before they are in their 40s and 50s and giving them healthy coping mechanisms. That is amazing. So thank you for coming on today.
Erin Olson 27:13
Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for having me.
Denisha Workizer 27:15
Thanks for listening. I pray you found hope in today's conversation and maybe even feel a little less alone in your story. Stay connected with us on Facebook and Instagram at reclaimed story. Want to learn more about living a reclaimed life and how you can be a part of our growing community ever claimers? Check out our website at reclaimed story.com all of those links and more will be in the show notes. And if you enjoy this inspirational podcast Be sure to subscribe rate and review. Not only will you be the first one to know when new content comes out, but it is also a huge help and helping us reach more people to live the reclaimed life.