Wesleyan youth exhibit talents and abilities while receiving scholarships through the Wesleyan Church Campus Challenge program. Since the 70s, then called “Teens N Talent” (TNT), students who aspire to attend college have been awarded scholarships. Some students have exceeded $20,000. In a recent conversation, Dr. David Keith, who began the program shared, “It was a way for us to coordinate with churches and districts as well as in partnership with the Wesleyan Colleges and Universities to give opportunity for students to express their God given talents.” The Youth Department under his leadership was thinking of all the talented youth in the Wesleyan Church and wanted a way to help develop youth, giving them opportunities to help fund college expenses. “It was a way of expressing talents that the Lord has given to our students. It was a way for students, who have God-given abilities, to give glory to God as well as encourage their faith and the faith of others,” he added. “It started out as a way to further encourage students with scripture memorization and express their spiritual development. God has endowed young people with talents of many kinds,” stated Keith with a sincere joy in his voice.
IWU is a buzz with over two-hundred talented students, siblings and parents. They were in attendance to compete and receive recognition and awards including scholarships. Talents include music, art, creative skits and dramas, as well as writings. “It’s really quite remarkable to see so much talent in the Wesleyan Church exhibited by our youth,” says Tom Sloan who has recruited and hosted groups on the university campus during his entire student recruiting career, recently retiring. Tom has witnessed many who have received scholarships and now alumni of the program are bringing their children to compete. “What motivated students is usually their parents and pastors who see the potential of their students and encourage them in their talents,” he added.
Parents like Jim & Emily Vermilya are here to support their children, Silas & Aynsley. “I participated in the program when I was in high school,” says Jim. This year’s competition includes many children whose parents were themselves recipients of the talent scholarship. Silas earned $1,200 this year toward scholarships while his sister earned $600.
Tom Sloan said, “This year we have doubled the number of entries. There are over one-hundred students with over two-hundred entries.” He has been participated in Campus Challenge (then TNT) since he was 14 years older, supporting the program for over 50 years! “There isn’t any better way to earn scholarship support for Wesleyan Colleges and Universities,” adds Sloan. Sloan has been a champion for this program and celebrates the many next generation youth competing for scholarships and planning to attend Indiana Wesleyan University. Even after retiring from the IWU Admissions Department this year, serving over 35 years, he continues to support the event at IWU. “This is not an IWU program but scholarships are awarded through the University,” he adds.
Grace Poole is one such student that entered several categories. Here talents are supported by her parents. IWU Grad, Theresa earned scholarships where she was a teenager and attended IWU. “My name is Grace Poole and I am planning to attend Indiana Wesleyan University,” stated Grace before her performances. Her talents earned her $2,800 this year alone.
Rev. Rick Weesner has been leading this effort for over twenty-five years. Rev. Weesner says, “When I see a student at IWU I am encouraged that I had a part in their student success. I get satisfaction from seeing them pursue their goals.” He has the support of the University as well as his wife who has championed this effort. He enjoys the opportunity given to students to help pay for their college cost. It is been both a challenge because of the many entries to organize as well as a reward to see students achieve such high honors and be rewarded scholarship monies. Weesner adds, “IWU supports this every year. The staff is always supportive and encouraging. They go out of their way to host us! I appreciate all the volunteers who sign up willingly to serve as judges for each category of talent.” It takes dozens of people who volunteer their time. The event is staffed also by IWU employees who set up and run the audio and video needs of this event.
Sophie earned $1,200 through the events she entered.
Supported by the Wesleyan Church, through a partnership with each university of the Wesleyan Church, the scholarship program has significantly reduce the cost of education. What began with a simple vision has awarded student hundreds of thousands of dollars. IWU grad and founder of the program, Dr. David Keith, says, “It started out as a way to further encourage students with scripture memorization and express their spiritual life but it is clear that the program has grown in size and scope.” There are many more categories students can enter. Current coordinator for the North Central Region, Rev. Weesner says, “We want to see students earn scholarship by developing their talents in whatever talent they have.” (Rick Weesner pastors a church in the West Michigan Wesleyan District, Garrison Hills Wesleyan Church.)
IWU Grad, Lloyd Woodard remembered when he entered was the very first year. “I won first place but I was the only one who entered that category,” he laughed. He participated as a judge in the art category. Top awards were given to Shelby Meek, earning $5,000 and Christian Ames, earning $5,400.
In the group drama category, the Dayspring Wesleyan Church took Superior rating in number 1. Check out their performance here: Dayspring Wesleyan Church – drama performance was done during the Ohio District Conference Ordination service.
Campus Challenge is an annual event held at each of the Wesleyan Colleges and Universities. Many talents are shared from generation to generation of young people. Scholarships can be used for each of the schools. Results of the competition are available at The Wesleyan Church Department of Education and the Ministry.
Written by Rev. Rick Carder, Director of Alumni & Church Engagement at Indiana Wesleyan University.