An energetic and smiling group of young adults stood on a busy street corner in downtown Silver Spring (Md.) this weekend, holding colorful signs and offering free hugs. “It’s been an emotional week for some and we wanted to bring joy to people’s days,” said Sonia Perez, associate pastor of the Beltsville church (Md.) and an Inspire event coordinator. After standing on the corner for just a few minutes, one woman passing by asked if she could join and ran back to her parked car to retrieve her own “free hugs” sign. Many were happy to get a hug, some even rolling down their car windows to receive one from inside their vehicles.
In addition to offering a free embrace, huggers provided free beverages and snacks and encouraged people to write down one thing they worried about for the future and one thing they were excited for. “We don’t want to focus on the negative, but focus on us being part of a community and understanding that we are all together,” explained Mollie Creason.
This effort was part of the Potomac Conference’s Inspire weekend and Cultivate Initiative and focused on providing a platform for young adult professionals to explore the gifts each is uniquely equipped with. The event started Friday evening with praise and worship, round table discussions and talks from guest speakers Jeff Tatarchuk and Tim Cress. On Sabbath afternoon, attendees broke into several different groups that focused on sharing entrepreneurial projects, learning adaptability through the art of improv, random acts of kindness, homeless ministry, busking and home repairs.
About 50 bags filled with toiletries, socks and other items were passed out to those in need as groups canvased the streets. Five dollar gift cards to McDonalds were given to people passing by and some time was even spent busking with praise songs at the nearby Metro station. When Steve, a man walking by, was asked if he would like to join the group for prayer, he burst into tears and shared part of his story. “I’ve just been going through so much,” he said. “I lost my mom last year and things have just been so hard since then. You have no idea what this means to me.”
“There’s a lot of hurt out there,” said one attendee. “It was powerful to see grown men reduced to tears when asked if we could give them a hug, a small gift or offered to pray with them. To us, this is what it’s about. Getting out of our comfort zones and reaching out to people. You never know what the person you pass on the street is going through. We hope people we came in contact with this week will pay kindness forward.”
The day ended with a unique opportunity for attendees to participate in a flash mob on a blocked off street downtown. In the middle of the performance onlookers were handed two dollar bills with an encouraging phrase attached. As the weekend came to a close, three groups presented powerful outreach ideas to a panel of judges in Inspire’s version of the popular TV show Shark Tank, in which each was awarded money to help implement their ideas.
“This weekend has really inspired me to do some of the things I’ve been thinking about and to share my passions with the world,” said Angel Smith. “My favorite part of this weekend has been the opportunity to share ideas. Hearing ideas gives you more ideas. I think this is a place growing thinkers. I would absolutely attend again and hope this becomes a regular event.”