Zak Goodwyn is by no means a seasoned traveler – “He’s never been out of the country, never been on an airplane,” said his mother, Ginni – but all that’s about to change.
By this time next week, Zak, 15, a rising sophomore at Thomas Dale High School, will be accompanying 19 other youths from across Virginia in Santiago, Dominican Republic. There, as Voices of Youth, they are to perform gospel music, help build a school for local children and take on various service projects, like working on a water-filtration system.
According to Ms. Goodwyn, seeing the group perform a year ago at the Goodwyn’s church, Chester United Methodist, made a lasting impression on the young Zak.
“We went to the concert, and Zak saw them perform and said, ‘This is where I need to be, this what I need to be doing next year.’ So we took it from there,” she said.
Formed in 1985, Voices of Youth annually selects high school youths who are part of the United Methodist Virginia Conference to be part of a traveling singing group, and in being a member of Chester United Methodist Church, the bass-singing Zak was eligible. “I really like the mission work they did,” said Zak, “and the singing especially since it was very interesting hearing how they did both at the same time, and I heard about the poverty in the Dominican, and I really wanted to help out, change that.”
And after undergoing an extensive application process, which required recommendations by peers and his pastor, plus a singing audition, Zak first heard news in late January that he’d be chosen for Voices of Youth.
Although a rather shy young man, he has been performing since the 6th grade in school chorus and his church’s choir. Josh Wortham, director of music at Chester United Methodist, who knows Zak from the church’s youth and adult choir, feels the trip will do the lanky teen some good.
“He’s kind of quiet. I’m really excited about this trip for him because I think it will be a great chance for him to come out of his shell a bit, get to know some new people,” said Wortham.
As the Dominican Republic is a Spanish-speaking country, Zak said the group will perform for the locals at least one song in Spanish. However, Wortham feels the language in which the songs are performed is not very important.
“Music is really the universal language,” Wortham said. “While we may not always understand the lyrics we’re singing, we can all feel or sense something in the music that’s performed. It unites people in a way that few other things can.”
Before leaving Monday, July 18, for the Caribbean, the group meets for orientation at Shenandoah University; and then after they return to the states on Sunday, July 24, they will “tour” certain churches in the state, – one from each district of the United Methodist Virginia Conference – performing and sharing their experiences.
But Ms. Goodwyn focuses on the trip’s impact on her son: “It will be a life-changing experience,” she said. “He won’t come back the same person I’m sure.” Several adults, who are also former group members, will be chaperoning the Virginia students, but she still has her concerns. “I’m proud of him, and with my motherly instincts, of course I’m worried about him; but he just feels so driven and so drawn to this being what he needs to do that I’m okay with it.”
Zak is eligible for next year’s membership into the group, with only another, smaller, application standing in his way. As he currently has three more years at Thomas Dale, he is considering to one day pursue a career in Forensic Science/Criminal Justice; but his mother said she wouldn’t be surprised if pursues mission work on a larger scale.