What's with those Millennials?
Time Magazine's Joel Stein asked that question last month in a pretty damning article titled "The Me Me Me Generation."
He found enough statistics that sum up the generation - about 80 million people born from 1980 to 2000 - to make your skin crawl. Why, they're not anything like us. The incidence of narcissistic personality disorder is nearly three times as high for people in their 20s as for the generation 65 or older; they're fame-obsessed and addicted to social media; and they won't move out of their parents' homes.
And they're so convinced of their own greatness, Stein writes. He points to The National Study of Youth and Religion, which found that the guiding morality for 60 percent of Millennials in any situation is that they'll just "be able to feel" what's right.
And how about the laziness factor? Stein points to a 1992 survey by the nonprofit Families and Work Institute that reported 80 percent of people under 23 wanted one day to have a job with greater responsibility. Ten years later, only 60 percent did.
If you know a Millennial who bucks this rather depressing characterization, you're probably shaking your head right now. And I agree with you: There are plenty of good kids out there. Let me introduce you to Emily Speicher.
For her recent 17th birthday, Emily didn't want gifts. She wanted money. Not for herself, but for a project she's overseeing in Guatemala. Emily is trying to raise $78,000 to build a house for 15 orphans - something she believes is attainable. She posted her request on Facebook, and wrote about the ministry she's been involved with for several years.
"Since it's blessed my life so much, I want to be a blessing as well," she wrote, "and I can't think of a better way to do so than to finally provide for the building of a home there so that even MORE kids can come and gain life and experience what true love is."
This Seminole teen is on her fourth mission trip to the Casa Angelina orphanage - a complex of five homes, a school, feeding center, soccer field, medical clinic and playground that serves some 100 orphans or abandoned children - located in the mountains about 40 miles outside of Guatemala City. Her first visit was in 2008, when she lived in Colorado Springs and traveled to the Central America country with her New Life Church youth group. Though the experience was memorable, she didn't know at the time it would be life-changing.
"I loved the kids and I loved the place," she says. "It was like I was supposed to be there. This place isn't a big cement building where kids are treated like numbers. It's a warm and loving family environment where they are getting a second chance in life. "
A few years passed after that initial trip. The Speicher family relocated to the Tampa Bay area, and Emily enrolled in Indian Rocks Christian School. Last summer, she asked orphanage founders Ivan and Kimberly Tait of the Colorado Springs-based What Matters Ministries and Missions if she could return for an internship. "I'll help in any way I can," she said. Impressed with her maturity, faith and ability to speak Spanish, they agreed.
That six-week mission working with the orphans only made her want to get more involved. In March, she returned to Casa Angelina for her spring break; now she's in the middle of another six-week internship. Her work is in aquaponics, a sustainable food production system that combines raising fish with cultivating plants in water.
This doesn't sound like the kind of Millennial that Stein profiled in his article.
"She's pretty special," says Sandy, her mom. "Emily used to be really shy and quiet. She's blossomed since getting involved with this orphanage. It's one thing for kids to be athletically or academically inclined, but to have such a passion of the heart, that's even more important to me."
Sandy admits some parents think she and her husband are crazy for giving their daughter such independence. But the desire to serve comes from the head of the clan. Jim Speicher, a Navy captain, is on his second year-long tour in Afghanistan, working on border issues with Pakistan. And older sister Katie, 21, is a member of Young Americans, a nonprofit touring group that travels the country giving performances and promoting music and dance in communities.
"Someone has to stay home and hold down the fort," says Sandy, an accountant. Next week, she'll head to Guatemala for the first time, joining Emily at her request for a week. "She's inviting me into her world, and I feel grateful she wants me to be part of this experience. This has been her thing."
Emily is so convinced she can raise $78,000 for another house at the Casa Angelina complex that she's already given it a name: Casa Santiago (from James1:27, which says "religion that God sees as faultless and pure is to take care of the orphaned and widowed, and to keep oneself from being conformed to the world.") So how does she plan to take on this formidable task? She's not afraid to ask for donations, as evidenced by her Facebook request. And before she left for her mission, she contacted Chik-fil-A, a Christian-owned company, to ask for help.
The Seminole franchise, at 10790 Park Blvd., liked her spunk and devotion. So from 5 to 8 p.m. July 25, the restaurant will donate 15 percent of ticketed sales to her project. All the purchaser needs to do is bring in a flier printed from Emily's casasantiago.org website and sign it to direct the donation.
"It seems like a ton of money, and it is, but I think God wouldn't give me anything I couldn't handle," Emily says. She has a start - $1,600 so far - and will keep coming up with creative ways to make her goal.
Her zeal for improving the lives of impoverished children heightens with every visit. If Emily had her way, she would return to Guatemala after graduating from high school next year to work as a full-time missionary. But she knows the importance her parents place on getting a college education, so she will concentrate on getting a degree in social work or psychology. And then she will return to use her skills to do mission work. She is certain that her destiny is on a mountainside in Guatemala.
"I'm not sure why God picked me. He is funny like that," she says. "He picks the most unexpected people to do things they never thought they could do. I'm always excited for what he's got in store for me next."
Don't believe all the statistics you read. You can't paint an entire generation with one brush. Look around, and you'll find other young people like Emily making this world a better place.