About the Author: Sarah Preston started with CYT Santa Cruz in the spring of 2012. Since then, she has Stage Managed multiple productions, coached Improv, taught class and CYT@School, coordinated summer camps, assisted in fundraising, and serves as HYPE Advisor.

After 10 years of working with kids, I can honestly say I have never been more challenged and inspired than during my time with CYT Santa Cruz. It has changed the way I think about kids, artistry, families, and ministry.

Here are my 8 Reasons to Work for CYT

1. CYT makes you laugh

Once at auditions, an 18 year old (improv kid of course) sang “If You’re Happy and You Know It” as his audition song. His final verse?

If you’re happy and you know it give a wink
If you’re happy and you know it give a wink
If you’re happy and want a creepy way to show it
If you’re happy and you know it give a wink

I always cherish moments like this because the kids remind me not to take things so seriously. So often I can get wrapped up in the craziness of shows, classes, CYT@School, HYPE etc that I forget about the real reason I work for CYT: to serve God by serving kids. When a kid tells a funny joke or makes a funny face, it awakens the Child-loving Holy Spirit inside my heart.

2. The kids give you perspective.

As HYPE Advisor, I try to encourage critical thinking during our meetings. Teens are already honest and critical, and part of the HYPE experience is teaching them about how to give and receive healthy criticism. Every time we have a discussion about a certain event, I usually have in my mind what I think would be the best way to go about said event. I listen to their ideas and suggestions, I voice my opinions when necessary, and unless their ideas would really hurt someone, I usually let them make their own decisions, whether I agree with them or not. There have definitely been times where they didn’t listen to my advice and things turned out poorly. But there have also been times where they went in the opposite direction of my advice and it turned out not only much better than I expected, but probably better than my original idea.

My point is, that kids help you think about things in a different way than you did before. As we get older, we start to become more aligned with a certain way of thinking and it becomes harder and harder to stray from that. When you work with kids, they constantly are turning your own ideas upside down and looking at things from a different perspective. They are analytical and thoughtful. They focus on different issues. And I learn from them every day.

Sarah (left) with one of her CYT Santa Cruz students.
Sarah (left) with one of her CYT Santa Cruz students.

3. CYT kids know how to love.

Kids pay attention. They observe and they can sense when things aren’t quite right. At the end of a particularly difficult production of The Sound of Music (My first time Stage Managing with 77 kids in the cast.) I received this text from a student. “Hey! You might have just been tired, but you seemed sort of down at the end of strike so I just wanted to say thank you. Thank you so much. You’ve done so much for CYT with HYPE and freaking stage managing the whole show!!! Like what??? You’re so great, always encouraging and I’m so glad you’ve become so involved at CYT.”

After a really stressful Tech Week and show, this student noticed that something was wrong and went out of their way to find out what was up and encourage me. Also, look at this card I received from a 12 year old boy after he was in my character class.

Mrs Preston Card

Adorable right?

CYT kids show real, authentic, Christ-like love to their peers and the adults around them.

4. CYT Kids work hard.

We can take 45-70 students, and teach them a full production, including musical numbers, dance routines, vocal harmonies, character work, and more on a gym floor. Then after 9 weeks, we plop them into a theater, on a set that’s been newly built by their parents, and they spend a week adding lights, sound, props, costumes, makeup, hair, and set changes so they can perform a fantastic production for 1800-3,000 people over the course of two weekends.

Plus they are going to school, taking ballet, doing sports, applying for college, and enjoying time with their family and friends. At CYT-Santa Cruz, we don’t have one student who doesn’t put in 110% in all that they do. They love what they do and do what they love and they are successful at it all. It blows my mind each and every session.

Their hard work and determination is downright inspiring. It encourages me to work just as hard as they do. They motivate me to put forth my best effort into the production just as they do.

5. It’s a mission field.

During my early 20s, I discovered that you don’t have to go overseas to be “on mission”. CYT in itself is a ministry. Each child that walks through the doors to CYT class or rehearsal gets to experience Jesus at a hands on level. We get to teach these kids what it means to honor God through music, dance and storytelling. The professional performance world can often be a harsh and negative place. When working for CYT, we get to be the example of what a Christian Artist looks like in the world.

6. CYT is a family.

A few months after I began working for CYT, before I was HYPE Advisor, I helped out at a HYPE-run Hoedown Throwdown fundraiser. It was really my first time seeing all our kids together out having a blast. I remember standing next to our Artistic Director watching kids and parents alike serving and prepping food, playing games together, line-dancing, and more. I said to her, “This is amazing. I have never seen so many parents and their kids working together like this.” She explained to me that this is CYT. This is the Kingdom on Earth. Everyone working together, worshiping together, being together. It was at that moment that I became sold out for CYT.

CYT is real tangible community. I’ve seen parents go out of their way to serve other parents. I’ve seen older kids take time out of their day to love and guide the younger kids. I’ve seen staff spend hours in prayer for our families, teachers, and artistic teams.

Personally, I have been welcomed in with loving arms. I live quite far from my own family and I miss them dearly. When I’m at CYT, I have many moms, dads, sisters and brothers who care for me and love me. I am part of a Family here in Santa Cruz, and it’s awesome.

6. Kids confide in you.

The first time I had a student say to me, “Can I talk to you for a second?” I was a little bit nervous. My mind immediately went to, Am I in trouble? Did I do something wrong? Are they going to quit? But in reality, all she wanted was to ask my advice about a certain situation. I was so honored because she felt comfortable enough to confide in me about what was going on in her life, and I even got to share a bit of my experience and my advice for her.

Every time I get a phone call, text, or have a conversation like this, I experience a mix of emotions:
A. I am heartbroken that they are struggling.
B. I am so very flattered that they trusted me enough to come talk to me.
C. I am sad that they will have many more tough situations to face in the course of their lives.
D. I am reminiscent and appreciative of all the conversations I had like these with my mentors growing up.

As hard as it is to see these kids face their own, very real, struggles, I’m glad that they trust me enough to be vulnerable and talk to me instead of hiding them away. CYT is a place where kids are free to process their struggles with others. So much of our culture now promotes us to hide away our feelings, keep a brave face. But in CYT, those barriers are broken down. Kids and adults work in tandem and care for each other.

Sarah (front & center) with CYT Santa Cruz HYPE!
Sarah (front & center) with CYT Santa Cruz HYPE!

7. You get to influence the lives of kids. 

How many of us can name at least half of your grade school teachers? How many of us can name at least one, non-parent adult who influenced our lives? Practically all of us right? When you work with kids, you get to be that person for others. You get to help them understand the world. You get to guide them in their decisions. You get to watch them succeed and watch them fail. You get to think about them and encourage them into adulthood. As we influence the next generation, our greatest hope is that they, in turn, will change the world for the better. That they will teach their youth what it means to serve, to love, to cultivate, and to grow. And that the future will be better because of it.

8. CYT allows you to be creative.

As a child, I did not think I was an “artist” because I thought I couldn’t draw. Although I did theater, choir, and dance, I didn’t consider myself creative or artistic. When I started working for CYT, my eyes were opened to the fact that we are all artists in our own ways. No matter if you are a costumer, set builder, director, Green Room parent, or all of the above (no one in CYT does just one thing), we all play a part in bringing art to life on the stage. We all get to guide our young actors into a worship experience through theater arts.

I tried leaving the theater world multiple times, but I just kept getting drawn back in. Christ kept pulling me back towards it. God is the ultimate storyteller because he tells our story. He writes a unique story for each and every one of us and in theater, we have the opportunity to tell amazing stories on the stage. We are creative because God is creative. It’s a true blessing that he lets us be a part of creating so much beauty on and off the stage.

Even as I write this, I am in the midst of Tech Week for Beauty & the Beast, the biggest show we’ve ever done (220+ lighting cues!) and writing this reminds me why I am doing this work. Why I have been at the theater from 9am to midnight every day this week. Why I give up each Friday night and Saturday morning to be with these kids. Why I live in faith each month that God will provide the funds that it takes to live in Santa Cruz. Because working for CYT is a privilege and a gift. I get to work with the best kids on the planet and Serve Christ while doing it. I know I am making a lasting impact. It is difficult at times, but as we know, “Suffering produces perseverance; perseverance character; and character, hope.”

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