Children and Youth Religious Education

Children and Youth Religious Education

On September 17th, we will begin our new Children and Youth Religious Education (CYRE) and Spiritual Exploration (SE) year. This year, we will be expanding the leadership structure of the team with, at least, one chair from each gathering. In the past, we have had chairs at the University Gathering and liaisons from the other two gatherings. Liaisons worked directly with the Director of Religious Education and not with other gathering leads. We are now hoping to create a differentiated, yet coherent and cohesive program for our children and youth.

Please welcome the co-chairs of this year’s team. Anika Davis and Susie Benner-Nelson will serve as co-chairs for University Gathering. Anika is in the second year of this two-year leadership rotation (she is actually in her third or fourth year. Thank you, Anika.) Susie is in her first year of the rotation although she has served as the chair of Religious Education in the past. April Lamanno and Kristin Kirk will serve as chairs for Salisbury and Lake Norman Gatherings, respectively. Although April was not officially the liaison for Salisbury when Joanne Stewart ended her term, April was vital in providing a voice to the Salisbury families. She made an extra effort to share ideas and concerns with me either at a CYRE Parent/Guardian meeting or directly via email.  Kristin Kirk is taking over for Veronique Singerman. Kristin provides the team with the current pulse and needs of the Lake Norman members and SE families. She brings to the table the idea of creating shared space for the children across gatherings to get to know each other. With this team, the hope is that these co-chairs will come together on a regular basis to support each other, the program, and the needs of our youngest members across all gatherings.

We are still in need of co-chairs for the Salisbury and Lake Norman Gatherings. The responsibilities for the position are more manageable with two people at the helm. Want to learn more? Please email Jolena James-Szanton (jolena@puuc.org) or the co-chairs (cyreteam@puuc.org)

Jolena James-Szanton


Your name and what you like to be called: Susie Benner-Nelson (Susie)

Your hometown: Plymouth Meeting, PA

Your journey with UU:  I was born into a UU family. My mom and dad were very active and founding members of our Fellowship. I was raised in congregations that were fellowships and all lay-led; we did not have ministers.

How long have you been at Piedmont UU Church: We came to the Piedmont UU Church in February of 2011. Our first Sunday was a Potluck Sunday. We felt so welcome and at home, we never left!

Your hopes for your group: My hope for Religious and Spiritual Education for Children and Youth is that we will be overflowing with adults who are seeking to influence our collective future by working with our children.

Why you enjoy engaging our babies, children, or youth: I was born into a family of educators. I am an educator by profession. I love the idea of affording my son the opportunity to develop his own sense of self and am enjoying combining my knowledge of child development with my UU beliefs to help shape our children’s futures.

Three of your favorite things or anything else you think will be interesting: I was a co-founder of women’s high school lacrosse in Florida and served as President of the United States Women’s Lacrosse Association. I was able to travel with our US teams to world cup tournaments in Australia and England (bringing home the gold both times!).


Your name and what you like to be called: Anika, rhymes with Hanukkah, but no H.

Your hometown: I was born in DC but I spent most of my childhood on the Delmarva Peninsula near Chincoteague Island. Yes, where the wild ponies are.

Your journey with UU:  I’m still traveling on this UU journey and although I’ve been a UU in my mind my whole life, I think I’m still very much in the discovery phase.

How long have you been at Piedmont UU Church: I am not quite sure. It’s a blur. I arrived a couple months after Rev. Justin came.

Your hopes for your group: I hope the Religious Education team becomes more stable with consistent volunteers. That consistency goes a long way with our youth.

Why you enjoy engaging our babies, children, or youth: Our youth are literally the future of our congregation. I love contributing to their lives and being just a small brick of their foundation. Talking with them is just as much a part of my spiritual journey as the sermons delivered by the ministers and guest speakers.

Three of your favorite things or anything else you think will be interesting: I love to bake. It’s my stress reliever. I can’t dance; I’m the poster child for the phrase ‘two left feet’. I am a tea enthusiast. I drink it, read about it, you name it!


Your name and what you like to be called: My name is Kristin Kirk and I liked to be called Kristin.

Your hometown:  I was born in Fort Worth, TX, growing up in the Air Force. I consider my hometown to be Dover, Delaware.

Your journey with UU: My journey with UU is brief in the sense of discovering it and becoming part of the UU community just 2 years ago. I was raised in the Catholic and Methodist traditions, having parents of different religious backgrounds. I’ve always had an attraction to spiritual and philosophical aspects of life. I was introduced to the practice of Kripalu yoga in my twenties, which opened the door to a greater exploration of world religions and spiritual practices including Buddhism, Native American spirituality, and the Sufi tradition to name more prominent influences. As I started my family and reflected on what my wishes were for raising my children, my husband and I often spoke of the desire to find an open-minded, liberal, non-Christocentric spiritual community. We wanted to invest our energy in a spiritual community that would offer our children a fuller religious experience that would support their own exploration and give us some central tenets of faith in which to share and dialogue. We found UU of Lake Norman and it reflected these wishes amongst a lovely and sincere community.

How long have you been at UU of Lake Norman:  Two years this October.

Your hopes for your group:  To continue to grow and develop long-lasting friendships that support open-mindedness, critical thinking, and social justice as our children find their way into adulthood.

Why you enjoy engaging our babies, children, or youth: Kids are the spark of life. They are real, genuine, and keep us honest, awakening both our compassion and our need to remain playful.


Your name and what you like to be called: April Arthur Lamanno, PhD. April

Your hometown: Salisbury

Your journey with UU:  I grew up in a traditional Baptist church and while I questioned a lot of the Conservative doctrine, I missed being a part of a church community. I started visiting different services as a young adult while living in areas that had UU churches (Asheville; State College, PA; Charleston) and found that the inclusive beliefs were a good fit for my personal and professional identity. Although I attended orientation once, I never felt committed to join a church until I became a parent myself.

How long have you been at Piedmont UU Church: My family joined in December of 2012. Although we had visited, it was not until I learned Salisbury was having weekly services that I felt I could become more consistently and actively involved.

Your hopes for your group: I hope that the youth in our group will grow in their support for one another. Although we have challenges associated with programming to such different developmental levels, the youth seem to genuinely care about each other and have cohesion. I hope the students will feel confident and supported in whatever direction their spiritual journey should take them. I want them to focus more on what they have in common with others instead of their differences. I also hope that we can foster more connections between youth from all the gatherings because I feel that will help make Piedmont UU Church stronger as a whole.

Why you enjoy engaging our babies, children, or youth: I love the warmth, creativity, and energy we see when interacting with youth. It is great to see their enthusiasm and genuine love of life. They notice the little things and take the time to question what they see.

Three of your favorite things or anything else you think will be interesting: I love pumpkin ravioli and trips with my family. I often wish that our lives were less entangled with technology.