Local movement shows youth leadership and service
VANCOUVER — A group of approximately 20 teenage youth stormed the porches and front doors of local houses, loudly running through neighborhoods and apartment complexes. These youth were not out to make trouble, but rather bring Christmas cheer and excitement to neighborhoods and deliver Christmas trees to families that could not afford them.
This outpouring of energy to help others arose from an organization called Flash Love, founded and led by Andrey Ivanov. The organization and its events all stem from Ivanov’s passion for reaching youth and helping struggling communities.
Ivanov emigrated with his family from the former Soviet Union as a child, and was raised in a “very conservative, Pentecostal background.” According to Ivanov, his family eventually began attending Crossroads Community Church, and there he found healing from “self-condemnation,” ideals and personal expectations that were unattainable and unhealthy. He said he “wasted” a lot of time in his teens and twenties chasing the American Dream.
Ivanov said that the healing he found changed his outlook on life.
“It provoked me to begin doing something,” Ivanov explained, “not to earn, but out of that liberation, out of God’s grace to me. I wanted to play my part.”
Ivanov also explained that he became angry when people in society would say that the youth are out of control or only out to cause trouble. At first, he said that he did not know what to do about those claims or how to respond.
Cases of youth causing harm or damage also angered Ivanov. However, rather than remaining angry at the youth and those who condemned them, he began to ask why youth behaved as they did.
“What the youth is missing,” Ivanov said, “is they’re missing leadership.’’ Youth need leaders willing not only to tell them when their actions are wrong, but to also “show them what right looks like.”
The origination of Flash Love
Flash Love originated from those realizations. The organization is designed to engage with youth and give them leadership, mentorship and a positive outlet for their energy.
According to Ivanov, Flash Love provides local high school age youth an opportunity to work with their peers to better the community through good work. The group does work events throughout the year, wherever there is a need in the community.
Student leaders identify the need, and then recruit groups from their schools, clubs or youth groups to provide the labor needed to finish the work. Projects have included homeless camp clean ups, helping people move when facing eviction or spreading hope through gifts given to the homeless.
57 students from 6 local high schools came together to Flash Mob downtown Portland. #students #serving #pdx #pnw #love #highschoolrevolution Ted Wheeler
Posted by Flash Love on Friday, March 17, 2017
“America has become an environment that is not conducive for good work,” Ivanov said. He explained that the myriad of licensing requirements, permits and red tape that many projects entail make it easier to mobilize and help communities in places like Mexico and Africa, where officials are not making sure all paperwork is completed, than to do good in America.
Flash Love and its activities help remove that red tape for the youth. Ivanov said that the need for permits and an overwhelming amount of red tape “takes away the desire when someone has a spark of good.”
“The arms of the churches got knocked out, and the legs got kicked out from under them,” Ivanov said. “And it’s sad to me, when I see so many good churches, so many good organizations, that would do good, and then one lawsuit closes down ministries, shuts down and destroys good leaders. I’m sick of it.”
Ivanov said that one event in particular exemplifies the work Flash Love does. About a year ago, a woman’s mobile home burned down while she was away on a trip with her daughter. She was facing a fine from the mobile home park if the wreckage was not cleared, but could not afford the cost of clearing it.
Flash Love mobilized to clear the site, despite not having licensing or permits.
“We came and we did it,” Ivanov said. “I don’t care.”
Ivanov said that when he is working to plan these events, he is constantly led by his faith, and is often challenged to “step over my fears.”
“I choose to keep my feet to the fire because it hurts enough for me not to worry about the petty things that would hold me back,” Ivanov explained.
Service and fun go hand in hand
Most events put on by Flash Love comprise a service portion and then a fun portion.
Leaders meet for four Mondays leading up to the service event to plan it, and identify a need as well as ways to meet that need. They also plan and choose a fun activity to help engage the participants after the service event. Ivanov said that the youth bring the most important element to the Flash Love movement.
“They bring the most essential element to that event,” Ivanov said. “I can strip everything down, and if the youth is still there, you got the event.”
Ivanov has been amazed by the response of local youth to the Flash Love program. “They like the service part more than even the fun stuff that they choose,” Ivanov said, and explained that the only way he can fully understand that is that “there’s camaraderie, and camaraderie is formed under difficulty.”
“I give them the ability to feel and to see what it’s like to be a part of a family,” Ivanov said.
Flash Love has done multiple projects that involved organizing labor to help clear sites or fix projects. They recently went to Portland to distribute socks, gloves and other gifts to the homeless. Most recently, on Sat., Dec. 2, a group of approximately 20 high schoolers that form the leadership core of Flash Love, mobilized to distribute Christmas trees to families in need.
The group assembled in the morning at Diamond R Fast Tracks and Go Karts in Vancouver. Owner Chris Ray has been a major supporter of the Flash Love movement, Ivanov said, and helped donate the Christmas trees that were distributed.
Once the group met, Ivanov rallied them before boarding Flash Love’s school bus. With music blasting, the group first went to a tree farm in North Plains, Oregon, to collect the Christmas trees.
The energetic group of teens ran through the farm picking up trees and loading them into the back of the school bus, then rapidly boarded the bus to head back to Vancouver.
In Vancouver, approximately 20 families had been identified that could not afford a Christmas tree and were nominated via social media for Flash Love to deliver a tree.
With Christmas music blaring from a portable speaker, the group got off the bus in front of homes, apartments and even a Motel 6 to drop off the trees. Surprised residents of the homes opened their doors to find a group of 20 high schoolers smiling and wishing them a merry Christmas before departing almost as soon as they arrived, leaving a surprised and happy family, and ample amounts of Christmas cheer, in their wake.
Students praise Ivanov and his efforts
Students involved with Ivanov and Flash Love all said that they love working with the group and serving others.
Juan Carapia, a student at Heritage High School, said that Flash Love is unique because it allows youth to serve the community in ways that most youth groups do not. “Participating in every event is special,” Carapia said.
Tim Dovzhenko, a student at Clark College, agreed. “The best thing is definitely when we go out and we serve people,” Dovzhenko said.
Running Start student Natalie Vuziy said that Flash Love has an undeniable impact on the community. “It does make an impact, you can see it,” Vuziy explained. “You can see how it’s changing the world around us.”
The students all also had high praise for Ivanov, calling him not only a “great mentor” but inspirational as well.
“Working with Andrey, literally for me, it’s changed my life,” Carapia said. “He’s someone that’s big and wants to change something, which I really want to do too. I want to change the world like he does.”
Dovzhenko said that Ivanov’s faith is evident in his work, and that he puts God first in everything he does. “He focuses on people a lot more than himself.”
Leaders in the Flash Love movement echoed the sentiments of the students they help mentor. They all thoroughly enjoy the service aspect of what the movement does.
Paul Girard met Ivanov through his church, and began working with Flash Love several years ago. He said that his favorite part of Flash Love “is really working with the youth.” He said he admires Ivanov for having a “vision that a lot people don’t have.”
“You’re instantly lifted when you’re around him,” Jamie Neiderhauser said. She also said that her favorite part of being involved with Flash Love is “helping the families and watching the kids step up.”
Chris Ray has played a major role in facilitating Flash Love events, from donating his time to drive the bus, to providing a place for the youth to race go-karts and learn to work on them, and said that he enjoys the service aspect of the movement. “I like giving back, I like seeing the children being able to inspire the other ones.”
The new face of philanthropy
Bill Ritchie, retired pastor of Crossroads Community Church, has watched in awe of Ivanov and his efforts over the years.
“I believe Andrey is the new face of philanthropy, of giving yourself away,’’ Ritchie said. “There are a lot of younger people who don’t have big money to give away but they do have time they are willing to give away. Andrey marshals people who want to do that — help other people. He doesn’t have $50 million to give away, but he has a heart and he can marshal hands and he can help people. That’s Andrey.’’
Ritchie said that Ivanov has been shown this path his entire life.
“I worked with Andrey before he ever became a 501c3 (organization),’’ Ritchie said. “I was with him in the early days. He comes from an incredible family. His whole family, you just say ‘wow, I wish everybody was built like this.’
“Andrey has a heart for people,’’ Ritchie continued. “For whatever reason, he gives himself away selflessly. He is selfless to a fault. I can’t say enough good things about him and what he has done.’’
Ritchie says from time to time he still gets calls from Ivanov, eagerly seeking to find a place in the community where he can contribute.
“He will call me out of nowhere and say, ‘Bill, do you know a street where there are elderly people who are not able to rake their leaves this fall so we can go help them?’’’ Ritchie said. “Then, he will put together a flash mob of people and show up and do the whole street.’’
And, in a true giving spirit, Ivanov doesn’t seek credit for his contributions to others.
“He is really big about staying out of the limelight,’’ Ritchie said. “He is not a guy who tries to call attention to himself, absolutely not.’’
Ivanov said that Flash Love continues to grow. Currently, the group is on track to have over 1000 students involved by the end of the year. He said that the goal is to get all the local high schools engaged in the movement, and as many youth groups as possible.
Flash Love is not limited to the Vancouver area. Ivanov hopes to engage with Portland schools in the future, and eventually work with schools and groups all along the West Coast.
“This doesn’t have limitations to it,” Ivanov said.
As Flash Love continues to grow, it gives youth an outlet for their energy, and the services they do allow today’s youth to “overwhelm a person with kindness, with love.”