By Stephen Baldwin, RealWV
Rural communities often lack central gathering places for teenagers found in urban areas. This leads organizations providing support to teenagers to shift strategies, going to teens directly where they spend time.
“We meet kids where they are and earn the right to be heard in their life,” explains Hannah Vogelson, Greenbrier County Young Life staff associate.
Young Life is a national, ecumenical ministry with local branches throughout the country. In West Virginia, Young Life has a presence in 32 counties and 107 high schools and middle schools.
“We are a nonprofit that’s locally funded,” Hannah explains. “We partner with a variety of churches from lots of denominations. All of our funding comes from Greenbrier County and stays in Greenbrier County, which is something not a lot of folks realize.”
How does Young Life work?
The organization has two chapters–”Young Life” for high schoolers and “Wyld Life” for middle schoolers.
Hannah runs the high school program, while Maddi Richmond runs the middle school program out of James Chapel United Methodist Church in Crawley, WV.
As Hannah explains it, the program has six components, which she calls “the six Cs.”
“We don’t just walk up and start preaching to students and expect them to believe what we believe,” Hannah says. Instead, “You go where kids are.”
Leaders go to student’s games, practices, plays, concerts, recitals, events, and performances. They go without a role or agenda; their goal is to “cheer them on and support them.”
After Young Life makes contact with a student, they invite them to club. What is club? “A party with a purpose,” Hannah explains.
It usually includes skits, games, and lots of chaos. The goal is to build relationships, and they do end each club by offering a devotion for the students to hear.
“We don’t want to force the Bible on anyone,” she says, “but we believe it’s true and want to share it with others. We want students to feel comfortable and safe and know they are loved.”
They offer club 1-2 times per month after school on weeknights. At Western Greenbrier Middle School, it’s an official club of the school that meets during school. Over 50 students attend there regularly.
Next, Young Life wants to dig deeper. Once they’ve connected with young people and hosted them for parties, they extend an invitation to Bible Study where they can ask questions, learn, and grow together.
Hosted in people’s homes, the campaigners meet weekly. In addition to Bible Study, they break bread together.
“It gives the kids a chance to process it and ask all the questions they have in a safe space,” says Hannah. “It lets them figure out if they believe it or not.”
If students want more at that stage, Young Life also hosts summer camp. “It’s very much an outreach camp,” Hannah explains. “It’s not a typical church camp.”
Students engage in a variety of outdoor recreational activities including horseback riding, go karts, hiking, climbing, and more. “It’s a place where kids can be kids for the week,” she says.
Behind all the programming is the committee, a group of adults who volunteer their time to guide the chapter. They assist with fundraising to pay the staff and operating the programming. They also provide prayer and support to the members.
Last but not least, comes the church. While Young Life is supported by various churches from various denominations, they are not connected to one particular church. Instead, their goal is to refer students in their program to local churches who can meet their spiritual needs long-term.
“Young Life ends at some point,” Hannah says, “so we want people to have a place of community where you can grow in your faith.”
For Hannah and Maddi, the idea behind Young Life is simple–”We believe in creating authentic friendships.” It happens in different stages and time periods, and they are just grateful for the opportunity.
“Sometimes that happens quickly, sometimes it takes years, and sometimes it doesn’t happen,” Hannah concedes, “but we love them anyway regardless.”
If you’d like more information, visit www.younglife.org for general information. You can find the Greenbrier County Chapter on social media @gbc_yl or @gbcwl. If you want to be involved in the program, reach Hannah at firstname.lastname@example.org.