Article Nicholas Chai | Photos courtesy of Jay Peterson
A Christian-based faith isn’t a requirement to participate in Young Life Platte County and Young Life KC North, two chapters of a national nonprofit that introduces local high school adolescents to Jesus Christ and helps them grow in their faith.
Jay Peterson, the Platte County area director, describes Young Life as a non-denominational out-reach ministry. The ministry “does not discriminate against any adolescent that wants to come and be a part of Young Life as long as they are not hurting or putting other students at risk,” says Peterson. “Our focus is to reach out to un-churched students.”
Legacy Lives On
Presbyterian youth leader Jim Rayburn founded Young Life in 1941 in Texas. Today, the international organization has 3,300 staff and extensive programs to serve youth. Young Life Platte County reaches 225 kids from Platte County High School, Park Hill High and Park Hill South. The KC North group, guided by area director Brad Voigt, attracts 250 kids from Liberty, Liberty North, Kearney, Lawson, NKC, Oak Park and Staley High.
Adult volunteer leaders invest time and energy with high school students at weekly events. A committee of parents, teachers, and community leaders also raise funds to meet budget needs, coordinate communication and awareness events and take care of Young Life leaders so they can focus on the ministry.
Peterson first became involved with Young Life at Platte County High School when an adult volunteer befriended him. “Over the next couple of years of high school, he helped me understand more about the person of Jesus Christ,” he says. “I went on to serve as a Young Life volunteer leader with my wife while at the University of Missouri and for a few years after.”
After Peterson and his family moved back to Kansas City two years ago, he accepted the area director position when it was offered to him eight months later. “For me it was a chance to continue the legacy of reaching adolescents in the community I grew up in,” he says.
Leading and Learning
Students attend weekly hour-long Club meetings, usually on Wednesday nights, that involve fun and organized activities. Kids also meet at weekly Campaigners in a student’s home to talk about personal issues and study the Bible. “It is more laid back and less chaotic than Club,” says Peterson. “Our volunteer leaders also meet with groups of kids each week to go bowling, play sports, help with homework or just hang out wherever kids are.”
Mark Comfort and Mimi, his wife of 30 years, have been involved in Young Life since 1997 when they moved to Platte City. “We got involved because we were told by so many people in Platte City to get our kids involved in it. It is a great program,” says Comfort.
For the past twelve years, the Comforts have hosted Club meetings for up to 100 kids in the basement of their home. The meetings involve a fun skit and/or game and then a raffle giveaway. The group sings upbeat and serious Christian-themed songs. Afterward, a speaker tells a biblical story or principle and then applies it to his or her life. Comfort says, “Usually the speaker is an upperclassman, or a college student that is a high school alumnus. Someone that is young enough to connect with the kids.”
Comfort touts the values that Young Life instills in the community’s youth. “Young Life teaches kids to have good clean fun and learn biblical principles, such as the Golden Rule or respecting authority. How men should treat women and how women should act with a man; everything that parents, educators, bosses, coaches, and adults want to see in high school kids.”
Young Life culminates its school year with an annual summer camp. “We
take over one hundred kids a year to our multi-million dollar properties that YL owns across the country,” says Peterson. “For a week kids get to experience adventure, fun, humor and talks about life with their leaders. It
is truly a life changing experience for these kids.”
Past camps have been held in Crooked Creek, Winter Park, Colorado; Windy Gap in North Carolina and Timberwolf in Minnesota. This summer, 50 Platte County High School students went to Lost Canyon in Williams, Arizona joined by hundreds of other students from around the country.
Camp activities included a giant water slide, a climbing wall and a ropes course. High school and college volunteers worked alongside paid staff at the camp for a month.
At the camp, Club featured several musicians and singers who led kids in contemporary pop and spiritual songs. Skits and games kept the kids engaged and energized. “At the end the camp speaker shares a message about Christ. Then the kids return to their cabin with their friends from home,” says Peterson. “The leader talks about what they heard and they share their lives. Kids get a lot out there about their struggles in life, school, faith, friends and family. It breaks down walls.”
Community Reaps Rewards
Young Life in the Northland has built a bridge between generations and forged bonds over a common interest. For active leaders such as Peterson and the Comforts, the energy and love expended is returned many times over. “We get as much out of the kids as they get out of Young Life,” says Comfort. “Mimi and I act as counsel if needed, and are loving people displaying Christian love to each kid. My wife gets her hug quota met every Wednesday, as do I. We try to model what a Christian man and woman is, and what a happy married couple acts like and looks like, as so many of the kids are living in a single-parent home.”
Comfort continues, “Young Life has been a blessing to us personally, and thousands of kids are better adults and citizens now in our community because of Young Life. Many former students are now leaders of Young Life
or in their church and community.” NL
For more information, visit YoungLife.org.