In Woodbury’s young existence, any organization that has been around for more than 20 years is considered an institution. But it’s not Young Life’s 28 years as part of the Woodbury community that grants this status; it's the organization’s unique approach to connecting with adolescents. Though for many it’s a Christian organization that can introduce teens to the teachings of Jesus, for many teens it’s a safe space with guidance from caring adults and peers.
While many Christian organizations rely on young people coming to them, Young Life fosters relationships with youth by having a presence at local groups and gatherings youth already care about. There, Young Life leaders are able to connect with young people and invite them to be part of a community that offers a safe space, assurance and guidance.
It was this principle that attracted Woodbury director Jack Youso to Young Life. “Students at this age want to learn. They are asking questions in every area of their life,” Youso says. “At the same time, these young people are increasingly skeptical of agendas. They see so many ads. Connecting authentically is everything.”
An average of 60 high schoolers and 30 middle school aged students attend what Young Life calls “club” every Monday night in the homes of volunteers and parents. Every club has a theme, such as lumberjack or nautical, where attendees are invited to dress up and participate in games and activities related to the theme. Young Life sometimes refers to club as "parties with a purpose," because at the end of each club, leaders provide guidance infused with Christian teachings.
“We have members that completely tune out the minute we start talking in any Christian terms...,” Youso says, “…and that’s okay. It’s about us creating a supporting, safe environment for these students at a crucial time in their lives.” This approach works; Youso estimates 150-200 different Woodbury area students attend Club throughout the year.
Carly Newcomb, a senior at East Ridge High School, has been a part of Young Life for a little over two and a half years. For Newcomb, the group is as much about her health and happiness as it is about creating relationships. "I used to get so anxious about school," Newcomb says. "The people I've met and the experiences I've had at Young Life have allowed me to really get to know myself, and God, and that has rippled through every aspect of my life. I am so much less anxious, and more sure of myself and where I'm going."
Newcomb says she plans on continuing her involvement for the foreseeable future. "I can't imagine my life without this," she says. "When I have children, I will want them to be a part of this."
Volunteers also play a large role in Young Life. There are 10-20 adult volunteers who serve as leaders in the program and provide meals and open their homes to the clubs. There are an additional 12 members on the Young Life committee who oversee operations, fundraising and logistics.
Julie Broshat, who has been on the committee for four years, became involved in Young Life when she saw the profound impact it had on her two sons, Michael and Matthew, in high school. “I saw them change before my eyes and I knew I had to see what it was about,” Broshat says. Shortly after they joined, her oldest son, Andrew, gravitated toward the group after witnessing the same change in his brothers. “Young Life has transformed the life of my family, just by opening up to us.”
“It’s amazing to see the passion this group of students and adults have, without having promised or signed any commitment to being here,” Youso says. “All are welcome to come and experience Young Life.”
Get Involved with Young Life
2017 Young Life Golf Classic
Hit the greens at Eagle Valley Golf Course during Young Life’s largest annual fundraiser in June. Check website for details.
Youth Camp Castaway July 2017
Young Life promises “The Best Week of Your Life” at this one-week experience from June 25-July 1 at Castaway Club in Detroit Lakes, Minn. All the best of a Minnesota summer—rock-climbing, zip lines, sailing and more—and unforgettable connections made.