It’s easy to feel small and isolated in this hyper-connected world. Just ask the average teen. Despite having any number of ways to connect with others electronically, one can be left with a sense that the connections made are not very authentic and with less purpose that they might have hoped.
But Young Life, founded by adults but made for teens, is determined to counter that stark narrative and instead focus on “building authentic friendships” and ensuring that teens see “their lives have great worth, meaning and purpose.”
The Christian-based group has been around for over 70 years with branches in 41 countries, including Stouffville, but emphasizes that they are not aligned with one particular denomination. Nor is conversion their goal as they reach out to any teens of any faith, race, or group.
Sam Bligh, a Stouffville chapter leader confirms that “although Young Life is Christian based, Young Life Leaders will never impose their beliefs on high school kids, we understand each kid has a desire to be accepted and to belong, we also recognise the value of individuality. Kids from all faith backgrounds are welcome!”
More important says Bligh is that they provide a safe place for teens to grow and meet their physical, emotional, or social needs. That usually includes plenty of, usually hard to find, wholesome fun.
“Leaders meet kids wherever they are (like) skate park, coffee at Tim’s, the hockey rink or soccer field. So this part of the program can meet a wide range of kids. Every Leader with their own group of kids meet each week all together, this is “club” where we sing songs, play games and have Saturday night live style skits. It’s designed to build community, relationships and help teens to simply be teens.”
Young Life also plans group activities like their annual camping trip that takes place every August and other events like pool parties or barbeques.
If it sounds very informal, it’s because it is. No formal memberships are required. Blight notes that while they do work with various community groups, individuals and churches in the community, “most of the time teens get involved because their friends love it.”
The 50-60 regulars who meet weekly are generally in their mid-to-late teens, but the program boasts close contact with over 200 high-schoolers and is growing to include not just more of that age bracket, but a junior high-age crowd too.
Bligh notes “we are starting a new branch of Young Life in Stouffville called ‘Wyldlife’ because we have seen such a success in terms of the positive impact leaders are having on kids. We are expanding the program to impact junior high kids. We already have a team leader for this, Suzi Ferry, who is currently building the foundations for Wyldlife to get the program going in the fall.
The Young Life group is self-funded locally which means every cent raised through donations or fundraising initiatives are funnelled back into the community for the benefit of the area’s youth.
Vetting and training quality volunteer leadership at both the leader (teen activity) level and the committee level is a key to the program’s success in the area. Many leader, Blight notes, are parents of teens involved in the program and although proud of the group assembled now, there is room for more good people to step up and take a leadership role.
If adults or teens want to become involved in Young Life or find out more about the program you can message Sam Bligh at [email protected] or reach out through social media like Facebook at www.facebook.com/younglifestouffville.