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Banquet kicks off Jefferson County Young Life

By Staff | May 15, 2012

Chronicle photo by Toni Milbourne Members of the Jefferson County Young Life leadership team prepare for the launch of the program coming this fall to Jefferson High School.

A banquet held Tuesday evening at Covenant Baptist Church kicked off an expansion of Jefferson County Young Life.

Young Life, a non-denominational Christian ministry that reaches out to adolescents through volunteers, staff, club meetings and camps by building meaningful relationships with young folks, will expand into Jefferson High School this fall. A group was established during the 2011-12 school year at Shepherd University under the leadership of Shepherd graduate Joel Heslop. Heslop said Tuesday that the group at Jefferson will be guided by Shawn and Stephanie Wallace.

Shepherd’s group, Heslop said, reached out to more than 200 individuals on campus who attended any or all bi-weekly meetings referred to as “Club.”

One individual who was highly impacted by the addition to the Shepherd campus was Travis Metz. Finishing his sophomore year, Metz shared his experiences at the local university during Tuesday’s presentation. A 2010 graduate of Jefferson High School, Metz said that when he went to Shepherd he felt a lot of pressure to fit into the “party crowd.” Wanting to steer clear of that, he shared that he used a romantic relationship as a reason to avoid the behavior he wanted to stay away from. While he was in a relationship, he indicated when that ended, he could feel himself giving in to the pressure to join in behavior that was not the best.

“It hit me that this was the college norm. I felt kind of left out. Everybody was doing it, so what was wrong with me?” he shared. At this point, Metz shared that he heard about the chapter of Young Life on campus and decided to try it, at least once.

“It brought me a real sense of community,” he said. “It provided me with a guilt free social outlet,” he laughed. He found that he should not feel that something was wrong with him, but rather something was right.

“It’s a lifestyle change for me to become a follower of Christ,” he shared. He hopes to offer that same sense of belonging to others as he has completed leadership training for the upcoming opening of the Young Life Chapter at Jefferson High.

Rick Beckwith, regional director of Young Life D.C. Metro, served as the keynote speaker at the banquet. He shared that Berkeley County has had a successful Young Life presence for more than 10 years and he is excited that a move is now on for expansion in Jefferson County.

The premise of the organization is to meet adolescents at their own level by sending adults into their path. As explained on the national website, “Young Life doesn’t start with a program. It starts with adults who are concerned enough about kids to go to them, on their turf and in their culture, building bridges of authentic friendship. These relationships don’t happen overnight – they take time, patience, trust and consistency.”

The site continues saying, “We believe in the power of presence. Kids’ lives are dramatically impacted when caring adults come alongside them, sharing God’s love with them. Because their Young Life leader believes in them, they begin to see that their lives have great worth, meaning and purpose.

Young Lives has been in existence for more than 70 years and serves 1.2 million adolescents around the world. Volunteers, Beckwith said, are the heart of the mission. Volunteers are needed to serve as leaders, to open their homes for “Clubs” and to offer financial support.

In addition to local clubs, there are camps available for young people to attend to leave their troubles behind for a week.

“Many say it’s the best week of their lives,” Heslop shared.

The formation of the Jefferson chapter will kick off late in the summer with small groups forming before school begins with leaders heading out to reach students on their level at local sporting events. The start of regular club meetings is anticipated in October.

In addition to Jefferson, Heslop indicated there are five other potential ministry spots for Young Life leaders to reach out to community youth. Those are Washington High School and the five middle schools in the county.

“The years of adolescence are critical for life decision-making,” Beckwith said. “Teens have more choices to make with less guidance than ever before.”

While the organization is faith-based, it is not the intention of the leaders to force any belief on any young person. Instead, leaders offer friendship, understanding and a listening ear to those who seek it. While churches do their part, Beckwith said, he notified the attendees at Tuesday’s banquet that more than 50 percent of today’s youth are not involved with a church.

For more information on Young Life, visit or contact Joel Heslop, are adirector, at . Information specific to Jefferson County can be found at www.jeffersoncounty.younglife.org.