By Sandra Zunino
Whether it’s pressure from school, problems in the home, or simple boredom, these days it’s too easy for kids to slip through the cracks. For the past 15 years, Bay Area Young Life Ministries has provided a haven for teens and an opportunity for them to learn about a higher power.
“Young Life exists as a non-denominational ministry for kids,” explains Young Life Area Director Matthew Windsor. “We’re here for every church, but not any one church.”
Geared toward adolescents, grades ninth through twelfth, Young Life adult volunteer leaders venture out into the schools and community and seek teenagers to join the program.
“The unique thing about Young Life is it doesn’t start with a program, but instead starts with people who care about kids,” says Matthew. Once each leader interacts with 30 high schoolers, Monday night “Club” begins. “It’s an hour and a half of organized chaos, music and games,” says Matthew. “For 10 to 15 minutes we also have a discussion relaying God’s word in general.”
Club is organized to provide a safe environment for teens to be themselves without the social ladder and stereotypes associated with school and other youth activities. “When they come here, everyone is on the same playing field,” says Matthew.
Movies, snow-tubing dates and camping retreats at top-notch resorts are just some of the activities Bay Area Young Life teens get to enjoy. Through sharing fun and adventurous experiences, Young Life leaders provide teens another adult to offer guidance. “We are building relationships and bridges so we can earn the right for kids to hear from us about any number of things, whether it be a situation with Johnny and his girlfriend, or Mary who’s folks are going through a divorce…, or whether it’s about Jesus.”
Mathew points out that adolescent issues are unique. “They are living in a different world and a different place,” he says. “I think kids sometimes are not taken seriously.”
In addition to bonding with teens, leaders form relationships with parents as well. When Matthew gathers 40 teens for an activity, parents know it will be properly supervised and their children will be safe. “They need to feel good about their kids being with us,” he says.
Part of Young Life Ministries, Wyld Life caters to middle-school-aged children. Juniors and seniors from the Young Life program assist the adult leadership team with Wyld Life activities. “This gives the juniors and seniors an opportunity to influence middle school kids,” says Matthew. “Many times they are so much better at reaching them than the adults are.”
“Middle school kids automatically gravitate to the high-school aged kids,” he adds.
Young Life volunteer leaders are carefully screened and must adhere to a faith and conduct policy. “If people are interacting with kids, we must ensure the kids’ safety,” says Matthew.
Youth activities are open to any teen who is interested, regardless of school standing. In fact, Matthew would like teens who may be having troubles to know the door is open. “Those are the kids I want,” he says. “Those are the kids who really need help.”
Matthew and his wife Erin have been volunteering with Bay Area Young Life for ten years, and joined the organization as staff four years ago. For more information about Bay Area Young Life, call Matthew at 410-490-3091 or email Windsor@gmail.com.