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Time for Teens

Local Young Life Program Builds Bonds With High School Students

Young Life members enjoyed an adventure excursion this summer.

Young Life members enjoyed an adventure excursion this summer.

Photo Courtesy of Ogden Tabb

Evan Dietz felt like he was suspiciously viewed as the “old guy” when he began volunteering for Augusta’s Young Life program. Part of the 21-year-old’s duties as a volunteer and mentor is to be in the places where teens hang out­—high school football games, basketball games and other high school events.

“I really have a heart for high school kids. I want to do something that has an impact on young people,” says Dietz, who pushed through that odd feeling because he believes he has made a positive impact in his year and a half with the organization.

Young Life is a national organization that started in Dallas in 1941. It has been in Augusta since 1953, according to Ogden Tabb, area coordinator.

At the core of Young Life isn’t a program or group of activities. “Young Life is relational. It’s all about building friendships,” he says. “We’re an outreach and our target audience is spiritually disengaged teens.”

Young Life crosses various denominations. Tabb says he has volunteer leaders from a mix of churches including Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist and Catholic. Currently, Young Life works with teenagers at three area schools—Evans, Westside and Lakeside high schools. “Our leaders know 500 to 600 kids by name” in each school, he says. “They log 2,000 hours a year just working on building relationships.”

Young Life Makes the Connection

Building relationships can be done in a variety of ways. Dietz has a group of teenage boys he regularly plays video games and disc golf with. In addition to building bridges of friendship, Young Life leaders bridge spiritual gaps through their outreach.   

Each week, there is a “club” meeting. “It’s like a really fun youth group designed with the kid in mind who wouldn’t come to church,” he says. “We don’t sing Christian songs. We sing what they’d hear on the radio. We play high-energy games. We have a laughing mission. There is a lot of laughing. We do funny skits and messy fun games. Then we have eight to 12 minutes, where all the talk is about Jesus.”

The club meetings are not held on school campuses. During the last school year, about 450 teens total attended club meetings with an average weekly attendance of 150 among the three schools.

More Than Meetings

For those teens who’d like to become more involved with Young Life, there are additional opportunities including more in-depth Bible studies, community service projects and the chance to go to summer camp.

About 40 teens from Augusta traveled to Colorado earlier this summer, where they rappelled and climbed a 12,000-foot mountain summit all while building relationships.

Dietz says the best times during the day were the cabin times when his group of 10 guys could talk to each other about the issues impacting them. “We met some guys from Auburn and they’ve become like family to us. They told us stuff they hadn’t told their other friends or family,” he says.

Tabb says the week at camp is often life-changing for the teens. A few weeks after this summer’s trip, he received an e-mail from a mother who wrote her child was completely different after the experience.

During the school year, there is a camp in North Georgia, where Young Lifers can go for a weekend.

Growth Is on the Horizon

Although Young Life has been in Augusta for five decades, Tabb says the organization has had peaks and valleys. He’s been working on building the program over the past few years, but he sees Young Life in Augusta expanding over the next few years.

“I’d like to double our impact in at least five years. I’m working on that. We are at three schools. I want to be at six. We have 18 leaders. I want 40. We take 40 kids to camp. I’d like to take 80,” he says.

 To achieve that type of goal, Tabb says Young Life would have to add to its paid staff of one and recruit more volunteers, but becoming a youth leader is not as easy as it sounds. The local chapter has 18 adult leaders between the ages of 19 and 32 with Tabb being the oldest. Volunteers come from all walks of life. They are teachers, artists, nurses, information technology specialists and college students.

Not only do the leaders go through a criminal background check, but they must complete five months of in-depth training with Tabb. “That vets out those who aren’t as serious,” he says.

During that five months, the potential leaders don’t interact with the teen-agers. “I’m getting to know them on a personal level,” he says.
Completing the training doesn’t automatically mean someone will be allowed to volunteer. Tabb says candidates have to exemplify the qualities of Jesus.

Since the program is all about building relationships, Tabb says volunteers have to be committed to stick with the program and invest a lot of time in it.

There also is a need for volunteers who don’t want to work directly with teens in the Young Life program. He says they need people who will pray for the organization and its leaders. There are also adult volunteers who support the work of the club meetings by preparing meals for the leaders.

For more information, call 706-733-2507.

Charmain Z. Brackett is an Augusta freelance writer and mother of three.

Time for Teens - Local Young Life Program Builds Bonds With High School Students

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