Building relationships and introducing adolescents to faith is what Young Life is all about, and organizers are hoping to expand its reach in Cabarrus County.

Cliff Wright, Young Life metro director/associate regional director for the greater Charlotte area, said the organization has been around Concord and Concord High School since 1996 and just recently began taking off near Harrisburg.

But the Harrisburg area, known as southwest, has posed some obstacles for growth.

“In Cabarrus County, Young Life is focused in three different areas; northeast, northwest and southwest Cabarrus. We try to have community impact in each place,” Wright said. “One of the obstacles is that Harrisburg doesn’t connect to Concord, doesn’t connect to Concord Mills… so there are separate communities there. In order to have the most effective presence we’ve organized so that we’ve got committees in each one of those parts of the county.”

The leaders and committee members from the southwest want to get more students involved and start more programs in the coming months.

What is Young Life?

Young Life’s mission is to introduce adolescents to Jesus Christ and help them grow in their faith. The organization does this by praying for young people; going to where kids are and building personal relationships with them; providing fun, adventurous, life-changing and skill-building experiences and working in the community alongside like-minded adults.

According to its website, the nonprofit reaches out to nearly 1.5 million middle school, high school and college students in communities across the country and around the world. It was founded in 1941 by a young pastor with a passion for the students in his community who had no interest in Christianity.

During the school year, adult leaders—both staff and volunteers— build relationships with students attending the school to which they have been assigned. Leaders may attend school activities open to the public, meet with students at school during open access periods, with permission of school administrators, or organize activities open to all students.

The central Young Life activity during the school year is a weekly gathering called “club” which usually meets in private homes. Music, games and a brief talk by one of the leaders are all part of club.

There is the main Young Life for high school students, WyldLife for middle school and Young Life College. The organization also offers a program for children with disabilities called Capernaum and YoungLives for teen parents.

A life-long friendship

When Truit was in high school she said a Young Life leader entered her world and changed it forever.

“Friday nights sometimes she’d be at my house or took me to a movie. Having someone that was kind of a season of life ahead of me and living so differently; she was this college student that was not living this stereotypical college life and would bring me into it,” Truit said. “I feel like for me it was providing this relationship that was this hope of this life that tangibly I didn’t know what it was, and as our relationship developed and learning about what it truly means to follow Jesus and have life look different and experience life in the Lord and not in the world.”

Her experience in high school inspired her and now she has been a Young Life leader for 10 years. The relationships she’s developed with the younger student she has met along the way turned into bonds that couldn’t be broken.

“I’ve been to weddings. I’ve been to funerals. I’ve been there for really incredible things and really hard things. It is this life-long friendship where I get to step in and be a consistent person that loves them and cares for them but also extends this hope of Jesus in their life that is not just in the confines of when you are in high school,” she said. “We are going and meeting these kids and building relationships with them that are life-long.”

Plans for the future in Cabarrus County

Leaders say about 50 to 60 Hickory Ridge High School students and about 15 to 20 Jay M. Robinson students are involved in Young Life in the southwest area now.

Taryn Truit, Young Life staff member who is overseeing development in this part of Cabarrus County and is a volunteer with students from Hickory Ridge, said her hope is to start by spreading community awareness. She has been visiting churches in the area and speaking to different groups about Young Life’s mission and approach.

“As we are learning and meeting different people in the community we see if they know what Young Life is, but many of them don’t know it has the different niches of ministry. So that’s something we are really excited to talk about,” Truit said. “Because as we’ve been doing that we’ve had people say ‘Oh I didn’t know that existed. I have a child with special needs and I didn’t know there was a place for them to belong.’ So that’s been really cool.”

Wright said the goal is to start YoungLives, the program for teen moms, in Cabarrus County in the next year and continue to grow the Capernaum program and Young Life as a whole in the southwest area by reaching out to families.

“I think as we dream about our area and our school, we hope for more school immersion like togetherness in our Capernaum ministry and what we are doing already at Hickory Ridge and Jay m.,” Truit said. “We are in this dreaming phase of how do we continue to growth both and even have ways where they could be intertwining.”

Volunteers have been going out into the Harrisburg area and talking with businesses about the organization and there was recently a golf tournament held in the town to benefit the Young Life expansion.

Chelsea Carpenter, a mother in Harrisburg, is one of those volunteers. She decided to work for the cause after learning more about Young Life’s mission.

“Learning more about what Young Life does in our community; it’s such a positive impact. They are trying to make this place better,” Carpenter, who has been spreading awareness to Harrisburg businesses, said. “I have two children who are growing up in the public school system here in Harrisburg and I want them to have the outpouring of what Young Life’s going to do long-term. So in 10 years my kids will experience the fruit of this labor we are doing now.

Wright’s big goal is to have Young Life in every high school and WyldLife in every middle school in the county.

“The goal is that there wouldn’t be something that happens in the teenage world in Cabarrus County that we are not at least one degree of separation from; whether it’s a student that has a problem and needs somebody to talk to or a tragedy in the community,” Wright said. “That there wouldn’t be anything that happens that are Young Life leaders in that specific community are one degree of separation from.”

For more information about the Southwest Cabarrus Young Life like its page on Facebook. For more information about Young Life in general or to find a club in another part of the county, visit https://www.younglife.org.

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