Providing a Place: Westfield Young Life group grants kids belonging, celebrates 10 years

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    Leader Andy Aiken and Logan Reiff attend Wyldlife camp.
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    Leaders Drew Kjeldsen, Zac Ediza, Andy Aiken, Michael Hiatt, Jonathan Rogers, Thomas Wagner, Libby Walker, Korbin Cook, Kirsten Sobol, Alison Krupski and Sarah Kjeldsen. (Photo by Sadie Hunter)
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    Vanessa Pacheco participates in a Young Life event.
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    Members participate in a Young Life paint war event. Back, from left, David Mendoza, Grace Beam and Maddie Nosler. Front, from left, Bryson Wittler, Ryan Ravo and Dylan Zellers. (Submitted photos)

By Anna Skinner

Young Life is a faith-based organization, but Westfield Area Director Sarah Kjeldsen said that’s not the first thing the group imprints on the kids involved.

“We’re outreach, so we want people to know everyone is welcome. Our goal is to share Jesus, but you won’t find that written on our shirts,” said Kjeldsen, who has been area director since September. “We are not trying to compete with youth group. We want to reach kids that don’t have a place to belong already and haven’t heard that we believe (they’re) created by God and that he loves (them).

“We talk all about adolescence and trying to figure out who you are, do you belong. Our goal is to make a safe environment for kids to ask those questions.”

Young Life was integrated into Westfield 10 years ago, but it has been active nationwide since 1941. Local parents realized its impact and wanted to bring it to the Westfield community.

Kids participate in various ways – during clubs once a week at the Village Farms Clubhouse and through a Bible study called Campaigners, or during a weeklong camp over the summer.

“Camp is meant to be the best week of your life,” Kjeldsen said. “We believe that knowing God is life to the full, and we want the camp experience to be life to the full. Dinner is family style. Our leaders from Westfield go to camp with the kids and come home with them, too, and continue to be in their lives, whereas a lot of camps you meet a counselor for a week, then go home.”

Kids fundraise themselves for the camp, generally raising between $700-$900 to attend,  depending on the camp location.

“Our belief is the whole thing that makes Young Life work is really great leaders,” Kjeldsen said. “Our ministry is more about the relationship with a leader, so that you have this consistent person in your life that’s mentoring you as well.”

Kjeldsen originally served as a volunteer for the organization while teaching English at Westfield High School for nine years. In January of 2015, she left to become a staff member at Young Life.

A yearly fundraising event will be held March 14 to celebrate the local entity’s decade of involvement and raise funds for the organization’s existence. The goal, Kjeldsen says, is to provide adults in the community with a Young Life experience.

The event is free. Check-in begins at 6:30 p.m. at IMMI Conference Center, 18881 IMMI Way. Dinner is provided and Jon Houghton will present. Houghton is the regional director of the Chicago area and previously served as area director for Carmel. City BBQ is catering, and donations are requested at the event.

“The purpose of the fundraising dinner is to try to have people experience what Young Life is all about and not just hear about it,” Kjeldsen said. “We have adults in the community experience Young Life and ask for financial assistance because we can only do this on local support.”

Attire is casual, and there will be a Big Ten basketball theme. For more, visit westfieldyl.younglife.org.

MORE OUTREACH

In addition to Young Life which targets high school students, the organization established Wyldlife for grades six through eight and Vida Joven, which is Spanish for Young Life, approximately five years ago to strengthen its outreach.

“Wyldlife’s purpose is we know that students face a lot more in middle school now than a few years ago as far as access to the world,” Westfield Area Director Sarah Kjeldesen said. “We saw a need for middle school kids with the same questions high school students have and are now getting exposed to so much more.”

As far as Vida Joven, Kjeldsen said she and her team realized that the Hispanic population at the high school lacked involvement in clubs or after-school activities.  That club, the same age as Young Life, meets after school to avoid transportation issues. It serves as a bridge to attract minority students to Young Life. Vida Joven and Young Life members participate together in all special events.