Black on Black violence is increasingly high, especially amongst youth. No longer do youth, especially urban youth, have to deal with the normal challenges of growing up, but many now deal with poverty, broken homes, drugs and, violence in the street, at their schools and some even in their homes. With all these distractions, it is increasingly harder for youths to stay on the right path. In an effort to guide and keep them from straying, the once active Young Life Urban Pittsburgh is now working to re-establish itself in the Pittsburgh area to show students they have choices and a support system.
“We believe that kids are greatly impacted when caring adults come alongside them. We are here to build lasting relationships and friendships,” said Chuck Taylor, area director of Young Life Urban Pittsburgh (YLUP). “We go to where the kids are. A lot of programs are in buildings where kids come to them, and there is nothing wrong with that, but what about those kids that aren’t going to those buildings or organizations, those who are too afraid or do not care about themselves? Reaching kids is more effective when you go out to where they are and build relationships.”
Young Life is a national non-profit, non-denominational Christian outreach ministry for high school and middle school students that seek to introduce kids to Jesus Christ and help them grow in their faith, by having caring adults meet them on their turf. It began nationally in 1941 and is currently in every state and more than 50 countries internationally.
Young Life goes to the schools, builds relationships with the kids and then after school teaches those who are willing, about the Lord through various clubs, which are social gatherings held at schools, community areas or even parents’ homes.
“The ministry is committed to reaching out to kids, walking along side them and establishing a relationship and then, when the opportunity presents itself and they’re open to it, presenting the Gospel of Christ, said Joseph Hines, a YLUP board member. “It can be a very meaningful relationship in their (the children’s) lives.”
Hines, a retired banker and teacher in the Woodland Hills School District, has been involved with Young Life for approximately 40 years and said he has found the organization brings a sense of community, not only amongst the kids involved, but when parents, civic leaders and others get involved.
Young Life operates on the 5 C’s—Contact Work, which is going out to where the students are and building a relationship; Club, which is partying with a purpose through fellowship; Camp, which is a weeklong experience at any of the 32 national camps where kids can develop friendships with people all over; Campaigners, a weekly meeting where students are taught about the Lord and encouraged to join a church of their choice; and Committee, which is comprised of adults from the community who care and provide support.
According to Taylor, Young Life began in the Pittsburgh and surrounding areas in the 1970s, but later died down in the city, while suburban ones continued. Now with a new energy, he is working to bring it back to the city and urban communities.
He said his efforts begin with re-establishing the Young Life Steel Valley, who lost their director the late Ray Saunders a few years ago. Saunders was an active director for more than 40 years.
“I never met him personally, but I heard great things. It is a blessing to come behind him and try to re-establish and rebuild where he left off,” Taylor said.
Taylor, who began his position in June, is all too familiar with the importance of having a good support system to get one through. Taylor said he once battled a drug addiction, but after giving his life to the Lord, he got clean, and has stayed cleaned for more than 20 years, went on to get his education, which includes a master’s degree, and has been the youth director at Rodman Missionary Street Baptist Church in East Liberty.
The vision of the YLUP is to have a chapter in every high school and middle school in Pittsburgh, with the hopes of establishing a presence in at least five city schools within the next five years. Along with having a Young Life in every school, the organization’s goals are also to get more financial support, to build a volunteer base and hire staff so that the ultimate goal, which is the vision, can be reached.
In an effort to introduce the organization to the Pittsburgh community and what it is about, YLUP will hold a fundraising reception on Oct. 20 at PNC Park. Guests will have the opportunity to meet Taylor, the board members, learn about the organization and to get involved.
When it comes to youth violence and addressing the issues, especially in urban communities, Hines said Young Life does not claim to be the answer, but it is an answer and an effective one.
“(By) establishing a relationship with the kids we are showing them that there is an alternative to the conduct they are experiencing.”
Not only does Hines say his organization is different because it goes to where the students are, but also because they work collectively with other organizations.
“We want to reach the kids nobody wants to be around, the ones adults are afraid of or people don’t care about. We let them know we care,” said Taylor.
(For more information on Young Life Urban Pittsburgh or the reception, call Taylor at 412-512-6687 or visit www.Younglife.org)