When Elena first walked into Darlene Dueck’s seventh-grade social studies and language arts classroom at Castillero Middle School two years ago, little did she know how radically Christ would change her life.
Estranged from her family, Elena had no structure at home and lived in four different places in a year and a half. She attended WyldLife events after being invited by a friend, but remained distant most of the year. In addition to teaching at Castillero, Dueck is a volunteer WyldLife leader in the Silicon Valley. Elena was anything but pleased when she found out that her “strict teacher” went to WyldLife too.
Reluctantly, she attended Oakbridge (Young Life’s camp in California) last summer with Dueck and another leader, Erin Wood.
“She was distant but we just kept loving on her,” Dueck said.
At camp, Christ grabbed hold of Elena and completely turned her world around. Dueck helped bridge the teacher-student relationship by inviting Elena to call her “Darlene.” The two also bonded through the shared activities at camp. Not only did they tackle the high ropes course together, but they also participated in a game where Elena doused Dueck with soda. Elena even gave Dueck a shaving cream hairdo at the carnival — another perfect leader-camper moment.
Even though Dueck connected with Elena at camp, it’s been a team effort to care for her and build her up this past year. While Dueck helps support Elena at school, Elena’s other leaders play an active role in her life as well. Wood helps Elena study and finish math projects while Ileen Urban, another leader, often packs Elena a lunch for school and regularly has her spend the night.
Last year, Elena hated the structure in Dueck’s classroom. Now, she runs there when she needs help, support or even just some food for breakfast.
Elena also had low self-esteem. Now, she does her hair in the morning and has 40 other eighth-grade girlfriends. They attend Campaigners and have sleepovers together.
At Campaigners, Elena is eager and excited to learn. “It’s so awesome to see those brand new, fresh eyes,” Wood said.
Not only was Elena in charge of the last club of the year (which is led by the eighth-graders), but she also signed up for WyldLife camp again and invited new sixth-graders to join her.
“Elena has turned around 180 degrees,” Dueck said.
– Emily Johnston
The Great Carryover
The YoungLives program in Rochester, N.H., has been thriving lately, thanks to a group of mentors and volunteers who have invested personally in the lives of teen moms in the area. “These women are committed to loving Jesus with their whole hearts,” said Bjorn Anderson, the area director for Greater Seacoast, N.H. “They spend hours and hours with these girls, so it is perfectly natural for them to not only invite them to club, but also to church and to spend time with their families.”
Anderson has seen firsthand what the program can really do when it touches an entire family. In 2010 the YoungLives team met Tara, who, after discovering she was pregnant, connected with the growing program. The leaders worked together alongside a local church to throw her a baby shower, which was attended by Tara’s whole family: her twin brother, older sister and her mother. The YoungLives relationships developed during Tara’s pregnancy carried over into her home as Tara’s mother fell suddenly ill and passed away unexpectedly over the Thanksgiving week.
“It was certainly a tragic situation,” Anderson remembered. “The YoungLives team pitched in with groceries and meals, and the same church that helped throw Tara a baby shower was now helping put together a funeral.”
Over the months that followed, while Tara and her siblings struggled to manage without their mother, the YoungLives mentors stayed close beside them. Tara continued to attend club and sought support from her personal mentor, Amanda York.
At the same time, Tara’s older sister, Ashley, was meeting regularly with Dawn Devanna, a YoungLives team leader. Together they spent time discussing the family’s future and issues arising out of Ashley’s new role as the family leader. As their relationship developed, Devanna had the opportunity to share the good news of Jesus Christ. In time, Ashley responded to an invitation to faith at her local church. Two weeks later at the church, Tara and her twin brother both gave their lives to Christ as well, and were baptized.
“To watch this family come to Christ completely renewed my own faith in God’s almighty power,” said York, Tara’s friend and mentor. “Remembering where they came from and seeing where they are now is a true miracle.”
– Laura Spence
When the tornadoes hit Alabama in April 2011, Susie Ankenbrandt texted her Campaigner girls, all freshmen at Homewood High School in Birmingham. “Who wants to go help with tornado relief?” She heard from them almost immediately, “How soon can we go?”
Just three days after tornadoes devastated towns across central and northeast Alabama, Ankenbrandt and her husband, Don, along with Young Life volunteer Sandy Whitten, set out with seven girls to help in any way they could. For one of them, Jennifer Roberts, the tornado’s destruction was personal. Her aunt’s home in Pleasant Grove was destroyed and the girls decided to spend most of their time helping her recover anything they could. “The best part,” said Jennifer, “was seeing the way Aunt Pat’s face lit up when she saw us coming to help.” The girls picked through rubble finding jewelry, old pictures and anything else they thought might have sentimental value.
For these freshman girls, sharing the love of Christ through serving others is not a new concept. They spent their spring break this year on a Young Life Expeditions trip to the Dominican Republic where they helped build houses for locals who work at Pico Escondido, the Young Life camp there. “[In the DR] we had the chance to serve with some of our best friends,” said Sloan Chaney. The girls all agreed their trip had given them a whole new perspective on struggling. So, when the tornado hit, Ankenbrandt never even questioned whether they would want to go and help.
Since assuming a position of leadership three years ago when their WyldLife group needed an additional female leader for camp, Ankenbrandt has formed a strong bond with this group of girls, who were sixth-graders when she met them. They began to share life together regularly after camp, and when they graduated out of WyldLife and went to high school, they just kept meeting. “I love these girls,” she said, “and it has been amazing to watch them grow in their faith and develop into true servants.” So it wasn’t surprising that the day they returned from Pleasant Grove, she received another text. “When are we going back?”
– Amanda Kolman