A Training Ground for Life

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I recently had the opportunity to interview Cory Smith; what follows is a bit of our conversation.

A & F: First, let’s go way back. How did you first get involved with Young Life?
C.S.: That’s easy. The fall of 1991, I was a junior at Loudoun Valley High School in Virginia. Somehow I got invited to go to the infamous, “Smith House” for this thing called Young Life club and I was hooked. That next summer Sam Branham, our leader, invited me to go to Saranac for my first Young Life camp experience. Chuck Reinhold was our speaker. I was forever changed. It will forever be a summer I will never forget.

A & F: Since that time, what has been your involvement with Young Life? 
C.S.: I graduated high school and headed to Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) to play soccer in Richmond. Virginia. I spent six years at VCU getting my undergrad and graduate degrees. I volunteered the entire time under Pat and stayed on in Richmond for my internship with Young Life. The six years volunteering and two years on staff allowed me to be a Young Life leader at Manchester High School for eight years. They were some great years filled with crazy stories and relationships that continue to this day. After Richmond, I was an area director in Farmville, Virginia, and then started a position at the Service Center in Colorado Springs.

A & F: What is “Training Ground”? 
C.S.: About 10 years ago, a good friend and I were both newly married and in the “real world” after college. We thought we were prepared for life after college but, as we quickly found out, we could have been better prepared for those challenges. We spent about a year-and-a-half in conversation about what kind of experience would have been helpful in our development to prepare us for the future. With those ideas in mind, we founded “Training Ground” in December of 2006. In 2007 we had our first group of young men come through the summer program. The three pillars of our summer program are work, wilderness and worship. Seven to nine young Christian young men (ages 18-25) come to Colorado every summer; they live in the same house, have full-time trade labor jobs, have intentional biblical teaching every night, and have numerous wilderness experiences in the mountains of Colorado. Topics of teaching range from personal finance, to the heart of a woman, to how to fly fish. One of the biggest pieces of the program is the involvement of the local area. We have dozens of volunteers who are guides and mentors for our young men. The older men and women involved are crucial to their growth and development. They need the influence and wisdom of the older generations. So if you were to bundle all that together, along with our five-day adventure trips on the East Coast twice a year and our video series, you get our little non-profit called “Training Ground.”

A & F: How, if at all, has your past involvement with Young Life prepared you for, or impacted your work with Training Ground?
C.S.: So much of what we do has been influenced by my time with Young Life. As I was volunteering, and as a Young Life staff person, one of my main joys was working with college leaders. Some of what we offer with the teaching is influenced by me asking the question “If I was in college and leading Young Life, how would I want to be challenged in my faith?” Part of our hope with Training Ground is that we would be a resource to local areas in helping them grow and mature their college leaders and alumni from their high school clubs. In the past summers, we have taken Young Life leaders for the summer and sent them right back into their local areas more confident and mature in their faith, making their impact on their high school and middle school friends more significant.

A & F: What are your goals for the future?
C.S.: I think, eventually, we would like to open up more than one Training Ground. Right now we are working on making our flagship in Colorado Springs really strong. One of our latest developments in this process is a full, eight-topic video series featuring a lot of the teaching we offer over the summer. Our hope with the video series is that it will be used with small groups of young men on campuses and in churches. We are pretty stinking proud of it. You can find more information on our Training Ground Facebook page.

A & F: Any encouragement for the mission of Young Life?
C.S.: Keep doing the good work that you are doing. Love Christ and Love Kids.

Cory, we are proud to call you one of our own, and to celebrate all that God is doing through you and Training Ground. If you wish to find out more about this ministry, you can do so by going to www.trainingground.com or by contacting Cory directly at cory@trainingground.com. If you are an alumnus “in action,” or know of an alumnus or friend we should feature, please let us know by emailing us at alumni@sc.younglife.org.