The Power of a Young Life Leader

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Miss Illinois, the Malibu Dock and Mental Health Education​

​In the words of Grace Khachaturian, “Working with teenagers through Young Life had a huge influence on my decision to compete for Miss Illinois. Participants get to choose a social impact initiative, and I chose to advocate for mental health education in high schools.” Grace is a follower of Jesus, a Young Life leader, a senior at the University of Illinois and the current Miss Illinois in the Miss America Organization. She will also be an intern at Malibu this summer and has served on work crew and summer staff. It all started in sixth grade, when Grace went to WyldLife camp and met the Lord. For the next six years, she continued to attend Young Life camps and grow in her faith. She became a junior leader in high school and served on work crew at Lost Canyon. Around this time, she also began her involvement with the Miss America’s Outstanding Teen Program. 350x350IMG_1134 (1).jpg

After high school, Grace continued influencing high school students as a Young Life leader. Like many leaders, Grace says that her Young Life girls are some of her best friends. She has led the same group of six girls for the last five years and took them to Saranac Lake in 2017. This week was critical for Grace as she walked alongside high school friends struggling with internal challenges of being a teenager. One camp conversation was rooted in Jesus’ question of the man at the pool of Bethesda, “Do you want to be well?” All the man had to do was say “yes.” One of her high school friends accepted the invitation and said, “Grace, I’m ready to be healed.” 

Later, God used another opportunity at a Young Life camp to inspire Grace to choose her platform of advocating for mental health education for her teenage friends. While on summer staff, Grace connected with a camper who sat in the same place on the corner of the outer dock each day. She invited the student’s Young Life leader to join them as the conversations dove deeper into questions of identity, worth and purpose. Grace said, “That summer, I was blessed to witness the power of a Young Life leader and see the breaking down of relationship barriers stone by stone.”

smallerIMG_2646.jpgRealizing that there was a lack of utilization of mental health resources for teenagers in their schools, Grace began her movement, which involved competing for Miss Illinois, meeting with a senator to advocate for greater resource accessibility for teens and speaking at high schools across the state of Illinois. As she continues to present her social impact initiative, “You Matter: Mental Health Education for Our Youth,” she is essentially giving a secular, public-schools-approved club talk in high schools based on Scripture that declares the deep worth and value of these young adults. 

In September 2018, Grace was able to represent the state of Illinois in the 2019 Miss America competition. One of her high school friends, who is now a senior, surprised Grace by cheering her on at Miss America, along with her community of friends and family. For Grace, this was “a platform to proclaim Jesus, to share about my experience at Young Life camp, pray for each competitor by name and be a witness for Christ.” On a stage before millions of viewers, this Young Life leader talked about the girl she met on the corner of the Malibu dock and how every person’s story deeply matters. The impact of her work will continue to create ripple effects as more students hear of the good news of Jesus. Grace continues to mentor her high school friends and writes daily devotionals on her website. She has a daily devotional book that will be published within the year and can be followed on her website. 350x350IMG_5110.jpg

Grace is one of thousands of Young Life leaders who serve daily so that their friends may know Jesus. She has an older brother and two triplet brothers, and all four siblings serve through the ministry of Young Life. As our ministry grows to over 100 countries, we are dependent upon leaders to faithfully love kids and invite them to know Jesus. Grace is a great example of one young person willing to give her time, energy and resources away so that others may know Him. If you have a story of a leader who impacted your life and helped you know your worth in Christ, we would love to hear it! Send us your story at