Young Life Lite

Fairfield, Idaho, may be a small town, but because of its proximity to one of the state’s most upscale ski resort towns, Sun Valley, it’s not unusual to spot a big-time celebrity looking to hit the slopes or sitting at a local restaurant.

But Fairfield’s biggest stars aren’t the Hollywood ski bums. Instead, thanks to Young Life, it’s the teenagers of Fairfield who are getting the spotlight. They were honored last May during their very own, Young Life-flavored “Night at the Oscars.”

The night unfolded in an old theater (that’s now a church) in the hub of Fairfield. The entire community was invited, including the high school’s entire student body, which numbers about 68. A movie theater “dinner” of popcorn, hot dogs and punch was served and, after that, all the guests were ushered outside and lined up on the theater’s steps to kick off the second half of the evening.

A red, plastic runner was rolled down the steps. Girls in formal dresses from past school dances and guys in their T-shirts and jeans took their stroll down this “red carpet” and into the theater, waving to the parental paparazzi who ardently snapped photos and asked for autographs.

Once inside, the awards presentation began. Some of the guys even got into the formality of the evening and donned dated ties provided by Young Life leaders. Young Life leaders served as emcees, announcing nominations for various obscure categories like “The Almost Perfect Attendance at Young Life” and “Future Young Life Leader” and “Best Dynamic Duo” and then flashing kids’ pictures on the big screen that had been taken throughout the year. As each winner was announced, the spotlight found them in the crowd and followed them as they approached the stage, with various instrumental versions of the “Oscar Meyer Weiner” song playing in the background.

A trophy shop donated old trophies for leaders to give each kid. But these weren’t ordinary trophies, of course. Leaders had taped new “plaques” that read “Oscar Meyer Winner” over the misspelled names of past bowling league champs and most-improved Little League players. And taped to the top of every trophy — which numbered about 46 in all — was an Oscar, an Oscar Meyer hot dog, that is. And after being handed their “Oscar,” some kids even hammed it up with acceptance speeches.

For this all-volunteer team of seven Young Life leaders, this Oscar Night was more than just a grand finale to mark the end of the school year. “We wanted kids to stand out, so that people know they’re important,” Char Engelstad, one of the Young Life leaders, said. “It’s important to validate kids. There are a lot of negative things in their world. Anything we can do can help. It was so fun to see their reactions. The kids just loved it.”

Engelstad also said that some of the kids likely had never received an award or been recognized in high school. “There are lots of kids who aren’t in sports or who aren’t scholars.”

This group of Young Life leaders wanted kids to know each one of them is not only noticed, but worthy of some spotlight and recognition.

“For our town, this event was significant,” said Jennifer Brown, one of the Young Life leaders. “About half of the high school was there. And it was great for parents, too. Who doesn’t want to see their kids get recognized for something?”

“I think all the kids saw that we care enough about them to show them we love them.”

For one night in Fairfield, Young Life leaders showed the whole town how important kids are. And throughout the rest of the year, leaders here are showing kids that it’s God who always takes notice of them, recognizes the best inside each of them and desires to give them a heavenly trophy — a crown of life.