Young Life Lite: Birds of a Feather

Due to unusually active hurricane seasons in the Gulf regions, the migration patterns of the flamingo recently have changed. Where these pink, long-legged beauties once graced the green spaces of coastal retirement communities, they’ve begun appearing in flocks of 20 or 30 on the lawns of Grand Junction, Colo., residents. Curiously, flamingos are flocking on the lawns of Young Life supporters, a group widely recognized for their impeccable taste and sophisticated style — and their desire to see every kid experience the best week of their life at a Young Life camp.

Last year, Bill Blanton, area director in Grand Junction, his leaders, committee and kids, raised $8,000 for camp scholarships in a continuous pink plastic flamingo flocking caper. The mechanics are straightforward:

  • Purchase plastic flamingos (roughly $5/pair if purchased in bulk).
  • Adorn them with beads, feathers, tattoos, boas, sunglasses (optional, but fun).
  • Create yard signs similar to realtor or campaign signs, printed on both sides with the phrase: “You’ve been flocked by Young Life.”
  • Attach to the signs a literature tube containing a flyer describing Young Life, the fund-raising objective and the option to contribute and nominate the next flockee.
  • Consider adding the “insurance” option to the flyer: “By making a $100 donation to Young Life, I am assured that flocks of plastic flamingos will not descend on my property for a period of one year.”
  • In small teams of leaders and kids, approach the homes of the flockees in the cover of darkness to place the pink plastic kitsch.
  • The next evening, return to the temporary flamingo habitat, remove the birds, sign and donation.
  • Proceed to the home nominated by the previous flockee, and set up flock.

It’s a virtually self-sustaining activity that raises both funds and awareness for Young Life.

Blanton, former Texas trial attorney-turned Young Life area director, said, “This fundraiser succeeds on so many levels. It gets the Young Life name out in a positive, visual way. It allows for some great contact work with area kids. Kids love to flock and be flocked themselves; and, most importantly, it allows kids to take ownership of their own campership. Flocking has gotten kids to camp who never, ever would have gone.”

Young Life flockees Leslie Holzschuh and Diana Janowitz attest to the success of the program. Holzschuh said, “It’s wonderful to walk around the neighborhood and recognize a Young Life supporter, or to have the opportunity to talk with someone else about Young Life.” Diana Janowitz and her family have been flocked three times. She finally conceded and paid the “insurance premium” to create a flamingo-free zone around her home. But, that doesn’t mean she’s not an ardent supporter of Young Life.

Janowitz and her husband have close ties to Young Life and Regional Director T.J. Dickerson. In August 2002, the Janowitzes’ eldest daughter, Anna, was killed in an auto accident three days before the start of her senior year. That same year, three other students died. “It was a traumatic time for Anna’s classmates,” said Janowitz. Dickerson and his leaders surrounded and supported these grieving kids and the Janowitzes too. “If it hadn’t been for Young Life, these kids would have been lost,” she said.

Her words are a reminder that for all the wacky, crazy fun in Young Life — extending even to flamingo flocking — there is a sacred purpose. The ruse of placing misguided birds in neighborhood lawns is all for the sake of finding lost kids and guiding them safely to Jesus. In the case of Young Life flocking, flamingos are more than icons of plastic tackiness. They might better be called birds of paradise.