Young Life Lite

When Kelsey Cobb and Alyssa Titus, University of Florida students, arrive in Clayton Estates in Gainesville, everyone knows who they are — even if they don’t know their names. “WyldLife’s here!” is the shout that echoes in the homes of middle school kids as Cobb and Titus gather them for club on Thursday evenings.

It wasn’t always that way. Everything changed when Fort Clarke Middle School could no longer accommodate weekly WyldLife club. A nearby church graciously opened their doors to the nine-member WyldLife team, but the change meant kids could no longer drop in to WyldLife after school. And in this lower-income area, lack of transportation hinders club attendance. The first club night in the new location only two kids showed up.

“Bianca and her friend had a blast, and so did we,” said Titus, but the team realized that to reach more kids, they would have to gather, transport and return kids to their homes every week.

If the Clayton Estates parents had any concerns about releasing their kids to the care (and cars) of the WyldLife team, those were quelled the day Cobb and Titus showed up to take Bianca for a cherry Slurpee and, instead, created a neighborhood happening with some tape and a Disney princess ball.

Cobb remembers arriving that day to meet with Bianca and finding not only Bianca but a girl named Shawna* as well. “That was the miracle that day for me,” said Cobb, “because Shawna had been suspended and since she had no phone I had no way to find her.”

“I had been praying for a chance to see her, or to run into her, and there she was. I ran up to her and hugged her to let her know I was so glad to see her,” said Cobb. They invited Shawna to join them, but they had to wait for Shawna’s mom to return before she could leave. To pass the time, the WyldLife team co-leaders reached into their bag of tricks, known as the “club box” (perhaps a more common item in the trunk of a Young Life leader than a spare tire).

Cobb and Titus taped off a four-square court in the middle of the seldom-traveled road and started the playground game. In minutes, nearby doors opened and younger kids came out to join them. Moms with babies on their hips turned out too. After a while, the court was surrounded, traditional game rules were relaxed and as many as five kids stood in a single square awaiting their chance to bounce the ball to another square. Cobb calls the afternoon one of her “most favorite days ever.” Around that simple four-square court, the girls answered questions about WyldLife and why they were in the neighborhood.

Titus considers it the perfect example of what Young Life does best. “We were there to be part of their world and community, not just to take them into ours. In Young Life, it’s about you going to them and reaching them. That’s what Jesus did.”

These days, more than 40 middle schoolers regularly attend club. Moms wave goodbye from the door and kids at the next stop wait in groups for a chance to go to WyldLife. Attendance is limited only by the number of seat belts in the team members’ cars. And what weighs on the leaders’ hearts are the kids they turn away for lack of transportation. But at least the kids know that WyldLife will be back.

“What these kids need most is consistency,” said Titus and Cobb. “With so many people coming and going, they live in a culture of adults leaving, not coming to, them.” So the Gainesville WyldLife team keeps showing up, week after week, making sure that kids like Shawna know that Young Life leaders stand squarely in their court — however the ball bounces.

*name has been changed