Young Life Lite

Drama. There can be a lot of it in high school. And sometimes Young Life leaders walk into the middle of it — but they don’t usually visit hair and wardrobe first.

Last April, Jillian Jainga, a leader in Conway, Ark., entered into a teenage drama when she became a cast member of Conway High School’s production of the musical Hairspray. She learned the music and choreography between the opening and closing numbers of the final performance. She wasn’t an understudy. She was a quick study.

Young Life leaders are welcomed to the school’s productions by drama teacher and director Mr. A.J. Spiridigliozzi. (For obvious reasons, everyone calls him Mr. S.) Leaders hang out backstage and help with everything from costume changes to moving sets. Mostly they hang out with student actors while they await their cues. Jainga was standing offstage with Livvy Pierce just before the opening number, “Good Morning, Baltimore.” The scene calls for cast members to cross the stage throughout the song as though walking the streets of the city. Just before her entrance, Livvy, dressed as a nun, grabbed Jainga’s hand and said, “Walk across with me!” As Jainga protested, Mr. S walked by and quickly gave his consent to her appearance in a later scene — provided she could be properly costumed in 1960s attire.

If the request is legal, moral and no one gets hurt, Jainga’s game. “I hate to say no to kids,” she said. “Especially if it only embarrasses me. That’s in my job description.”

In no time, eight girls were choosing Jainga’s costume, applying her makeup and shellacking her hair with — what else? Hairspray. A few guys joined the group to teach Jainga choreography for the finale. Thirty minutes after the opening number, Jainga was ready. She appeared in four scenes that night and checked #13 — “Be in a play” — off her bucket list at the same time.

“Jillian’s just goofy enough to do the musical,” said Livvy. The leader has been a presence in Livvy and her friends’ lives since Jainga moved from Oregon to Arkansas. She shows up at lunch, sits in the student section at games and just hangs out. “I think she’s even in the yearbook,” said Livvy. She went on to say, “It’s so nice to have someone who’s been there before to talk to. At the same time, she’s someone who can just goof off with us.”

Jainga is happy to play a role in Hairspray in order to win a part in girls’ lives. “These are great girls,” she said. And as much as Young Life seeks to reach the “furthest-out kid,” Jainga often spends time with kids who “don’t have that look.” Sometimes it’s the kids with the starring roles, the grades, popularity, and all the accolades who most need a friend. Jainga said, “The super-high-achieving students are under pressure. They’re stressed out.” And in Conway where churches out-number gas stations by a factor of four, and faith is commonly expressed, Jainga “gets even more excited when a girl knows the truth and is ready to go deeper — to make faith her own.”

That’s the role of a lifetime for a Young Life leader. To walk into the drama of high school and help kids discover the story the master playwright has scripted uniquely for them.​