• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

Mentoring young lives in Woodford County


YOUNG LIFE Woodford County held its inaugural summer camp in Lake City, Mich., this year. Front, from left, are Ann Varatharaj, Nikki Branham, Eli Bradshaw and Anna Shank; back, D.J. Bernabe, Mason Senters, Lane Moore, Carson Craig Lucy Childers, Courtney Branham, Alexis Kirkland and Chris Eckroth. (Photo submitted)

Young Life Woodford County mentors are spending time with high school teens to share what they - as Christians - believe matters most: the truth about Jesus Christ and His love for them, said area Director Jordan Branham. Young Life Woodford County recently returned from its inaugural summer camp in Lake City, Mich. And for many teen campers, those six days at Timber Wolf Lake can best be described as the "best week of their life," said Branham.

The 14 Woodford County teens got to participate in a variety of fun outdoor activities, which many have never experienced. They also stayed in air-conditioned dorms and ate meals featuring "some of the best food that you'll have in your life," said Branham.

Young Life Woodford County has already begun looking at four or five camps as possible destinations for next summer, according to Branham. He said teens paid $685 for this year's camp, but scholarships are available for those who cannot pay for the all-inclusive summer camp.

"Not everybody can afford camp," said Branham, "and we never will allow money to be a stumbling block for camp . If they want to go to camp, they're going to get to go."

While summer camp offers an unforgettable experience for Young Life Woodford County teens, Branham said he and his volunteer mentors spend countless hours at sporting events and other activities as well as offering help on homework.

"We have staff and volunteers that basically enter the world of kids," said Branham, a graduate of Woodford County High School. "We go to them on their turf, focusing on what matters to them most."

Young Life Woodford County will eventually offer a once-a-week night of activities including a message of the gospel, according to Branham.

"Young Life is very relational," explained the father of three. "We don't put on programs to attract kids." Teens most often learn about Young Life and its adult Christian mentors from their friends, added Branham.

Efforts to bring Young Life to Woodford County began with an informational meeting in December 2013. A committee was formed in May 2014, and after several months of fundraising efforts, Young Life Woodford County was officially launched in June 2015, according to Branham.

"Young Life does not exist anywhere," he said, "without a group of caring adults who believe in the mission, and love teenagers."

Brian Craig's brother was very involved in Young Life as a teen, and Craig said he became very involved as an adult and wanted to bring the teen mentoring ministry to Woodford County when he and his family moved here. "It's the most impactful youth ministry that I've ever personally been around," said Craig. "It really does make a phenomenal, an amazing difference in these kids' lives to have older people that are really good role models . That are going to love them no matter what.

".If they reject the gospel, they're still going to be loved." Craig and two other golfers, Matt Harrison and David Beach, each played 101 holes at Moss Hill Golf Course on Aug. 3, and raised a little over $9,000 for Young Life Woodford County.

Those and other dollars raised at fundraising events increase the number of scholarships available to teens who cannot otherwise afford to pay for its summer camp, said Branham. He said three or four teens went to camp this summer on scholarships.

An international, non-denominational Christian ministry headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colo., Young Life has spread to all 50 states and more than 90 countries around the world, according to its website. The nonprofit organization celebrates its 75th anniversary in October.

Other outreach ministries include Wyldlife, for middle school kids, and Capernaum, dedicated to kids with special needs. Neither is offered in Woodford County, but both are programs that Branham said he'd like to see happen here.

For additional information about Young Life Woodford County, visit woodford.younglife.org.

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