'We want all kids'
"The more I worked with kids here, the more I saw a need. Kids need to be loved," Donna Baldwin said. "We live in a broken world and a lot of kids need someone to love them. Here we are to do that."
Baldwin, career development coordinator and counselor at East Rutherford High School (ERHS), plans on sharing that love with teenagers by starting a Rutherford County Young Life group. The nondenominational group will bring the good news of Jesus Christ into the lives of adolescents and the programs are custom made for kids throughout their adolescent years.
"The messages are aimed at the heart of a teenager and a lot of them don't get that anywhere else," Baldwin said. "They get a piece of the gospel message and by the end of the year they have heard the whole gospel."
The goal is to have the group meet once a week, outside of school. During the meeting the students will hear a message, play games, perform skits and get to know one another.
"My sister has four boys in Greenville. They are Christian but don't go to church. My nephew got involved in Young Life when he was in the ninth grade and it totally transformed his life," Baldwin said. "I got to witness the change in him and it was fascinating to watch."
After her nephew's experience, Baldwin and her husband Kent began brainstorming on how they could bring such a program to teenagers in this area. They spread the word around ERHS and took 30 interested students to Young Life camp in Weaverville.
"The idea was that they were going to come back from camp and bring Young Life here. It's a student-led group and because they learned about it at camp they can share it with their friends," Baldwin said.
After their camp experience, most of the students agreed that it was the best week of their lives.
"They kept saying that it was going to be the best week of our lives before we went, but I wasn't too sure about that. But it turned out to be really good," Maggie Hopper said. "I loved bonding with the whole group and finding out more about myself."
Along with the normal camp activities, students experienced music, skits, games and lessons that revolved around the gospel.
"I had so much fun and learned so much about God. I didn't think I could do that at the same time," said Jasmine Wood. "My favorite part was the ropes course which was challenging. I didn't think I could make it through but I did."
Mackenzie Fletcher said the best about camp was cabin time when she got to know the other girls better.
"Camp turned out to be more than I ever thought it could be. For cabin time all of the girls went back to the cabin and we talked about what we learned in the message," Fletcher said. "At first nobody wanted to open up but then we became comfortable and became like sisters."
After camp, the students did their job and the news has spread. Baldwin says the goal is to get students from the other high schools involved soon.
"It's growing already. The ones that went to camp are pulling in kids that are interested," Baldwin said. "The hope is that kids come and feel loved, accepted and know that somebody cares. I can already see it changing the climate of the school."
Volunteers have developed an adult committee for the group and are currently trying to raise money to hire a Young Life area director. This staff person would devote their time to holding Bible study groups for the students and growing the program, including the start up of WyldLife, a program for middle school students. They are also asking any young people who would like to volunteer their time to get involved.
"We are looking for young adults who want to be a part of this and develop relationships with the students," Baldwin said. "We would love to have more young people and committed adults who want to work with us. Also anyone who has Young Life experience can come. It's all volunteer-led so we could use more help."
Baldwin also wants to get local churches involved. She said the group does not want to compete with youth groups and wants to help each teenager find a home church.
"We want to get them connected with a church that will be there to support them throughout their life," Baldwin said.
Baldwin hopes to have the first school-wide meeting at the beginning of October and then begin inviting students from the other high schools to join.
"We want all kids," Baldwin said. "If they accept the gospel or if they don't, we are going to love them anyway."
To learn more about Rutherford County Young Life or to become a volunteer, contact Donna Baldwin at firstname.lastname@example.org.