Youth Life: Join the club



One might say Scott Smith gets paid to be a teenager.

Smith, the director of Moffat County Young Life, dedicates his life to hanging out with teenagers, whether it is playing Sony Playstation, throwing Frisbee in the park or going fishing.

"In Young Life we're trying to go in and love kids where they're at," he said.

Smith took on the leadership role of Young Life in the area last August.

Since then he's been working to establish the faith-based organization in Craig that has been in existence nationwide since 1940.

The mission of Young Life, which caters to more than 700,000 teenagers nationwide, is to:

"Introduce adolescents to Jesus Christ and help them grow in their faith."

Formal activities sponsored by Young Life include group meetings held every other week during the school year, trips and Bible studies if a teenager chooses to do so.

But Smith said his main job is to be an adult in the community who is there to talk and listen to young people when they need an adult to trust.

"I've had 17-, 18- and 19-year-old guys crying on my shoulder," he said. "It's amazing to have them trust you like that."

The meetings hosted by Young Life are held bi-weekly during the school year at Serendipity. They involve a lot of music and humorous activities, Smith said.

Smith plays the guitar and often has students accompany him in

making up the rest of the band, he said.

They play everything from U2 to Vertical Horizon to Van Morrison.

"For an hour we use some humor and music to have fun then at the end I tell the kids I want 15 minutes to tell them about something that's important in my life," he said.

The Bible message at the end is why many students want to return the next week, Smith said.

"Kids want to come back and ask what the next message is," he said.

While the mission of Young Life is to introduce young people to Christianity, Smith stressed that students who have never read a word in the Bible are encouraged to come, and should not be intimidated by the fact that it is faith-based organization.

So far about 60 teenagers have been involved in activities sponsored by the group, Smith said.

"Over half of them are kids that are not regularly involved with church," he said.

Any young person is welcome to come, but they choose what they want to believe, he said.

"We just respect people's right to choose," he said. "You have to have faith yourself. No one can force that on you. We're putting it out there in a relationship-based outreach, whether it's playing Playstation or taking a kid fishing."

Some might be surprised at the small amount of Bible discussion during club, he said.

"A teenager who is president of a church youth group might come to club and say 'where's the beef?'" he said.

If a teen wants to learn more about God, there are opportunities offered for further study, he said.

"I'm a teacher, not a preacher," he said.

"I do Bible studies if kids want to go deeper. But even if people don't call themselves Christians they are welcome to come to the club."

Young Life has been in existence in Craig for many years, but the national organization has placed Smith in the area to increase participation.

Mayor Dave DeRose became a supporter of the group when his son was in high school.

"I've seen what this group did for my kid and other kids when we had a group in Craig before," DeRose said. "It gives every kid a team to join. In our society if you're not an athlete you sometimes can't get involved."

DeRose said the faith-based aspect of the group is important, but said it is more all encompassing than that.

"Young Life is a group situation where young people have an opportunity to deal with adults," he said. "Biblical values are taught, which to me is important. But it's not a church. It encourages kids to find a church home but doesn't preach any certain view. It teaches kids a lot of good values and to trust in adults."

Two weeks ago Smith took a group of nine local high school students to Crooked Creek Ranch in Fraser.

At the camp owned by Young Life, the students hiked, rode horses and swam.

"I had a Suburban full of kids that cried the whole way back," Smith said. "They said it was the best trip they'd been on in their entire life."

Ellisa Simpson, a 10th grader at Moffat County High School, was one of those students.

"It was really fun," she said. "We did so many activities and met a lot of people."

One of her favorite activities, she said, was trying to get through an obstacle course without being hit by water balloons thrown by fellow campers.

Amanda Wright, who is also a 10th grader, said she also enjoyed the trip.

"We did everything," she said. "It was so much fun. I'd never climbed an actual mountain. Once you get to the top at 13,000 feet it is just so pretty to look back down."

Both girls were involved in Young Life last school year.

Simpson said she enjoyed the experience and learned a lot.

"It's for kids who don't know a lot about God but want to," she said. "I went because it sounded fun, but when you start going you start getting interested."

Wright's reasons for attending the meetings were the same.

"I go there to learn about God and do fun activities," she said. "I used to go to church just because my parents made me. But now I'm going to start reading the Bible."

The camp made her faith even stronger, she said.

"That week made me open my eyes that I can do anything with God in my life," she said.

Smith said the relationships those students are developing in the club and at camp might last a lifetime.

"Many people who were in Young Life 30 years ago will tell you they are still in touch with one another," he said.

Smith said while the past year has been a success, there is still room for Young Life to grow stronger in the community.

"The big challenge is building a community that says 'we own this,'" he said. "So when I move on, Young Life goes on."

DeRose agreed.

"We need to establish the kind of program that lasts past Scott and even me," he said. "As this continues to grow it will be a community buy-in thing."

Young Life should belong to the community, Smith said.

"We're still struggling to get it off of the ground," he said. "We just need people to say we don't want to let this thing go."

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