NEWS on LIFE, WORK, & PLAY in Mississippi's College Town

2017 SRW Charity Profile: Starkville Young Life

Starkville Restaurant Week is less than a week away, and one of the things that makes this seven-day culinary showcase unique is having the opportunity to raise awareness about the three Charity Finalists, nominated by the community. Since the inception of Starkville Restaurant Week, Cadence Bank, our Gold Charity Sponsor, has generously provided $5000 to the local charity receiving the most ballots during Restaurant Week. This money is applied to local programs which directly affect Starkville and Oktibbeha County through the work of the winning organization. Restaurant Week eaters play a huge role in continuing that tradition of community service. Every time you eat at one of our 30 participating restaurants, you will have the opportunity to vote on which charity you feel is most deserving of the prize!

This week, we will be sharing profiles of each of our three Charity Finalists so that you can learn more about their work and their impact on the community. Each profile also contains information about how you can support and join in the good work accomplished be each organization. Good eats really do good in Starkville!



How long has your organization been in operation and how was it founded.

Young Life is a group of caring adults who go where kids are, win the right to be heard and share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with them.

The vision began in the early 1930s when an elderly woman, Clara Frasher, recruited a group of her friends to pray for the teenagers attending Gainesville High School in Texas. Six years later, during the spring of 1939, a young seminarian, Jim Rayburn, started a chapter of the Miracle Book Club in Gainesville, Texas, a small town 75 miles to the north of Dallas. As he was developing the program in Gainesville, Rayburn also worked with a local pastor, Clyde Kennedy.

Like Clara Frasher and her prayer circle, Kennedy was concerned about the town’s teenagers, who showed no interest in engaging with traditional church programs. Realizing something must be done, Kennedy hired Rayburn to fill a part-time position within the church in order to accomplish something vital beyond its walls.

After exploring several possibilities, Jim decided that the best setting for the proclamation of the Gospel was at a Young Life club, held in the home of one of the kids. Club involved lively singing, a skit and a short talk about Jesus Christ. Jim believed that every kid had the right to hear the message of Jesus Christ and decide how to respond to the Gospel.

Young people who made the decision to follow Christ became involved in “Campaigners,” a discipleship group where they participated in Bible study, prayer and sharing.

By 1944, Add Sewell, one of the first five staff members, discovered the key to going deep with kids: spending time with them on their turf. Add spent hours each week with kids, developing a relational style of outreach. Convinced that he had to win the right to be heard, he simply made friends with them. This approach eventually became known as “contact work,” and it’s been at the heart of Young Life’s mission ever since.

Camping has also been a significant part of the Young Life ministry. Jim’s vision in those early years led to the acquisition of several Colorado ranches. Today, 33 picturesque properties continue to provide magnificent backdrops against which to present the Gospel, while giving kids the best week of their lives at the same time.

Over the years, Jim gathered a group of gifted men and women around him and sent them out to start Young Life ministries to kids all over the United States. This was the Young Life staff.

Volunteer leadership — the backbone of Young Life — emerged from Wheaton College in the late 1940s. Staff persons found that they could multiply their efforts many times over by the strategic use of volunteer leaders. Today, more than 39,000 volunteer leaders work alongside staff persons to touch the lives of kids.

Young Life started in Starkville in 2013 at Mississippi State University with nine college students who couldn’t stand the fact that Young Life didn’t exist for kids in Starkville. Since then, we have three ministries at the university, Starkville High and Starkville Academy. We currently have four staff and forty volunteers that show up on these campuses in hopes of seeing more kids come to know and follow Jesus.

What is your organization’s on-going mission?

Young Life’s mission is to introduce adolescence to Jesus Christ and help them grow in their faith and our vision is that every adolescent will have the opportunity to meet Jesus Christ and follow Him.

Does your organization work with any other groups or non-profit organizations to accomplish its mission?

Young Life is a Para church organization. While we don’t directly partner with any organizations, we do work with local youth ministries, churches, and other Para church organizations to reach adolescences in Starkville with the gospel.

In what ways does your organization impact Starkville and the Golden Triangle area?

Young Life doesn’t start with a program. It starts with adults who are concerned enough about kids to go to them, on their turf and in their culture, building bridges of authentic friendship. These relationships don’t happen overnight — they take time, patience, trust and consistency. So Young Life leaders log many hours with kids — where they are, as they are. We listen to their stories and learn what’s important to them because we genuinely care about their joys, triumphs, heartaches and setbacks.

We believe in the power of presence. Kids’ lives are dramatically influenced when caring adults come alongside them, sharing God’s love with them. Because their Young Life leader believes in them, they begin to see that their lives have great worth, meaning and purpose. This is the first step of a lifelong journey; the choices they make today, based upon God’s love for them, will have an impact on future decisions — careers chosen, marriages formed and families raised — all ripples from the time when a Young Life leader took time to reach out and enter their world.

Can you briefly share one of your success stories?

In the beginning of September, I went up to Starkville high with two of my leaders, Bryce and Alexis. We spent time catching up and talking with kids we hadn’t seen in a while as well as kids we’ve never met. After the last lunch was over, we stood outside the cafeteria talking before heading back to our cars. All of a sudden, there was a frantic student that sprinted past us. He looked like he was on a mission. All of our heads turned mid conversation to see where he was going. Our eyes followed as he ran up to a big man rolling out a trash can filled to the brim with four lunch periods worth of trash.

Bryce, one of our new leaders, looked back at me and said, “I’m gunna go check this out!” Alexis and I shrugged and watched as Bryce ran over to investigate. We heard the student frantically say to the big man with the trash, “Wait, wait don’t throw that away I lost my retainer!!” My heart sank. There was no way this guy was going to be able to find that retainer in four lunches worth of trash. There was just no way. He was going to be in so much trouble when he got home and you could hear the fear in his voice. Then I saw Bryce put his hand on the kids shoulder and ask, “Can I help you look for it?”

Bryce and Alexis put on gloves and jumped in the trash with the student. They dug through mounds and mounds of stinky trash and sure enough, after an hour and a half of searching, they found both top and bottom retainers. That student came to club that night and had a literal blast. Everyone knew his name. He was a hero that night.

What better picture is there of the mission of Young Life? This is what we do. We jump into the literal mess with kids. We meet them where they are, desperate for something, and we love them. We step into their life and ask if we can help, and then we dig through all the junk for as long as it takes in hopes that they might know the love of Jesus Christ.

Approximately how many people does your organization serve each year?

Young Life serves hundreds of school and college students in Starkville. However, Young Life serves millions of kids worldwide.

How does your organization receive funding for your work, and what would the $5000 SRW Charity Prize help you achieve?

Although Young Life is an international organization, it is 100% locally funded. Young Life survives off of the interest and ownership of the community through monthly and yearly donations. We hold an annual fundraising dinner but most of our funding comes from individuals that believe in mission and commit to monthly giving. However, in addition to our operational budget we have a campership budget. Each summer Young Life sends kids to one of twenty-six amazing Young Life camps. Camp costs $650 and there will be some kids that turn away because of the cost. Our hope is that we can use a large portion of the $5,000 to help scholarship kids to go to camp this summer and give every kid the chance to experience the best week of their life.

What do you feel is your group’s greatest accomplishment?

We have a heart for adolescents in Starkville and it shows. Our leaders can regularly be seen with kids in this community at games, coffee shops, and in the lunchroom. We have seen kids dying to know if they matter, belong, and have purpose experience each of those things as one of our forty leaders consistently shows up in their live. But more than that, we have seen kids realize that its not just their leader that says they matter, belong and have a purpose but that the God of the universe feels the same way about them. We have seen numerous kids experience full life in Christ for the first time.

Where can people go to learn more about your organization, and how can people get involved?

People can go to our website to learn more!

Young Life needs your help! You can get involved as a volunteer, as a committee member, or by giving financially.

  1. Volunteer Leader—Volunteer leaders are absolutely vital to the mission of Young Life. It is their involvement that allows lives to be changed. Young Life volunteer leaders participate in a full range of activities that help them build these significant relationships with kids.
  1. Committee Member—Members of a Young Life committee are adults who are committed to providing every kid in their community the opportunity to hear about Jesus Christ in terms they can understand. Committee members pray for Young Life, promote the ministry in the community, care for the local staff and volunteer leaders, as well as ensure the financial health of the ministry.
  1. Giving—Financial gifts are essential to Young Life because regional and area staff are responsible for raising 100 percent of their budgets, which mainly include staff salaries and benefits, administrative costs and programming costs. As a donor to Young Life, you can specify how you want your money to be used — program expenses, funding a yearly event such as a banquet, sending a teenager to camp (campership), purchasing a much-needed van, you name it! You can also give to various missionwide initiatives, like to campership for kids from multicultural areas or to Young Life’s ministry outside of the United States.

You’re one of our Top Three SRW Charities! Now tell us what it means to you to be included as part of Starkville Restaurant Week as one of the Top Three Charities.

It means the world! It means that the community believes in who we are and what we do and that fuels us all the more! Young Life’s founder Jim Rayburn said that the best Young Life has yet to be done. The fact that we are one of the Top Three SRW Charities means that we have the chance to continue all the more in our mission to reach every kid, everywhere for eternity!