Young Life wants to grow

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Illuminated by floodlights below an otherwise black sky, showers of colorful plastic Easter eggs rained down on a white laundry basket perched on a stand made of PVC pipe.

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Members of Young Life attend the group-wide October meeting, in which clubs from five schools come together.  EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
Members of Young Life attend the group-wide October meeting, in which clubs from five schools come together.

Below, more than two dozen high school seniors – many in Halloween costumes – giggled and scrambled to pick up the eggs that fell, to toss them again in an effort to get as many in the basket in the time allotted as possible. Their goal was to score the most over the other high school classes.

The game, along with at least two others going on in the Episcopal Day School athletic field Monday night, was designed to get teenagers in the same age group but from different schools to interact with each other.

It was Farm-O-Ween, the October monthly all-city meeting of Young Life, a nondenominational ministry that seeks to meet youth where they are.

Young Life has been active in the Augusta area for about 60 years. Adult leaders conduct weekly club meetings at five high schools – Evans, Lakeside, Greenbrier, Augusta Prep and Westside. Kids sing and play games and socialize, and at the end of the evening they learn a little about Jesus.

Once a month, the school clubs combine for an all-city meeting.

Young Life has experienced a decline in the area over the past couple of decades, especially in Richmond County, area director Clay Bagby said.

“(Young Life) started in Richmond Academy in the ’50s,” he said. “Richmond Academy had a huge involvement.”

Butler also had a large, active club, he said.

By the late ’80s, though, the club had faded out of Richmond Academy and many other area schools.

Bagby is hoping to bring it back.

When he returned to Augusta in the summer of 2012 – Bagby attended Young Life as a student at Westside High School until he graduated in 1992 – clubs were being conducted at Westside, Evans and Lakeside.

Efforts were already underway to start a club at Augusta Prep, and it launched in fall 2012.

Greenbrier quickly followed.

“For us, going to Greenbrier has just simply been a matter of continuing to walk through open doors,” Bagby said. “We’ve been asked why there isn’t a club a Greenbrier for many, many years. The only answer is we need the resources to be there. We need leaders.”

The groundwork is being laid at Laney High School so that hopefully next year, a club will begin there, too.

“Young Life is for every kid,” Bagby said. “What we’ve seen is it has grown in areas that is more in Columbia County. It’s grown in a direction that seems to not include every kid right now. We want to make sure all kids are getting the opportunity to make a decision about Jesus. My hope is that we can grow back into Richmond County.”

Bagby emphasized that club leaders do not preach to students during campus meetings.

“We’re not at the school proclaiming the gospel. We’re there to care for the kids, and to show them that we care for them,” Bagby said. “The school is very gracious to let us be there, but at any moment they can close the doors to us.”

Young Life is about more than just club meetings. Volunteers, such as Ashlee Allen, become integrally involved in the lives of the students they lead.

“We’re building relationships with high schoolers. Not just talking to them,” Allen said.

Allen, 25, is a pre-K teacher, but for the past seven years has attended Evans High School football and volleyball games, hung out at Sonic and the swimming pool, and on her days off goes to the school and eats lunch with the students she leads at Evans.

“My goal on Monday nights, when they come into club, is just an hour where kids are just (having) fun. They don’t have to worry about the troubles of school (or) what’s happening at home, the peer pressure, the temptations of parties, relationships or anything like that,” she said. “It’s just a bunch of teenagers being goofy, acting silly, and at the end I get to say, ‘Hey, there’s this guy named Jesus, and he wants a relationship with you.’ ”

It’s fun, said Caitlin Leonard, a sophomore at Evans. She joined Young Life about a month ago, and Monday was her first all-city club meeting.

She said she went to hang out with her friends.

“They were right when they said it was fun,” she said. “I’m having a good time hanging out with everybody.”

Evans senior Connor Moore has been attending Young Life all four years of high school. He plans to become a leader himself when he goes to college.

He said he enjoys hanging out with friends and watching other kids meet Jesus.

“It’s really awesome how a bunch of kids our age can get together and worship Jesus,” he said.


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