Changes on the horizon?Published 9:59am Friday, July 6, 2012
Youth for Christ gets full-time director, sets sights on youth center
Organizing members of Austin’s Youth for Christ are expecting some big changes on the horizon, thanks to the arrival of Jami Jongeward.
“We’re very fortunate that Jami came here,” said Bill Holder.
Bill and his wife, Helen, are two of a handful of people in the advisory team that will help Washington state native Jongeward as she becomes the first full-time director of Austin’s YFC.
“YFC’s goal is to reach unchurched youth and get them actively involved in a local church,” Bill said. It’s considered a para-church organization, meaning it’s not affiliated with any one church.
Apart from the director, Austin’s YFC typically has four to five people on its team, who do anything from advise the director to participate in fundraisers. Right now, the organization does not have an Austin office, though it will sometimes hold meetings in living rooms.
Helen said efforts to have a YFC in Austin have been off and on over the years, but the organization has been active for about the last six years.
“It sounded like such a phenomenal opportunity,” Jongeward said of the job.
But the new director has her work cut out for her. Bill said he hopes Jongeward will be the turning point in a stretch of directors who have done well but left their positions after a short period.
“We’ve had some really good people,” he said. But every time one left, the organization would essentially have to start over.
Another problem was that Austin’s YFC would share directors with Albert Lea. The director would alternate days between the cities, meaning there was a lot of driving and it was hard to focus on either location.
“When you’re only here for two days a week, it’s hard to get things going,” Bill said.
Connecting with youth
Now that Jongeward has arrived and can devote her time to her work, she’s left to deal with one major question: how should she start?
The organization targets a range of different youth, Jongeward said. Some had gone through the motions of being raised Christian but had never really made it a part of their lives. Others had never been exposed to the Gospel at all.
“There’s a real need in this town,” he said. “Some of those kids are just really floundering.”
At this early stage, Jongeward is working to form goals for the organization.
“A lot of it is, ‘what do I want this to look like?’” she said, adding it’s important to craft her efforts around the needs of the children.
Jongeward said she plans to use Albert Lea’s YFC as an example, since its branch of the organization is so established. She said she’d like to see a teen center like Albert Lea’s “The Rock” in Austin, where teens can drop in and participate in activities or just play foosball and socialize, for example.
The idea is going to take time and money.
“She’s got to get her own support,” Bill said. “That’s what’s really exciting. That she’s willing to get out there and do that.”
YFC is in the middle of a fundraiser where it sells Colorado peaches, which the organization has done in previous years. An event like this is a way Jongeward can gather funds. Several donors also help out on a regular basis. So far, however, the organization has not had enough to rent out the building for a youth center.
Before any of that, however, Jongeward said she just wants to get to know the children and teachers.
“I’d really like to start at the high school,” she said. From there she may expand her efforts to middle school classes.
Although students will move outside the scope of YFC’s age range once they leave for college, Holder said their connection to Christ doesn’t need to stop there. Riverland Community College has a group called Righteous Invasion of Truth, or RIOT, that welcomes students interested in Christianity for discussion, prayer, Bible study and social activities.
Jongeward has only been in Austin for about two weeks. Before that, she lived in Yakima, Wash., where she spent the last couple of years leading and teaching a youth group. She said she first got involved with the youth ministry in 2007 or 2008.
Before that, Jongeward was attended school at Seattle Pacific University, a small Gospel-oriented college. She began her undergraduate courses with the goal of teaching elementary education, but that soon changed.
“It’s funny how you plan your life one way and it turns out another,” she said.
She was away on a two-month summer trip to Russia between her sophomore and junior years, visiting children in orphanages there.
“It opened my eyes to the needs of the world and the needs of the kids,” Jongeward said. “And even how much it means for a kid to have someone just be there and listen.”
When she returned to the U.S., she changed her major to educational ministry. After graduation, while searching for ways to put her new degree to use, she came across an opportunity in Albert Lea. She inquired about it and was told the position had been accounted for, but soon was directed toward Austin, where YFC was looking for a director.
Not long after she arrived, Jongeward spent a week at a YFC camp near Bryceland, Minn., acclimating to the organization. Now, Jongeward is in Austin and working out of her home. She said she’s still settling in and getting used to a smaller city, but so far everyone has been very friendly.
The only bump in the road has been the weather, she jokes, since the heat index at the YFC camp was somewhere around 105.
“I told her it was cold in Minnesota,” Helen laughed.