Rather than simply helping teenage mothers by tossing diapers at them and saying good luck, a local group called YoungLives utilizes a different approach.
The faith-based outreach ministry, where adults help young moms and dads, pregnant teens and their children, does so first by reaching out to them in their comfort areas, then working with them to develop lifelong relationships. The results have been staggering according to Andrea Brakner, who in 2011 started the Lewisville-Flower Mound chapter of the national organization originally launched in 1941.
“I loved the part that YoungLives is relational,” said Brakner, who now serves as associate area director for Lewisville-Flower Mound Young Life. “What that means is we’re doing life with our girls. They become part of our family and that’s where we see the most change happen.
“Our part is to walk life with them. We’re living out what parenting looks like for our girls that we mentor and work with. And we know it’s like when we raise our own children that’s the most powerful way.”
YoungLives operates under the umbrella of Young Life, which launched in 1971 as an outreach program to high school kids. Since then, Young Life has expanded its reach with the mission to have a positive impact on every kid.
In southern Denton County, Young Life also reaches middle school students through WyldLife, serving 10 of the Lewisville ISD middle schools, while Young Life serves high school students at Marcus, Flower Mound, Coram Deo and Lewisville High School.
Capernaum, Young Life’s ministry for kids with special needs, currently reaches kids at Marcus and Flower Mound with the goal of expanding to Lewisville High this spring.
YoungLives, Young Life, WyldLife and Capernaum all work towards the same goals of reaching kids, through relationships and earning the right to be heard.
All groups partner with other community organizations, ranging from area police and fire departments to crisis pregnancy centers and sex trafficking outreach groups to the National Charity League, Community in Schools and Kyle’s Place, to area churches. They also rely on a wide range of volunteers to make it all happen.
“It truly is a community effort from the church opening up their hearts to the volunteers who help us with diapers, wipes, food, helping serve the meals and taking care of the babies,” said Melissa Gomez, who took over as Lewisville-Flower Mound coordinator when Brakner was promoted two years ago. “Plus we have mentors come in and develop a relationship with them.”
Since August, YoungLives has been meeting twice monthly at The Next Step Center at Lewisville’s Valley Creek Church after several years at The Village Church in Flower Mound.
“We have mentors who are helping the girls and guys on a daily and weekly basis,” Brakner said. “It’s different for every girl. We give some rides to school, to doctor’s appointments or to work. We’re just an advocate for our girls. We know a lot of our girls come from single-parent homes and don’t have anyone who is going to these appointments, so we get to be that advocate for them.”
YoungLives serves girls through their end of their first year out of high school, after which they can return and join the Moms in Prayer Program lead by Tessa Nownes.
Brakner is most proud of one of the first girls she helped six-years-ago, who is paying it forward as a staff member. She’s part of the Developing Future Leaders program where she shadows Gomez and others to learn life skills, theological training and leadership.
“That’s exciting to see that happen and watch her mature, grow up and now give back,” Brakner said.
Some of the girls YoungLives help come from hard situations such as homelessness, victims of domestic abuse or sex trafficking; or are involved with drugs. Once the issue is identified, they work closely with other appropriate resources in the community.
About 75-80 girls attend the meetings with a growing number of young dads, mentored by the male leaders and led by Ruben Gomez. They share fun through inspirational messages, games, music and life skills.
“A lot of what we do has happened through word of mouth,” Brakner said. “We’ll get a call to help a friend who needs help. We also work with the student-parent program at LISD.”
“It’s sweet to see how this ministry goes into the families,” said Gomez, a mother herself at age 15, but without today’s resources. “Through these girls they’re seeing change and at least interest in finding out about Jesus and finding out about church. They ask their families to come with them and it’s great to see that.”
Every summer YoungLives take moms and their young children to week-long camps in Colorado or Florida for high school students and Texas for middle schoolers. The club also holds several special events each year, including a huge Christmas party put together by the community to give out gifts and serve meals to more than 175 people.
YoungLives hosts a number of annual fundraisers to help execute its programs.
The first in 2018 will be the annual fundraising banquet Feb. 26 at The Village Church Highland Village Campus. On April 15, will be the Tea Rose Fashion Show at Hidden Pines Chapel in Highland Village to help send teen moms and their babies to camp. On Dec. 1, Young Life will hold its annual Winter Wonderland Gala benefitting all Young Life ministries in the Lewisville-Flower Mound area also at Hidden Pines.
Through YoungLives, girls find a loving relationship that helps unsure and reserved girls regain their confidence and renew their zest for life. They are fully loved, grow in faith and make friends.
To learn more about YoungLives, visit: lfm.younglife.org.