By: Sara Straw

Five years ago, while sitting by a lake at YFC Institute in Huntington, Indiana, the Lord gave me a clear vision of what it would look like to minister to an unreached neighborhood in my community.  Not knowing any students or families or teachers in that neighborhood, I had no idea where or how to even start, but began by jumping in wherever I could to start building relationships in the community.  I coached a middle school girls soccer team, volunteered in the school library, joined the PTA, visited churches in the area, and attended service events in the community.

For an entire year, I devoted myself to learning as much as I could about this neighborhood and although as a single 25 year old with no kids of my own I got a lot of weird looks from parents at times, at the end of the year I was a familiar presence in the community and the following fall we launched our first Campus Life middle school club in the neighborhood!

A year later, after breaking up several after school fights in the neighborhood, my team and I began to dream about what it would look like to open a community youth center to provide a safe place for students to come hang out after school.   The next year, I moved into the neighborhood and my house became a home base for our team to continue reaching out and meeting more students and families in the community. For example, our leadership team would come over on Halloween and we would intentionally engage middle and high school trick or treaters in conversation and hand out Campus Life flyers with their candy.

Two of my leaders met a few students who wanted to get into better shape for high school sports the next year and so they started a Saturday morning fitness club that these middle schoolers could bring their friends to. Another leader met some students interested in starting a garden and so they signed up for a plot in the neighborhood’s community garden initiative and tended to that one summer.

We finally convinced a local church to allow us to convert their underused youth space into a community youth center and enlisted everyone we knew to help us clean out and restore it to an inviting space for young people. In addition to running Campus Life club out of this space, we are intentional about using the space to engage our larger community and reach even more students and families for Christ.

Whether it’s outdoor movies on the lawn in the summer, a communal Thanksgiving potluck, a Campus Life sponsored Christmas play, or our yearly student Talent Show - we try to engage as many students as we can in a diverse variety of programs. Just last month, my husband and I actually had a second wedding just for our Campus Life kids and their families!

And although we got a lot of weird looks from community members for some of our more outrageous events (Do the Dew Dance War was a favorite!), after four years we are finally a familiar and established presence in the community and able to reach more students than ever!

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