Jon Green has been working with disabled teens for many years through Young Life ministries, a Christian organization for teens. In this exclusive LoveToKnow Teens interview, he shares his unique perspective on this organization and its summer camp program for disabled teens.
About Young Life
LoveToKnow (LTK): What does Young Life offer teens?
Jon Green (JG): Young Life "Clubs" (local groups) typically meet weekly during the school year. Club includes music, games, skits, general craziness, and the opportunity to get to know peers and leaders! A major part of Young Life's mission is to provide summer camp experiences guaranteed to be "the best week of your life!" There are YL camps all over the country (and in many other countries), and they are amazing! Depending on the camp you attend, you can go down zip lines, ride dune buggies, swim, water ski, parasail, go through tree-top ropes course, and do many other awesome things!
Young Life also has clubs and camps specifically intended for teens with disabilities. They are a lot like other clubs, but they are tailored for youth with physical and mental disabilities. Capernaum is still a small percentage of Young Life as a whole, but it has grown a lot of the last 25 years since it was started. Young Life as a whole is still mostly aimed at teens who do not have disabilities.
LTK: How did you get involved with this organization?
JG: I got involved in Young Life in 2003 through another organization, YouthWorks!, which partners with Young Life Capernaum. I volunteered and really enjoyed hanging out with the people there and making my first trip to a camp for a weekend. I stayed on as a volunteer for three years and then joined as a staff person for two years. I still volunteer with another Club and go to camp with my club group!
Redifining the "Impossible" for Teens with Disabilities
LTK: What is the camp experience like for teens with disabilities?
JG: Camp is an amazing opportunity and adventure! Some teens with disabilities have never been away from home for a week by themselves and most have never gone parasailing or rock wall climbing! Also, camp is a wonderful opportunity to form friendships and have a great time with people you can still hang out with after camp is over. Many of the YL camps have made efforts to make their facilities and ground accessible for people in wheelchairs, and the staff always go out of their way to welcome people with disabilities and help make sure they have the greatest week of their lives!
LTK: What's the most rewarding part of your experience working with these kids?
JG: Having friends with disabilities is a blessing in so many different ways. When I started volunteering with Young Life, I thought I would be the person serving and helping out and that the kids would be the ones benefiting from it. However, I have been amazed how accepting, friendly, and loving so many people with disabilities are, and I often feel like I get more out of my friendship with them than they do!
As I help a person in a wheelchair go up a climbing wall, for example, and see them doing something they perhaps never would anywhere else, my arms might get tired, but my heart fills with joy getting to help someone do "the impossible." Young Life is all about redefining "the impossible" and I love being a part of that!
Role of Christian Faith
LTK: Religious faith is an important part of the Young Life organization. How do Christian values and lessons contribute to the camp experience?
JG: Young Life has always been designed and geared toward people who don't have an active relationship with God. Everything Young Life does is intended to get people to see God in a new way and hear about Jesus and his Gospel. A lot of people who go to Young Life are Christians, but it certainly isn't a requirement to be a participant. We want to get to know you and what is important to you, and we hope that gives us the chance to share what is important to us!
God has transformed the lives of Young Life leaders, and we want God to change your lives, too. However, we want to share with you and get to know you in a way that is respectful and sensitive to your background, culture, and experience. Camp includes a speaker who tells God's story and shares how you can have a relationship with him, and there are opportunities to discuss faith with friends and leaders.
Summer Camp for Teens with Disabilities
Going to summer camp is an important part of growing up for many teens, and organizations like Young Life Capernaum make it possible for teens of all abilities to enjoy this experience. For more information about this organization and how you can volunteer, be a buddy, or attend one of these camps, vist the Young Life Capernaum website.