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Peace, love and roller coasters

Youth Life celebrates 25 years as faith-based youth organization

Posted: February 20, 2009 8:29 p.m.
Updated: February 21, 2009 4:55 a.m.

From left to right, Lauren Dyer, Abby Linn, Krissy Allegra, Jaeger Woodson, Jessica Breneman and Colton Jackson pose with Tweety Bird. Young Life recently celebrated 25 years as a faith-based organization Thursday.

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Hundreds of students chowed on hot dogs and ice cream and tried to hold it down on Goliath’s steep drop. There were no Bible lessons or prayers, but Young Life leaders hope events like Thursday’s Six Flags Magic Mountain celebration will bring unity, relationships and God’s love to students across the Santa Clarita Valley.

Hundreds of junior high and high school students turned out for the organization’s 25th anniversary celebration.

Young Life is an international, volunteer-led organization dedicated to providing entertaining, safe and comfortable gatherings for students to learn about God’s love in terms students can understand, according to a Young Life news release.

“I came to talk to my friends and ride the rides,” said Cesar Loyola, 21, of Valencia. Loyola has participated in Young Life since 2005, and said his favorite part about it is “learning about God.”

Attendees celebrated over an all-you-can-eat buffet and roller coasters with no lines as they had the park all to themselves.

Before students of all ages took off on rides with friends and parents, they honored the organization’s Santa Clarita founder and a couple of key leaders.

Life spreads to the valley
Doug Howe, of Ohio, founded the Santa Clarita division of Young Life when he was a student in Northridge 25 years ago, with the help of a couple of local families.

“Kids all over the country knew what Young Life was and that it had the power to change lives,” Howe said. “Students see alcohol and drugs are not the way to have a good time. It’s a faith-based organization, but it’s (faith) not a requirement.”

Twenty-five years later, more than 40 Young Life volunteer leaders reach out to students at Valencia, Saugus, West Ranch and Hart high schools and Placerita, Rio Norte junior highs and Castaic Middle School.

They host weekly club meetings, small groups, summer camps, weekend excursions and one-on-one time with students while building relationships to model God’s love, according to the organization.

“If you ever have a chance to (create) something that doesn’t exist ... go do it,” Howe said, to the group of students and their families during the event Thursday.

Leticia Ruiz, 19, of Canyon Country, is in her second week with Young Life, she said.

“The people are really friendly and inviting,” Ruiz said. “We do a lot of outreach to people not only in our community but in the L.A. area. It’s a great experience.”

Pete Calzia, of Valencia, is a teacher Hart High School, ASB director and long-time Young Life volunteer.

“I’ve seen God touch high school kids,” Calzia said. “Obviously, I love high school kids — that’s why I became a teacher.”

Young Life is a, “great ministry way of introducing kids to Jesus Christ on a one-on-one basis, developing relationships,” he said.

Through the years, Young Life also developed branch ministries including Fun Life, which reaches out to students with disabilities, YoungLives for teenage mothers, Wyld Life for junior high students and the Bridge for college-age adults.

Matt Adams, 21, has been involved with Fun Life for two years.

“I like meeting new people and socializing with new friends,” he said on his way to the Goliath rollercoaster. “I want people to know God loves you no matter what disability you have.”  

Unity and fun
Students of many ages hopped from ride to ride intermingled with Young Life leaders, volunteers and parents, while younger ones enjoyed smaller thrills in Bugs Bunny World.

On their way to the roller coaster Tatsu, a group of Hart high boys expressed their appreciation for Young Life and events like the Magic Mountain celebration.

“I like the unity of it,” said Danny Stevenson, 16, of Valencia. “It’s a good release.”

Stevenson and his friends have been involved in Young Life for about two years.

“Everybody is nice and you get to meet new people,” said Hayden Scott, 16, of Valencia. “Everybody has a lot of fun.”

Dave Wilson is Young Life’s area director who took the stage during presentations dressed in a white disco outfit, Afro wig and neon green shades.

Fifteen-year-old Zac Sibek’s favorite part of the night was, “watching Dave dance.”  

Wilson became a Young Life leader in college after his experience with the organization as a student in high school.

The most rewarding part of his job is “being a part of making a difference in kids’ lives,” he said.

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