We build relationships with not only young people, but with teachers, principals, case workers, and even state juvenile staff. You just never know who will come calling and need a void filled in their life. You never know when a young person will need to know that they are seen and loved, not just by us, but more importantly by God,” said Ken Allen, Executive Director of Denver Area Youth for Christ. Stopping mid-thought Ken said, “Shay...there is a story about Shay I want to share...”
“When you first meet Shay, it’s impossible not to notice her big boisterous personality and strong presence. She did not have a traditional upbringing. Both parents were heroin addicts and in and out of prison. Her grandmother was the consistent, loving, Christian presence, but even with that, she still struggled with substance abuse and landed in detention.” One of Denver Area Youth for Christ’s outreaches is a Juvenile Justice programme providing chaplaincy, one-on-one appointments, Bible studies, church services and mentoring to over 3,700 incarcerated and newly released youth in the Denver area each year.
Shay met Claire, one of Denver Area Youth for Christ’s staff, through the Juvenile Justice programme and they began to have authentic conversations. “I really love Jesus, but I just wanted to feel what my parents were talking about (the drug high) and understand why they abandoned me,” said Shay. “And duh, I should have known it was addictive. It’s hard to not want that high all the time. And then I get crazy and end up hurting people I don’t want to hurt. At least now I understand that my mom didn’t mean to hurt me.”
Claire talked with Shay about forgiveness and what that looked like. Then, a few months ago, one year since Shay transitioned out of the detention centre and into a group home, without regular contact with Youth for Christ, Claire ran into Shay working at Walmart. Reconnecting immediately Claire told Shay how proud she was of her. Even behind a mask, upon hearing someone was proud of her, Shay was beaming with pride. “I might be promoted to assistant manager soon and I get a key to my own apartment on the 1st!” Shay said. “Thanks for being proud of me! I’m determined to stick with Jesus, stay clean and get on with my life.”
Ken finished the story, paused again and said, “You never know who needs to feel the love of Jesus just by being seen, feeling valued or even hearing the words, ‘I am proud of you.’ It could be a neighbor, family member, or a young person making a better life for themselves serving you at Walmart.” For more information on Denver Area Youth for Christ’s Juvenile Justice programme visit www.denveryfc.com
For more information about our programme in the United States, visit us.yfci.org