Western Great Lakes Young Life

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Category: Area Directors

Lakeshore Young Life Welcomes New Area Director

In the neighboring cities of Muskegon, Spring Lake, and Grand Haven, Young Life has been introducing kids to Jesus Christ and helping them grow in faith since the 1970’s, starting first in Grand Haven, then Spring Lake, and finally moving into the Muskegon Oakridge community five years ago.

Over the summer, a decision was made by the Young Life committees in these three areas, along with leadership from Associate Regional Director Kevin Eastway, to merge the three into one unified area called Lakeshore Young Life.

With this merge, we are excited to announce that Josh DeHaan will serve as the first Area Director of Lakeshore Young Life. The dreams and prayers of many in these communities have finally come to fruition.


“We are excited to have Josh and his wife Tiffany join Lakeshore Young Life this fall,” Kevin Eastway shared. “Josh has a passion for empowering leaders to grow and follow Christ with their whole lives and is looking forward to combining that passion with his love of kids to help develop this new area.”

For Josh, the call to youth ministry came over eight years ago after studying chemistry at Hope College and coaching football at Holland Christian. It was at that time when he says he felt God calling him off the pre-med track and into ministry with teenagers.

Soon after, two friends named Joe Graham and Tommy Gordon invited Josh to check out Young Life club. Josh recalls: “I went to the first club of the year and was hooked. After a couple years volunteering [as a leader], I applied for staff and have worked for the last eight years.”


Josh (pictured middle) with students from Holland at Beyond Malibu.

For those eight years, Josh served on staff with Greater Holland Young Life and is currently working on his Masters of Divinity at Western Theological Seminary.

As Josh steps into this new position with Lakeshore Young Life, he is mindful of the story God has been writing in each of these communities over the past decade and more.

Young Life staff like Church Partner Bryan Jackson in Grand Haven, Scott & Sheila Addison in Spring Lake, and Jack Droppers, former Young Life Church Partner who pioneered Young Life in Muskegon-Oakridge, are just a few who have helped pave the way for Young Life to grow along the lakeshore, in addition to many other faithful volunteer leaders, parents and prayer warriors.


Josh (third from right) with Grand Haven Young Life leaders.

“It is evident that they have a huge heart for all kids in Grand Haven, Spring Lake and all of Muskegon County and they have been praying for this to happen for a long time,” said Josh.

A unified Lakeshore Young Life will set the area up to build a stronger, more diverse Young Life community in order to reach even more kids.

Josh and Tiffany are excited to join the Muskegon community, a place they have close ties to already knowing some friends and family in the community. They hope to be listeners as they learn how to best serve the schools and form groups of adults who want to see Young Life in Muskegon County.

“My prayer,” says Josh, “is that God will lead us to the right places to start Young Life. It is a big area with a lot of school districts but I could see Young Life starting up in a lot of new places in the next few years.”


Josh and the leaders from Lakeshore Young Life, together for the first time at Leader Weekend 2017.

What Josh loves most about Young Life’s mission and hopes to build on as they expand ministry along the lakeshore is the emphasis on leaders being present in kids’ lives and the accessibility of Young Life to any kid, no matter what kind of background in faith they have.

“Leaders are present in the lives of kids. Kids know that leaders care because they are a consistent presence, not requiring the kid to come to their events, but meeting them where they are at. If a kid wants to get involved in Young Life,” says Josh, “all they have to do is connect with a leader or show up at club. You can’t get much more accessible than that.”

>> Please join us in welcoming Josh to his new role with Lakeshore Young Life. We anticiate the Lord accomplishing great things in and through him and the teams of leaders in Spring Lake, Muskegon, Grand Haven and beyond.

>> Are you interested in learning more about Young Life along the lakeshore or want to get involved? They are praying about and looking for God to bring people together to begin YoungLives (ministry to teen moms), Spring Lake WyldLife (middle school ministry), Mona Shores WyldLife, and Young Life in some of the Muskegon schools.  If you are interested in helping make this a reality, please contact Josh.


DeHaan_009Josh and Tiffany DeHaan have been married for six years and have two young children, Evelyn (4) and Charlie (1). They love to cook and sit around a table with people. They recently canned a huge batch of salsa to enjoy year-round. In their words, “the table is a sacred place where we can share food and share our lives.” Other sacred moments for Josh in youth ministry include the trips he’s taken kids on to places like Wilderness Ranch and Malibu because of the deep conversations and friendships that are formed while hiking together in the mountains.



Central Grand Rapids Young Life Announces New Area Director

Meet Jenna Perkins. Jenna is the new Area Director for Central Grand Rapids Young Life, an area that has active clubs in the East Grand Rapids Schools and Grand Rapids Christian Schools, as well as a YoungLives ministry for teen moms in the Godwin Heights, Wyoming and Kelloggsville schools.

Jenna comes to this position with over ten years of experience on Young Life staff, in addition to a lot of passion, vision, and creativity.

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Jenna (third from left) with a group of Young Life leaders

Matt DeHoog, the Associate Regional Director for Greater Grand Rapids shared this: “Jenna is a proven leader who has a unique drive to connect with people. She is caring, engaging, and a team builder. She will do well sharing the story of what God is doing through Young Life with people in these communities. She also has the capacity to build strong leadership teams to go out into the world of middle school and high school students. I think she’s a great fit for what this area needs.”

Jenna’s passion for connecting with others goes back to her time as a high schooler in Champaign, Illinois. She remembers Young Life leaders investing in her by taking her out for lunch, hanging out at her house, and opening God’s Word with her in Campaigners. It was so obvious how her leaders exuded the love of Christ in all they did. These relationships made a lifelong impact on Jenna.

This is what Young Life is all about. Caring adults stepping into the world of adolescence and doing pretty basic (though often intimidating) things like eating lunch, hanging out and showing up. And they do this never really knowing what the outcome might be. Chances are, Jenna’s Young Life leaders never imagined she’d go on to join Young Life staff one day.

Following High School, Jenna moved to Indianapolis to attend Butler University to study Elementary Education. She remained involved with Young Life throughout college. After graduation, instead of pursuing a career in teaching, Jenna decided to join Young Life staff, which, according to her, was the best decision she ever made.

Jenna’s first role was running WyldLife (Young Life’s ministry for middle schoolers) for Carmel Young Life, and later went on to serve as the Area Director there.

Two years ago, when Jenna and her husband Kyle moved to Michigan for his job, Jenna joined the Eastern Ottawa Young Life team where she was involved in training and developing leaders and also led Young Life at Grand Valley State University.

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When asked what she loves about Young Life, Jenna reflected on the relational approach to ministry: “I have so many memories of important, life-changing conversations with kids which took place over meals, at camp or at Campaigners. I love that Young Life creates deep and important community among kids, leaders, and committee. It’s this community and the lifelong relationships that help kids meet Christ.”

“I am honored and eager to join the Central Grand Rapids Young Life team,” shared Jenna. “I hope to make Young Life and WyldLife a place that all kids feel welcome, secure and loved no matter what state they are in. I want to be reaching kids that won’t be reached any other way.”

When Jenna dreams about the future of Young Life in the Central Grand Rapids area, she sees a ministry that reaches all kids, but especially disinterested kids. She dreams of Young Life being part of high school homecoming parades. She sees kids proudly wearing Young Life t-shirts around town. She envisions Young Life club outdoors at Collins Park and people opening their homes for regular Young Life lunches.

Will you help these dreams become a reality by praying for Jenna in her new role as Area Director and for the entire Central Grand Rapids Young Life team of staff, leaders, and volunteers? And if you live in the Central Grand Rapids area, please contact them to get involved.

Please join us in welcoming Jenna Perkins to Central Grand Rapids Young Life!


PerkinsFamily2017A little more about Jenna and Kyle Perkins—
Jenna met Kyle when he was a volunteer YL leader in Indianapolis. Their first date was a blind date set up by some mutual friends. The rest is history. Kyle is a guidance counselor at Forest Hills Central High School. They have two adorable little boys, Luke (5) & Bennett (2), who keep them busy, laughing & filled with joy. Jenna takes delight in being outdoors and near water, especially if it’s on a boat or water skiing. She also enjoys reading and being creative with home projects, decorating, crafting. Kyle and Jenna enjoy gathering people around the table in their home for dinner, whether it’s a good home-cooked meal or pizza. And lastly, Jenna’s claim to fame is that she grew up next door to Jimmy John—Yes, THE Jimmy John subs. :)

Greater Holland Young Life’s New Area Director Is “All In”

Screen Shot 2017-05-04 at 10.35.52 AMJust over a month after being hired as the new Area Director for Greater Holland Young Life, Chris Hofland was feeling the love and welcome from local high schoolers at club one night as they happily decked their new AD in the face with pie.

Thankfully, Young Life’s crazy club antics aren’t new to Chris. He’s been on board with the mission of Young Life ever since he was a high school student himself who went to club and earn his way to camp by painting a YL leader’s house.

Chris, who grew up as a pastor’s kid, says that Young Life helped reinforce the importance of having a relationship with Jesus Christ and inspired him to share his faith with others.

“In my adult years I’ve been able to volunteer as a head leader at fall weekends as well as flip pancakes for WyldLife,” said Chris, a Hope College graduate who has called Holland his home since moving from Iowa at the age of five.

Chris is well-suited as Area Director in Greater Holland Young Life not just because he can take a pie in the face or flip pancakes for hungry middle schoolers.

His knowledge of the community, strong network, and passion for building authentic relationships will be a great asset to a Young Life area which holds the record as the largest YL area in the world.

“I would not be in this position if Young Life was not rooted in relational ministry,” shared Chris. “Young Life provides space for eternal relationships to be developed as we introduce kids to the incredible truth of Jesus Christ and invite them to see how to live it out. Young Life truly is an authentic place for discipleship whether you are a student, leader, or staff member.”


Those who know Chris speak of his engaging personality which creates enthusiasm and energy wherever he goes and in whatever he does.

Jerry and Dana Root, long-time Holland Young Life supporters who have known Chris for many years, are excited to see how God will use him in this new season of leadership. They shared this: “His mission-minded heart will inspire Holland area Young Life to grow into new ways of being used for God’s Kingdom.”

The Greater Holland Young Life Committee wrote this in an announcement made to their area last month:

“Chris has a great love for Christ, an extensive history of teaching, coaching and ministering to youth. We are excited to have Chris on staff and look forward to his leadership.”

Chris’s array of work experience includes teaching for Holland Public Schools and then serving as Local Missions Pastor at Central Wesleyan Church, among other community involvement. These experiences have more than equipped him for this new role.

“Both of these roles have given me access to falling in love with our community and developing meaningful relationships,” Chris reflected.

Dr. Brian Davis, Superintendent of Holland Public Schools, commented: “He has demonstrated the servant heart and character needed for a position such as this. As a former educator, he also understands the critical importance of building relationships, mentoring and supporting young adults to be successful in school and in life. Filling the shoes of Jay Lindell who has held this position for 25 years is a big responsibility. It is important that we have someone who can carry forward the mission and service of this very important work.”

Chris’s servant heart is a common theme from those who know him. And the fact that he is “all in” when it comes to serving the Lord with his life and work. His dynamic faith and passion are an inspiration for others to be “all in” too.


Greater Holland Young Life Club

“My prayer is for each student to hear the truth of the gospel and experience a transformed life,” shared Chris. “And for leaders to see how their faith journeys are most impacted through living out their faith through discipling students.”

“My heart gets excited about being part of the lives of students being transformed by the incredible gospel of Jesus Christ. Seeing lives changed is powerful.”

Please join us in welcoming Chris Hofland as Area Director for Greater Holland Young Life. We are thrilled to have him join the Young Life staff here in the Western Great Lakes Region.

Hofland Family

Chris and his wife Susan and the proud parents to their crew of kids: Trent (20), Logan (17), Grant (16), Lauren (10), Carter (8), and Owen (5). Fun facts: Chris love pickles and was adopted as an infant. Favorite things: spending time with family, playing golf, coaching soccer and cheering for the Iowa Hawkeyes (Yes, even in Michigan).

A Lasting Legacy: Celebrating Jay Lindell’s 35 Years with Young Life

13873097_10208721817335742_6810782610543718097_nJay Lindell was recently honored for 35 years of service on staff for Young Life, the past twenty-five of those years were as the Area Director for Greater Holland Young Life. Jay recently stepped out of the YL Area Director roll and accepted a new position as Executive Pastor of Christ Memorial Church in Holland. He will continue to oversee Young Life’s Church Partnership program in the Western Great Lakes RegionThis post is a tribute to Jay’s 35-year legacy in our region. Many staff and friends of Young Life have contributed stories and words of appreciation for this article.

Jay Lindell joined Young Life staff back in the early 1980’s, before many of the millennials who are reading this were even born. A lot has changed in 35 years, wouldn’t you agree?


Jay and Jeanne Lindell (pictured left) with the Young Life team circa 1981/1982.

If Facebook could provide a “timehop” back to that day, it would recall the early days of MTV, the launch of the space shuttle Columbia, and the first personal computers. Artists like Michael Jackson and Madonna were topping the charts, and Star Wars: Episode V—The Empire Strikes Back had just been released.

Young Life was only 40 years old when Jay came on staff. Back in the day when songs like Don’t Stop Believin’ and Sweet Home Alabama were considered “Recent Hits” instead of “Classics/Oldies” on the Young Life Leaders’ Club Song List.

Around the same time, another long-time YL staffer and former Holland Area Director, Jeff Munroe, joined Young Life staff too.

“We both had hair in those days,” says Munroe. “Jay’s hair and ultra-suave mustache made him look like Tom Cruise’s tail gunner in Top Gun. You couldn’t get cooler than that.”


Jay’s early days on Young Life staff began with him as a trainee in Grand Rapids and later as an Area Director in South Bend, IN. Jeff Munroe shared the following about how the hardships of those early days equipped Jay for the years to come:

“I remembered Jay as a young Area Director in South Bend, admitting to feeling overwhelmed and wondering whether he could do the job. It took remarkable courage and humility to do that. However, the hard lessons of the first decade are what made the last two and half success-filled decades possible. God has a way of shaping, molding, and forming us for ministry that none of us would sign up for. We glibly say, “You are the potter, I am the clay,” without thinking for a moment what it feels like to be a lump of clay. Jay can tell you it doesn’t always feel good. But if we want to be something and do something of value for the kingdom, we have to submit to being a lump of clay in the master’s hands. Jay did that, and the result is untold thousands of young people who have been introduced to Jesus Christ and grown in their faith.”

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Jay (pictured right) with a group from Young Life.

One of those untold thousands of young people is Cyndy Schurman. Cyndy was only sixteen when a friend invited her to Young Life club. It was YL leaders like Jay who influenced Cyndy’s deep love for the Lord and for the mission of Young Life.   

“Jay has been a constant throughout my journey with Young Life,” said Schurman. “He organized my work crew assignment at Trail West, connected me with the Area Director in the college town where I became a leader, recruited my husband and me for leadership when we were newly married, and was there to greet me when I got off the trail at Wilderness with a group of high school girls. Jay has been the face of Young Life for me as long as I have known what Young Life is…his presence has inspired and influenced my journey.”

During Jay’s tenure, Greater Holland Young Life grew to one of the largest Young Life Areas in the country, with 20 ministries and over 150 volunteer leaders. “God has blessed this work because of Jay’s humble and prayerful leadership,” shared Bob Haveman who serves on staff for Holland YL.

Greater Holland Young Life Staff

“Jay has always been encouraging, promoting Young Life and it’s mission to whomever would listen and wherever he had the chance,” shared Tami Poll, Co-Team Leader in Hamilton who has been involved with Greater Holland Young Life for the past nineteen years. 

Poll continued, “I have seen tremendous growth in Holland YL and so much of that is because of Jay’s leadership. Jay has a way of listening, asking questions and helping think through issues without just telling you how you should proceed. He has left a legacy of how to lead an area by example.”

“But it was never about him,” added Bob Haveman. “It was about teenagers hearing the story of Jesus.” 


YL Leader Weekend | 2011

“When you consider how many kids’ lives have been impacted because of Jay’s leadership, there is no doubt the kingdom of God has grown because of it,” shared Jane Lemmen, who was hired by Jay over ten years ago to lead YoungLives in Holland and currently directs YoungLives for the Midwest Division.

Authenticity and wisdom are attributes Jane appreciates about Jay. “He is someone who is willing to pray for you and is someone who welcomes being prayed for. His love for God, his wife, his family, as well as his service to Young Life, have all been a testimony to his relationship with Jesus and his commitment to loving God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength and loving his neighbor as himself.”


Jay with Young Life Capernaum staff from the Midwest Division

“Jay’s legacy is his consistent, caring, and gentle moving of the Kingdom of God forward,” shared Chris Theule-VanDam, Regional Director for the Western Great Lakes Region.  “He is always thinking about the next step, the next leader to recruit and train, the next staff person to bring along, and ultimately the next kid to share the Gospel with. The other unique quality Jay has brought to Young Life’s mission is his love for the church. It’s natural for Jay to lead our Church Partner program and it’s a natural fit for Jay to go and serve his church at this time as well. We are thankful for Jay.”


Jay with Student Staff in Chicago.

Recently, on a fall weekend at Timber Wolf Lake, a group of YL Capernaum girls was asked by their leader to imagine what Jesus looked like. To get the conversation rolling, their leader Jeanne Page suggested that maybe Jesus had long hair, but she was soon interrupted: “Oh, no,” one girl spoke up. “Jesus doesn’t have any hair. He’s bald. He looks just like Jay Lindell.”

Jay, you have truly been the hands and feet of Christ to a countless many people. Your career in Young Life is an inspiration. YOU are an inspiration. Congratulations on 35 years of dedicated service to kids and to Christ! We thank God for you! 

>> An Invitation <<
Please join Greater Holland Young Life for an Open House to celebrate with Jay & Jeanne Lindell on Saturday, February 25 from 5:00-7:00pm at The Good Earth Restaurant in Holland.

>> A Gift that Keeps on Giving <<
With deep appreciation for all Jay & Jeanne have given to the Holland community, an endowed scholarship at the Holland/Zeeland Community Foundation will be set up which would send two Capernaum kids to Young Life camp every summer.

“Jay has made a tremendous impact in my life as a mentor, colleague, and friend. It was an incredible blessing to begin my ministry career with Jay in Holland. I could not have asked for a better person to play an instrumental role in my life as I stepped into the world of ministry as a 22-year-old kid who was ready to take on the world. To this day, Jay is one of the most trusted voices in my life and I am excited for him as he steps into the next season of ministry.”

—Joe Graham, the Multi-Site Director for Harbor Churches.

“Jay loves the Lord and he makes that clear. He’s been a great Area Director to work for because he firmly believes in the mission of introducing kids to Jesus and helping them grow in their faith. He’s always been great a casting a vision for the staff and keeping that in front of us but never telling us what to do and how to do it. He always leaves room for freedom and inspiration and I greatly appreciate the way he has led me.”

Kyle Raak, Greater Holland Young Life

“Jay has had a lasting impact on my life and the lives of many Young Life kids, leaders, community members, and other Young Life staff. He has shown what it looks like to have healthy boundaries with family and Young Life work, how to be graceful and thoughtful in decision making, and how to lead in a way that invites others to lead.”

Matt DeHoog, Associate Regional Director for Greater Grand Rapids

“Jay is steady, present and caring. He’s been a great example of humility and what it means to be a servant leader in Young Life and in his community.”

Kevin Eastway, Associate Regional Director, Western Great Lakes Region

“Jay, you have been a faithful servant, leader and friend for so many years in Holland. The city will never be the same because of you and what you have done. You are an inspiration to all of us!”

Jenna Perkins, Eastern Ottawa Young Life

“Congratulations on 35 years on YL staff. What a career you have had but mostly what a legacy you have left. Thank you so much for your investment in the next generation of Christian leaders as well as all the young high school students that you have ministered to in South Bend and in Holland. It was my privilege to have had a season with you as the Senior Vice President. I also want to say thank you to Jeanne. What a gift she has been to so many! Well done good and faithful servant!”

—Gail Ebersole, National Field Director at InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA

Jay and his wife Jeanne have been married for 34 years. They have three children; Zack and his wife Allie, Katie, and Jacob. Jay is a graduate of Hope College and Western Theological Seminary, an ordained minister in the Reformed Church in America (RCA) and teaches in the Studies in Ministry department of Hope College. Jay will continue overseeing Young Life’s Church Partnership program in the Western Great Lakes Region

A New Chapter: NW Grand Rapids Young Life Hires First Area Director

Do you remember the amazing story we shared earlier this year about Kenowa Young Life? How in just a few months time, a volunteer-led Young Life club at Kenowa Hills High School had tripled in size from 55 to 175 kids? It was the kind of growth that only God could orchestrate. (If you missed the story, be sure to read it here.)

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Kenowa Hills YL

Since we first highlighted what God was doing in Kenowa, things haven’t slowed down. Interest in Young Life has sparked in the nearby communities of Comstock Park and Sparta. This continued growth led Kenowa Young Life to recently change their name to Northwest Grand Rapids Young Life and take an exciting step to hire their first-ever Area Director, Jake Wielhouwer.


“My favorite Young Life story is the one unfolding every day in front of my eyes in Northwest Grand Rapids,” said Jake Wielhouwer, just a few weeks into his new role as Area Director for Northwest Grand Rapids Young Life. [Tweet this.]

Jake is no stranger to NW Grand Rapids or to Young Life. Jake grew up on the northwest side, attended Westside Christian School and has loved YL ever since being involved as a student at Calvin Christian High School in Grandville.

Prior to becoming Area Director, Jake spent several years in the auto and real estate industries and most recently worked at a non-profit youth center. He was also a key player in forming and chairing Kenowa YL’s committee.  

Jake and his wife Tory have three kids: Tessa (5), Heidi (3.5) and Jack (6 weeks). He loves spending time with Tory and the kids, playing hockey, working out, boating and cheering on Michigan football. Did we mention he likes hockey?

Jake shared, “Since I broke my ankle two years ago and am not able to play sports like I used to, I explored other options and found that ice skating doesn’t hurt my ankle. So I now play hockey as often as I can.”  

In addition to these things, Jake is very dedicated to the mission of Young Life.

He attended his first YL club as a high school freshman and still remembers watching kids race to eat a banana through a pantyhose. The following summer, Jake went to Windy Gap; it was there that he accepted Christ.

“Young Life changed my life because I was able to truly grasp for the first time God’s unconditional love for me,” Jake shared. [Tweet this]

After that life-changing summer, Jake became a student leader and continued leading Young Life for three years following graduation. Coaching football was another way Jake continued to make connections and build relationships with kids.


Jake (far left) with Kenowa Hills students and Kenowa YL leader, Spencer Vanderheide (far right).

“I love how Young Life brings something authentic and real to disinterested kids,” Jake shared. “We are building genuine relationships with kids that are crying out for our help. And in a programmatic society, where kids oftentimes don’t have consistent relationships, Young Life leaders show up to be Jesus to kids on a regular basis.”

When asked about his hopes for Northwest Grand Rapids Young Life, Jake replied, “My prayer is that God would grow our new area and build strong ministries in our area schools (Kenowa Hills, Comstock Park, and Sparta) so that all students will have the opportunity to hear of Jesus’ unconditional love for them.”

“Just like Jesus chose unique people, God started Kenowa Hills Young Life in a unique way through unique people,” explained Jake. “We have experienced incredible growth over the last year and have been embraced by parents, the administration, and the community. God is at work and I still can’t believe I get to be a part of it! I am continually amazed at how God shows up faithfully and in new ways. I look forward to watching Him write the next chapter in this story.”  [Tweet this]


>> Please join us in welcoming Jake Wielhouwer to this new role. We also look forward to watching God write the next chapter in the unfolding story of NW Grand Rapids Young Life.   

>> To get involved with what God is doing in and through NW Grand Rapids Young Life, be sure to follow them on Facebook and Instagram or attend their upcoming banquet on Monday, November 7th. See details below.


Welcome Paul Knapp, Southwest Michigan’s New Area Director

High school football games. Dairy Queen stops after Young Life club. Sneaking out of the cabin after “lights out” for an important one-on-one. The smile on a kid’s face when the fireworks explode after the camp carnival. Watching a leader “get it” for the first time. Swaying to Free Fallin’ with friends during club at Fall Weekend. The smell of the cabin after four days at WyldLife camp.

These are a few of Paul Knapp’s favorite things.


Paul Knapp, smack dab in the middle of the student section.

Paul Knapp, the new Area Director for Southwest Michigan Young Life, was born in Traverse City, MI but has lived in Eagle River, Alaska before landing in the southwest corner of Michigan.

His college plans to study social work and become a counselor led him to attend Western Michigan University. It was during his sophomore year at WMU that Paul found himself inadvertently getting involved with Young Life.

As the story goes, Paul attended his first Young Life club one week and just had to go back the following week. Was it the fantastic music and club talk that drew him back? Perhaps. But, according to Paul, “It was the only place I knew how to get in touch with a certain leader who I may or may not have had a crush on. Four weeks later I asked that leader out for dinner after club. But she brought her roommate. Two years later, I married the roommate.” That roommate is now Paul’s wife, Allie.


Allie and Paul Knapp

Since that first club seven years ago, Paul has learned the in’s and out’s of Young Life. He’s been a volunteer leader, team leader, part-time Church Partner and Staff Associate. He’s worked at Young Life camp as Program Director, Work Crew Boss, Special Music for Winter Weekend and as a Summer Intern at Timber Wolf Lake. Mostly recently, Paul has served the Southwest Michigan area as Associate Area Director.


Paul (center) and the Program Team at Timber Wolf Lake

Recent transitions in Southwest Michigan Young Life created space for Paul to move into the role of Area Director. The position had previously been filled by thirteen-year veteran Mike Bredeweg, who has stepped into a new role for the Western Great Lakes Region as Associate Regional Director, working to start up new ministries throughout Southwest Michigan.

Paul has this dream for Young Life in Southwest Michigan: “I want kids, leaders, committee, parents, and staff to know that everyone—including themselves—plays a role in loving the world right again. I want them to know that all of us were created with purpose, goodness and beauty in mind, and that all of us get the opportunity to play a role in creating goodness and beauty in this world.”


Paul (center) with Young Life kids at Pictured Rocks

Young Life kids in Berrien County are already living out this greater love and purpose.

“My first year on full-time staff in SW Michigan I got to take Parker to Timber Wolf Lake,” shares Paul. “Parker had come to club a few times, but hadn’t really connected with any leaders. It was a big surprise when he signed up for camp. He was one of two kids from St. Joe High School that year to go to camp, and I anticipated it would be an initial struggle for him to build a connection with kids from other schools. But it wasn’t. I was so proud of those guys from Lakeshore High School who welcomed Parker into their group. It was the best week of all of their lives! It was such an honor to be a part of it. At the end of the week, Parker came up to me with tears in his eyes and said: Paul, I have never felt like I fit in anywhere in my life and now I finally feel like I belong! I still get goosebumps thinking about that moment.”

Join us in welcoming Paul Knapp as the new Area Director for Southwest Michigan Young LifeWe look forward to watching how God continues to work through their ministry to reach even more kids in Berrien County.


Paul touring with Static Cycle

PS: A few more of Paul’s favorite things include his two dogs, Layla and Tackle. Reading and drinking coffee at Clifford’s Coffee Canal in Benton Harbor. Playing beach volleyball and board games. Driving down country roads with the windows down and going to The Big House on Saturdays. Finding a new band and listening to every song they’ve ever written. Any of these favorite things paired with his wife Allie would top the charts!

PPS: One last thing you may not know about Paul is that he toured with a rock band called Static Cycle during the summer of 2008. He says, “I still fantasize about going back to that time and playing music again.”

A New Area Director for Michiana Young Life

Growing up in West Michigan as a pastor’s kid provided Caryn Schierbeek with opportunities early on in life which fostered her spiritual growth and prepared her for a future in ministry.

“I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to attend the middle and high schools that I did and to have friends around me who stretched my world view. I believe God was shaping my heart for multicultural ministry even back then.”


Caryn Schierbeek (center) along with some Michiana Young Life friends.

Caryn first learned about Young Life from her college roommate at Grand Valley State University. “I attended my first club at Lee High School (Wyoming, MI) and was hooked! I became a volunteer leader in 2005 and also served as part-time staff with a focus on urban WyldLife for a little over two years.”

Caryn now lives in South Bend, IN with her husband Brent and their dog Woodson. Together they enjoy biking, walking and spending time with friends. Caryn enjoys reading and knitting, but also craves quiet spaces. She adds, “Even though my voice is loud, my spirit needs quiet.” 


Caryn and Brent are still proud Michigan fans even though they live in Norte Dame territory. (Maybe someone needs to get them some ND Fighting Irish apparel. 😉 )

Having been on staff with Michiana Young Life as Staff Associate since May of 2014, Caryn is now stepping into a new role with the area as Michiana’s new Area Director. She follows the great leadership of former Senior Area Director Brad Sytsma, who now serves as Associate Director of Young Life’s Centurion Project.

When asked what she loves about Young Life, Caryn responded, “Young Life demonstrates the joy of Jesus Christ to kids better than anything I’ve ever seen or experienced. I remember my first trip to Timber Wolf Lake in 2005…I was overwhelmed with the sense of joy and freedom that I was able to feel and that kids were displaying. I knew Young Life was something great.”


This sense of joy and freedom is something Caryn wants every kid in her area to have the opportunity to experience.

“Last summer I struggled getting my high school friend Maddie on the bus to Young Life camp. After much convincing she ended up on our trip, but was hanging on to a lot of problems back home,” Caryn recalls.

“Our first three days at camp together were tough. As the days progressed, however, I saw her open up. The freedom and joy seemed to wash over her and she began to come to life. Day 4 was ropes course day—my least favorite day every year! Maddie and I were set to go together. We made it to the end of the course through blood, sweat and tears and Maddie was afraid to jump at the end. After time passed, we jumped off the end of the course together. Once our feet hit solid ground, we looked at each other and Maddie had tears in her eyes. She said, ‘I was praying and I felt God saying to me, Maddie, it’s time to let go. So I jumped. And I think God is telling me to let go of stuff at home, too.'”

“The Lord changed Maddie’s life at Young Life camp last summer, and now she is leading alongside of me in Michiana,” shared Caryn. 


Michiana Young Life—what a group!

Caryn’s hope and prayer for Young Life of Michiana is to be a kingdom-focused area that remains faithful to God’s calling, trusts in God’s timing and grows in pursuing middle school, high school, and college-aged friends from all backgrounds.

Let’s welcome Caryn Schierbeek to her new role as Area Director of Michiana Young Life and celebrate the kingdom work already being accomplished in South Bend, Mishawaka, Granger and Niles.

To find out what’s happening in Michiana Young Life, be sure to follow them on facebook or their blog.

Meet Grand Rapids Urban Young Life’s New Area Director

It is a time of growth for Grand Rapids Urban Young Life. Lateefah Gofoe has been named the new Area Director of Grand Rapids Urban Young Life. Lateefah is no stranger to the Grand Rapids community, having been born and raised there, and a proud product of Grand Rapids Public Schools.

1 year fam photos- 6

Lateefah and Joe Gofoe with their son, Joe.

“I’ve carried this community with me in every city that I’ve lived in,” says Lateefah, an alum of Ottawa Hills High School, Howard University in Washington, DC (Business Administration), and Grand Valley State University (Masters of Public Administration). After living and working in New York City for a time, Lateefah returned to Grand Rapids in 2008.

Once back in Grand Rapids, Lateefah married her longtime friend Joe Gofoe, who is responsible for introducing her to Young Life. Joe has been involved with the mission for fifteen years.

Since 2010, Lateefah has served in various volunteer Young Life roles and finds great joy and fulfillment taking kids to Young Life camp each summer.

TWL Camp 2012 or 2013

Lateefah (pictured center) with leaders from Wedgwood Young Life—including her husband Joe Gofoe (pictured far right) and Wedgwood YL Coordinator Sara Webb (in between them).

“I love that every single year we get one kid on camera dancing like no one’s watching and it’s always the most unexpected student! They just get swept up in the pure joy of camp,” reflects Lateefah, who is energized by music and dancing herself.

When asked what she appreciates most about Young Life, Lateefah responded, “I love the fact that Young Life is accessible and relevant to all young people…I think of Young Life as a fellowship along the way, encouraging a boldness in a young person who might otherwise be bashful.”

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Lateefah (right) with Kendra, a student athlete from Ottawa Hills High School.

Lateefah’s vision and prayer for Grand Rapids Urban is to get out there and connecting with the young people. “We are tasked with introducing adolescents to Jesus Christ and helping them grow in their faith, but we know that God will be the one to truly transform them and make them new (Luke 5:36).”

“Time is not our greatest commodity—it’s energy,” remarks Lateefah. “As leaders, we must bring energy and passion to our mission. My hope is to be the most excited person in the room—I’m excited and encouraged by the greatness of God and all of the young people that He wants to get to know more deeply.”

Lateefah and Joe share a passion for Christ and for young people. But they are also proud parents of two young sons—Joe who is 4.5 years old and Oak who is 4 months old.

“We are surrounded by an amazing village of family and friends who help us instill God’s best in our boys.”  Lateefah and Joe are also active members of their church, The Edge Urban Fellowship.

2 year fam photos 5

Lateefah and Joe with their son, Joe.

When thinking about her love of music and dance, Lateefah says, “God answers my prayers by putting a song on my heart. He knows how to get my attention. In my spare time in an ideal world, I would be taking voice and dance lessons. But as a mom of two small children, I don’t always have the opportunity. I’ve learned to see my time with the boys as a gift—a God appointed time to experience the freedom and exploration of childhood. It’s awesome!”

This fall, Lateefah will officially join the Young Life ministry already led by a supportive and active YL committee and by Community Director, Quentin Henry, who has 15 years of experience serving Grand Rapids Urban YL.

Please join us in welcoming Lateefah to this position and praying for her and for Grand Rapids Urban Young Life. You can follow what God is doing in Grand Rapids Urban YL here.

11 Leadership Insights from our Area Directors

Young Life Area Directors wear a lot of hats.

Here’s what some of those hats look like: sharing the vision of Young Life in their community, partnering with local churches, fundraising, budgeting, planning events, organizing trips, recruiting/training leaders and showing up in the lives of leaders and students alike. On top of all that, they can still be spotted at club singing their hearts out or performing ridiculously on stage.

Area Directors are passionate about following Jesus and desire to share His transformative love with kids everywhere. 

Below are some of our region’s top leaders. We have the privilege of learning from them as they share their insights on leadership.

Leadership Lessons (3)

The leaders that I look up to and learn the most from are the people that I live life with and interact with on a day-to-day basis. Surround yourself with leaders better than you and they will surely model how to inspire people, have tough conversations, and navigate life with grace. 

—Kaitlin Huissen, Area Director, Northeast Grand Rapids Young Life


We show up in one of three ways: a child, a parent or an adult. When we show up as a CHILD, we are looking to please or impress. When we show up as a PARENT, we have a tendency to see the person or people we are meeting with as in need of our help or expertise…we don’t see ourselves as having something to learn from the other person or people. When we show up as an ADULT, we neither anticipate, nor assume, but understand that we are equally engaged in the trials, temptations, and imperfections of life. When we show up as an ADULT, we show up as equals. How will you show up?

—Brad Sytsma, Centurion Project Trainer and former
Senior Area Director, Michiana Young Life


Sometimes we have leaders that are not in the role or place that is best for them. When that happens, it can be hard for them and their teams. Part of our job in leadership is to help speak truth to others about their strengths. Doing so can allow leaders to come alive as they serve in a place where they lead out of their strengths rather than their weaknesses.

—Eric Zoodsma, Area Director, Grand Rapids SouthWest Young Life


When I think of leadership, I often think of servant leadership, and who better to look to than Jesus. There’s a sequence of stories found in Mark 4 and 5 where Jesus calms the storm, drives out demons, heals the bleeding women, and raises Jairus’ daughter from the dead. Not once does he make a claim of who he is or why he is doing it, he just does, which is very contrary to some leaders today.

—Eric Boer, Area Director, Central Grand Rapids Young Life


The best way to lead is to listen. Listen to God, to others, to yourself and to the culture around you. You must be convinced that everyone you lead has something to teach you. Every person and every culture can show you something new about the image of God by what is reflected in them. Be the best of who you really are. Leadership is often lonely; be willing to go first.

—Mike Bredeweg, Senior Area Director, Southwest Michigan Young Life


In order for something new to be born we may need to let some of the old things die—past expectations, dreams, people, cultures, habits, thinking. We are limited humans who can’t keep all things alive, so leadership is in choosing what is worth fighting for.

—Erin Iafrate, Area Director, Grand Traverse Young Life


When I think of leadership, I think of the ability to prioritize. There are weeks where leading a Young Life area seems so easy and there are weeks I feel like I’m spinning twelve plates, two plates just fell and four more are about to fall. A Young Life veteran once told me that we do spin plates but the secret is that not all plates are the same. Some plates are fine crystal and some are rubber. The key then becomes learning which plates may fall and which plates need careful attention.

“You can’t get second things by putting them first. You get second things only by putting first things first.”  (C.S. Lewis, “First and Second Things”)

—Jay Lindell, Senior Area Director, Greater Holland Young Life

Leadership Lessons (2)

Over the last six years of being on Young Life staff the biggest thing that I have had to learn ​was how to show myself compassion for my imperfection and shortcomings. I have found that self compassion is directly linked to empathy. I can be a better leader when I am empathic.

—Ryan Elders, Area Director, Eastern Ottawa Young Life


What leadership means to me:

“I came to serve, not to be served.” (Jesus)

“Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.” (Mother Teresa)

“If you are going to lead, you need to make goals. And those goals can’t come from the top down, they’ve got to come from the people who are responsible for achieving them.Your job is to help them get there, and remind them every day what their goals are, and what they have to do to make their dreams come true. …When they show you what they are capable of conceiving, and accomplishing, they’re going to knock your socks off. You just have to give ‘em the chance to lead.” (Bo Schembechler)

—Alaina Smith, Area Director, Little Traverse Bay Young Life

Leadership Lessons (4)

I have two favorite quotes I use all the time, both from Laymon A. Hicks:

“Don’t worry about finding individuals to complete you, but rather find individuals that will complement you.”
“Be honest with yourself. It is possible your actions, attitudes and associations are keeping you from stepping into the role that God has for you.”
—Quentin Henry, Area Director, Grand Rapids Urban Young Life


“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”  (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Leadership begins with leading yourself. If we are courageous enough to follow God’s call in our life it will take us to places unseen and incredible adventures. It is not an easy road but those who pursue uncharted waters will discover their purposes and enable others to discover theirs. God’s Word reminds us consistently “Do not be afraid.” Equally, God invites, asks and calls us to follow Him to places of risk, discomfort and to the ends of the earth. Get out of the boat. He is with you!

—Ryan Nienhuis, Area Director, Kalamazoo Young Life

Meet Traverse City’s New Area Director

Last month, the Committee Chair of Traverse City Young Life, Dr. Sherry Small, was able to announce that Erin Iafrate had been hired as Traverse City’s first-ever Area Director. The Western Great Lakes Regional staff is thrilled about the addition of Erin to the team.

Erin comes to this new position having faithfully served Eastern Ottawa Young Life for the past seven years, two of those years serving as Associate Area Director. During this time, Erin played an integral part of the building or rebuilding of three of the eleven Young Life clubs in that area. “She has served as a leader and team leader at Allendale High School. She pioneered ministry at Allendale New Options, restarted Young Life in the community of Coopersville, and has recently done much of the legwork of moving our area to starting YoungLives,” wrote EOYL Area Director Ryan Elders.

In reflecting on what God has taught her in the past seven years, Erin shared: “Eastern Ottawa has taught me how to love people, live in community and serve Jesus. I am so excited to equip a new community in how to do what Eastern Ottawa has been doing for 20 years.”

Erin has as large vision for the growth of Young Life in Traverse City. “I am extremely passionate about marginalized populations of kids, creating new things, growing in my own leadership and building it in others. I am so thankful for the ways that God has used Young Life to bring lots of great relationships and adventure into my life!”


Erin begins her new role in Traverse City on Monday, April 27th. This is a huge step forward for the growth of Young Life in the Western Great Lakes Region–one that has been five years in the making.

For five years, parents in the Grand Traverse area have been dreaming big about Young Life. For five years, leaders have been taking one step of faith after another with kids at Central High School. For five years, volunteers have been passionate about introducing adolescents to Jesus Christ. For five years, a community has been persistent in prayer.

The area’s anticipation and excitement is so evident in recent comments made by Jack Boyd, Development Chair for TC Young Life, on the fundraising efforts: “After two years of working towards our goal of hiring an Area Director for the Grand Traverse area, we can finally say we did it!”

They did it! But really, God did it. All these years, God has been actively working throughout the Grand Traverse area. The hiring of Erin as Area Director only seeks to expand the ministry that’s already being done to reach more schools and more communities, so that more and more young people will come to know and follow Christ.

Please join us in welcoming Erin to this position and praying for her as she transitions into this new role for Young Life in Traverse City.

You can follow Erin on Twitter here and follow Traverse City Young Life on Facebook here.

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