Western Great Lakes Young Life

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Category: Staff Spotlight

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. :)

Wyoming Young Life, An Answer to Prayer

When Chris Hall, a pastor and church planter from Wyoming, MI, first heard about Young Life, he called it “an answer to prayer.”

Chris Hall serves as the preaching and teaching pastor at Elevation Church, a new but growing church plant located near Wyoming’s Lamar Park. Hall and his wife have called Wyoming home their whole lives. The Hall’s three children are now the fifth generation to grow up in and love the city

As the largest suburb of Grand Rapids, the city of Wyoming is also one of the fastest growing cities in the state of Michigan. There are seven school districts in the city of Wyoming. The halls of these schools are filled with hundreds of adolescents who reflect the diverse neighborhoods they come from.

Elevation Church had been praying for opportunities to engage with the local schools ever since their beginning when they held weekend services in the local junior high school. At that time, they observed a spiritual need in the schools and saw a huge opportunity to bring the Gospel to young people.

Meanwhile, discussions about starting Young Life in Wyoming had been taking place between Matt DeHoog, Young Life’s Associate Regional Director for Kent County, and Eric Zoodsma, Area Director for Grand Rapids SouthWest Young Life. Matt invited Chris Hall into the conversation; it didn’t take much for Chris to jump on board.

“Matt began to walk me through the basics of Young Life,” Chris described, feeling as though Matt was “speaking his language.”

“Instead of reinventing the wheel, why not join this Young Life thing,” was Chris’s first thought.  

This connection wasn’t accidental. God was clearly at work in this startup process, pulling the right people together. “We are just stepping into what God is already doing,” shared Chris.

To establish a Young Life presence in the Wyoming schools, Grand Rapids SouthWest YL took a step and hired Rebekah Blair to serve as Mission Staff for Wyoming.

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Rebekah Blair (pictured center) with a few Young Life girls

Rebekah joins her husband Casey Blair, who already serves on Young Life staff in the same area. Previously, the couple served Young Life in the Kalamazoo area while studying at Western Michigan University. In this new role, Rebekah will focus on starting up new clubs at both Lee High School and Wyoming Middle School.

“Young Life meets kids where they are,” Rebekah shared when asked what Young Life is all about.

Instead of waiting for students to show up where we are, we go to them and get to know them in their own space, whether that’s at lunch, sports games, or before school. Students don’t have to go out of their way to make our program work, we meet in their neighborhoods and in their schools. I think there’s a lot more authenticity because we’re going into their spaces,” she continued.

As Young Life works to get its feet on the ground in Wyoming, Rebekah and others are praying for leaders to step up—leaders with both a passion for the community and a commitment to seeing kids come to know Jesus.

“Historically, we’ve not been a community that breeds leaders,” reflected Pastor Chris. “We tend to be the ones who carry a lunch bucket to work and leaders tend to come [to us] from other communities. They have some tie to the city, but don’t live here.”

Those from the community who have heard about Young Life seem eager to embrace the model of relational ministry. The hope is for more churches in Wyoming to be open to the idea of coming together to reach more kids at Wyoming Middle School and Lee High School.Wyoming YL Quote

“I’m praying that kids will see Christ through their Young Life leaders even before we start running club,” added Rebekah. 

Wyoming Young Life has plans to have leaders walking the halls of both schools by Fall of 2017.

For more information about the partnership between Elevation Church and Young Life in Wyoming, click hereTo partner with Wyoming Young Life financially, click here.

You can follow along with Young Life in the Grand Rapids SouthWest areaon facebook.


“The big deal is we think the power is in us individually. The power is in us collectively. It is in the church.” – Dr. John Perkins

Rebekah and Casey Blair


More about Rebekah Blair: Rebekah is from Bloomfield Hills, MI where she attended Southfield Christian School. She is a graduate of Western Michigan University with a degree in Organizational Communication, though she says the best part about Western was meeting her husband, Casey. In her free time, Rebekah enjoys hanging out and talking with friends, reading, eating and being outside (preferably by a lake).

Welcome, Rebekah! We give thanks for how God has prepared you for this role with Wyoming Young Life and are excited to see His Kingdom grow through your leadership and ministry. 

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).

New Staff Brings Fresh Start to Caledonia Young Life


Maddie (pictured right) with a YL student.

Madeline Stalheber grew up near Houston, Texas and attended the University of Texas at Austin. She’s a Lone Star State girl at heart, but God had a way of drawing her to the Mitten State through various roles at our region’s Young Life camp, Timber Wolf Lake.

Maddie was involved in Young Life as a high schooler and then chose to lead Young Life at Dripping Springs (part of Young Life Austin) while she was in college. Later she interned, not just once, but three different times at Timber Wolf Lake: two summer-long internships followed by a year-long internship. “Working in the kitchen was so fun, but I realized how much I missed the relationships with kids.”


Maddie (bottom right) with the YL Interns at Timber Wolf.

This longing to return to direct ministry is what led Maddie to accept Area Director Eric Zoodsma’s request for her to help get Young Life started again at Caledonia High School. Maddie agreed and came on as Mission Staff for the Grand Rapids SouthWest area this past June.  

Young Life had existed in Caledonia up until a few years ago. Recently, Jamie De Vries, Director of Worship and Student Ministries at Lakeside Community Church, began asking Eric what it would take to rebuild a Young Life club in Caledonia.  

Over the last few months, we’ve had more and more interest from parents and the community about how they can support Young Life at Caledonia High School. We have a few leaders in place, and Maddie has been doing a great job,” says Eric.

Right now, Maddie and the GRSW Young Life staff are hoping to rebuild Young Life in Caledonia from the ground up. This means working hard to build community around their team, recruit more leaders and cast a vision for a thriving Young Life ministry in Caledonia.

Maddie’s desire is for Young Life to be known in Caledonia as a ministry that cares deeply for kids in the community. Caledonia High School is a small community and Maddie hopes to know everyone and for Young Life to be familiar to all.

“God led me to a town I had never even heard of. The Lord has already been opening doors; He is so faithful,” shares Maddie.  


Maddie and the Caledonia YL Team

Please give a warm welcome (as she’s still getting used to our cold MI winters!) to Maddie and join us in praying for her in this new role as Mission Staff for Grand Rapids SouthWest Young Life. Pray also for Young Life in Caledonia to take root and to be a great blessing to adolescents and families in that community. If you feel led to give financially to help support Maddie and Caledonia Young Life, you can do so at giving.younglife.org/Caledonia.   

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.


Introducing 3 New Staff Members

Over the past month, the Western Great Lakes Region had the privilege of welcoming three new Staff Associates to our growing regional team. We’d love for you to meet them, so without further ado…

INTRODUCING, Andrew Collins.screen-shot-2016-09-07-at-8-53-20-pm

  • ABOUT ANDREW: Andrew grew up in Fountain, MI and came to southwest Michigan in 2003. He met his wife Krissy in 2004 and has been married to her for 11 years. They have an amazing 10-year-old daughter Kiya who gets to go to WyldLife at Lakeshore this year.
  • HIS POSITION: Staff Associate II for Southwest Michigan Young Life. Andrew will work at building relationships with students, staff, parents and donors at Lakeshore Middle and High Schools. You can read more about Andrew or contact him here.  
  • HIS GUILTY PLEASURE/HOBBIES: I like vanilla ice cream with chocolate topping stirred into a delicious soft mixture. I enjoy physical activity like basketball and running. Family time is a must.”
  • HIS YOUNG LIFE STORY: While Andrew is brand new to Young Life, he says, “[Young Life] has broadened my view of how Jesus met us where we are at, stepped into our world, didn’t try to change us with words but with witness. We get to do that with kids.”
  • HIS PRAYER:That we would reach kids in ways that we’ve never thought possible in the past. That God would open our eyes to what is working well with Young Life and what may need tweaking in the future.”

INTRODUCING, Mackenzie Frederick.img_5907

  • ABOUT MACKENZIE: Mackenzie grew up in Grand Blanc, MI with her parents and older brother. She attended Lake Fenton Community Schools. She’s been part of Young Life since her first WyldLife club 10 years ago. Mackenzie moved to the Eastern Ottawa area to attend GVSU.  
  • HER POSITION: Staff Associate for Eastern Ottawa Young Life. Mackenzie will focus on overseeing and advancing the ministry of Young Life in Hudsonville. This means she gets to continue leading at Riley Street WyldLife, and will begin leading at Hudsonville Young Life. She is also the Middle School Ministry Intern at Jamestown Harbor Church. You can read more about Mackenzie or contact her here.
  • HER HOBBIES: All things outdoor: going for hikes, exploring new places and sunset chasing.
  • HER YOUNG LIFE STORY: “Young Life introduced me to a relationship with Jesus and helped me find joy in life. During High School I attended Young Life club, camp, and campaigners. During my junior and senior year of high school, I became a volunteer WyldLife leader. In the summer of 2011, I volunteered at Timber Wolf Lake on Work Crew. During college, I served on Summer Staff at Timber Wolf Lake and had the privilege of being a leader, team leader, and Student Staff member at Riley Street WyldLife … There’s something about Young Life that keeps me coming back, the invitation to experience the Gospel in a new way, the life-long relationships, and the way that God works in a community. I love Young Life and leading because I know what it is like to have a leader walk beside me through thick and thin, pointing me to Christ throughout the way.”
  • HER HOPE & PRAYER: “My hope is to encourage kids and leaders specifically in the Hudsonville community in their relationships with Christ and listen to their stories, just as others have done for me.”

INTRODUCING…Caleb Ellens.screen-shot-2016-10-07-at-10-49-11-am

  • ABOUT CALEB: Caleb grew up in Jenison, MI. He’s the son of Tom and Lonna Ellens and the youngest of four kids with three older sisters.
  • HIS POSITION: Staff Associate for Michiana Young Life. Caleb will be working at Penn High School (Mishawaka, IN). You can read more about Caleb or contact him here.
  • HIS YOUNG LIFE STORY: “I was involved with YoungLife for three years in high school. I became a leader my sophomore year of college and have been active with Young Life ever since…I love the relationships we get to build with people that can last a lifetime.”
  • HIS GUILTY PLEASURE/HOBBIES: “Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon are my happy place.”
  • HIS PRAYER: “My prayer is that we can make a significant impact on the Penn community that can be an asset to the students and staff.”

Please join us in giving a warm welcome to Andrew, Mackenzie and Caleb! We are confident God will use them to do great things for the advancement of His Kingdom here on earth.

Staff Spotlight: Casey Blair

We’re pleased to introduce another new Young Life staff member in the Western Great Lakes Region. Casey Blair serves as Staff Associate for the Grand Rapids SouthWest area. Let’s take a moment to get to know Casey and welcome him.

During his freshman year in high school, Casey Blair became involved in Young Life. The summers that followed brought him to camp two different times—once to Windy Gap and then to Castaway. “My trips [to camp] were the first time I really heard about having a relationship with Christ, and I eventually realized I wanted that. Thanks to Young Life and a couple of older guys from my high school, I am still following Jesus today.”


Casey grew up in Wheaton, IL with a set of pretty amazing parents, an older brother and a younger sister. After high school, Casey moved to Michigan to attend Western Michigan University. “I came up to Western for the Aviation program, but graduated this past December with a degree in Organizational Communication after realizing I didn’t really have a passion for flying.”

WMU helped Casey hone in on his interests. Aviation wasn’t one of them. He’d always liked reading books handed down from his dad. And sports also topped his interest list—whether watching or playing them. But at WMU Casey also met and became engaged to Rebekah. They are planning a wedding for this coming August after she finishes at WMU.


Casey also had a growing interest in Young Life, which led him to become a YL leader at Mattawan High School during his four years at WMU.

One fall at Mattawan, Casey and the other leaders felt like they had done everything possible to get kids signed up for Fall Weekend. After some persistent prodding, they had eight guys agree to go—half of them only because their parents made them. They were expecting an awkward connection with the guys since some of the group hadn’t even met until that weekend.

Despite a rough start, they had a blast hanging out together at Fall Weekend. The next Monday morning, Casey and two other leaders got a text from one of the kids that read: “I haven’t seen you guys in 12 hours, I miss you.”

They all just looked at each other, smiled and said, “This is what it’s all about.”


Young Life is all about authentic friendships. Take a group of eight guys who barely know each other, put them together for a life-changing, whirlwind-of-a-weekend at Timber Wolf and they end up friends. They shared an amazing experience; they had a mutual encounter with God. They’ll never be the same. This same group of guys and leaders plans to go backpacking together this summer and will experience Jesus in a whole new way.

“I love that Young Life is all about relationships,” Casey remarked. “Young Life leaders make it a goal to love everybody equally whether they have a relationship with Christ or want nothing to do with Him. The way YL works, every time a kid experiences the Gospel it is truly an invitation into something beautiful, with that invitation coming from a good friend.”

God had been preparing Casey during his years at Mattawan for a new role as Staff Associate for Grand Rapids SouthWest Young Life. Casey now leads the YL team at South Christian High School and hopes to continue building a dynamic ministry there, comprised of students, parents, faculty and other members of the community.

Casey also works with Area Director Eric Zoodsma to strengthen and grow their entire area and develop healthy ministries so that kids in the Grand Rapids SouthWest area have the opportunity to meet Jesus.

“My hope is that adolescents would experience a love like nothing they’ve experienced before,” Casey shared, “and that that love would transform into a desire to get to know Jesus more for the rest of their lives. I hope that we as an area can continue to grow in supporting leaders in their own relationship with Christ, so they can’t help but be excited about inviting kids into the same thing.”

Please join us in welcoming Casey to this position and pray for him and for Young Life in the Grand Rapids SouthWest area.

You can follow Grand Rapids SouthWest on facebook here.