Western Great Lakes Young Life

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Tag: Grand Rapids Young Life

Filling A Void For Kids On The Fringe

How Young Life and the Grand Rapids Center for Community Transformation are working together to reach youth in the city

As Matt Cambridge sits working at his desk, he glances up to look at the floor-to-ceiling mural before him. The mural depicts a beautiful garden on the left with a rushing waterfall and trees full of color and life. Moving to the right, the garden transforms into the city of Grand Rapids with its iconic blue bridge and cityscape.  

This beautiful mural is located inside the Grand Rapids Center for Community Transformation, where Matt Cambridge serves on Young Life staff in a brand new partnership.

The exploring of this partnership began back in the spring of 2017 when Shannon Bruin, who is the Project Manager at GRCCT and also volunteers as a Young Life committee member, approached Eric Zoodsma from SouthWest Grand Rapids Young Life with the idea. They were having conversations about how to reach the “furthest out kids” in the city and how to increase diversity and inclusion in their Young Life ministries which historically have been mostly in suburban schools.

“Together we realized that the ‘furthest out kid’ isn’t in the suburban school and not always in a school at all. We developed this partnership as a way to explore solutions in bringing Jesus to the furthest out kid through a new lens,” shared Shannon.

This led to the birth of a new partnership at GRCCT, modeled after a similar one Young Life has with Wedgwood Christian Services. Young Life would employ a staff person to work at GRCCT with the youth and staff already there. 

The Grand Rapids Center for Community Transformation was established in 2015 when residents of the city came together with the common goal of providing at-risk youth with opportunities for transformation through meaningful relationships, work, education, and community development.

Bethany Christian Services is one of the organizations working collaboratively out of the Center. Other partners include Tabernacle Community Church, along with two social enterprises (Building Bridges Professional Services and Rising Grinds Cafe) and a for-profit company (Double O Supply and Craftsman). GRCCT is a unique entity of cross-sectoral collaboration.

GRCCT modeled the transformation they hope to see in their neighborhood by renovating an abandoned, 120-year old industrial building located on Madison Ave, in the heart of the Madison Square neighborhood.


Since its beginning, GRCCT has served over 400 youth, between the ages of 14-24, mainly truant, low income, refugee, foster and homeless youth of Grand Rapids.

GRCCT offers a variety of services for disadvantaged youth: GED/HS completion courses, employment opportunities, vocational training and certification, life skills development, housing support, social services, and mentoring.

In the two months Matt Cambridge has been working there, he’s noticed that it’s also a place of respite where youth can be found playing pool during their lunch break or getting a much-needed nap on the couch. It’s the perfect place for caring adults to meet adolescents on their own turf and build relationships with them.


In the midst of all the good work happening at the Grand Rapids Center for Community Transformation, there was a growing need for spiritual formation as a centralized initiative.

“They are seeking to have spiritual conversations and spiritual structure,” observed Matt. “Young Life can provide that structure and those opportunities to talk about Christ with kids, to take them to a week at Young Life Camp but then come home together and continue that relationship and those conversations.”

Matt Cambridge was the perfect person to get this partnership up and running. Currently in his second year of grad school at Michigan State studying Human Resources, he was willing and able to jump right in.

“He’s a natural leader and innovator,” shared Matt DeHoog from Greater Grand Rapids Young Life. “I saw that in him when he was a volunteer leader in college and was thrilled that he would step into this role and help us figure out what this partnership would look like.”


Left to Right: Matt DeHoog (Greater Grand Rapids YL), Justin Beene (Director at GRCCT), Matt Cambridge (YL Partner), Eric Zoodsma (Grand Rapids SW Area Director) and Julian Goodson (Staff at GRCCT).

As Matt Cambridge works to develop a Young Life presence at GRCCT, he has developed an 8-person committee and leadership team, comprised of staff who are already working with youth in the city. Matt’s role will be, in part, to equip these leaders to carry out the model of Young Life through relationships, club, camp, and discipleship.

Part of the strength and opportunity of this model is that staff already are in the lives of these kids, and the center serves as an incredible space to carry out Young Life, foster these relationships, and share Christ.

Justin Beene, Director at the Grand Rapids Center for Community Transformation shared, “Our partnership with Young Life is shaping up to be a real opportunity to holistically develop young people—not just in their education and vocational talents, but also in helping them understand their true identity, affirming their God-given worth and value, and growing in that relationship and understanding.”

Back to the mural. The redemption story from the garden to the city and the Biblical themes of justice, transformation and renewal depicted in the mural aren’t lost on Matt as he works under the backdrop of such a powerful piece.

“I sit in the middle of those two. It reminds me that we’re all, in a very real way, still sitting and standing and working in between those two realities,” Matt wrote on his blog.  

“Behind me,” he continued, “there’s a simple sign that reads: Every youth is one caring adult away from being a success story. I take a deep breath and, though I don’t have all the answers, remind myself that there is goodness happening here.”

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. :)