BY OLIVIA CAMERON – Young Life of Charlotte Harbor is a non-profit Christian organization bringing kids together while sharing a relationship with faith. Since the organization’s start in 1941, the goal of the program has been to help students build a relationship with their peers and with their faith.
The United Methodist Church on Boca is an important supporter of the Ministry. Without support from the Island, the scholarships given to these kids wouldn’t exist.
The group focuses on the middle schools and high schools of Charlotte County while also holding a mall ministry.
Area Director Tom Parker shares his insight on what it means to be a leader of Young Life. “We live in a society where teenagers often feel invisible or the opposite, everything is bad to them, so we want these kids to be known.” With his leadership role, he takes pride in being a part of young student’s lives.
From divorce rates to working parents, Parker believes kids in hardship should have a place to go. “Kids get left behind in the process of life, especially at the high school level,” says Parker. “We are trying to fill areas in a kid’s life, not trying to take over and make decisions for parents but to provide a safe environment for them.”
Parker now leads five staff and nine schools among the organization. Their vision of expansion involves creating a diverse team interested in innovation and outreach in order to build worldwide relationships.
Murdock Middle, Port Charlotte Middle, Punta Gorda Middle, and LA Ainger Middle, and Sky Academy Middle School make up the Wyldlife subdivision, connecting with younger public students across the area.
The Young Life group consists of Port Charlotte High, Charlotte High, and Lemon Bay High School students.
The Port Charlotte Mall also offers tutoring every Monday through Thursday from 2:00pm to 6:00pm to encourage their success and build onto their knowledge of religion.
Recently, the group itself has undergone a leadership change. The original leadership in the hands of one has now extended. With the expansion of roles, Punta Gorda and Port Charlotte are now equipped with full-time staff. Part-time staff follows the Englewood locations, but may be due for a change.
After the Englewood Young Life Gala fundraising event, half of their overall goal was raised. Part of the funding is directed towards hiring a full-time staff for the Englewood teams. With the help of Boca residents Steve and Lynn Kieffer, the event was located at the Beach Club on the Island. With the couple’s connection to the Gasparilla Inn alongside hotel associate Courtney Clark, the event was a success.
Of the 120 aattendees of the fundraiser, an astounding third were Boca residents. Their goal of $120,000 was halfway met, which has led them to further plans for hiring an Englewood full-time team.
Parker believes in taking the time to focus on every individual kid of the program, and would like to have a full staff on board to accomplish that. The more added members to their team, the more attention is paid towards those who really need it.
The current staff members welcome new members to join in on the journey towards new experiences and connecting with faith. These team members include Chichi Marcelin, working part-time at Port Charlotte High School, and Jen Candia, full-time at Charlotte High School and overseeing volunteers at Port Charlotte Middle School and Punta Gorda Middle School.
The program leads “Club” for high schools each Monday night to take their mind off of things and partake in events. Between 45 and 60 students of the organization are also invited to join “Camp,” which entails an upcoming trip to the Colorado Rockies. Here, the program will be taking their bond to new heights, literally. The funds raised will also go towards providing the kids with the “best week of their lives,” according to Parker.
To continue to raise money, Young Life students will also be serving at the Strawberry Festival at UMC on March 7th.
For more information, volunteer opportunities, or financial donations, go to charlotteharbor.younglife.org or reach Tom Parker at (941) 456-5433.