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Youth for Christ opens center as home away from home

By Virginia de Leon

In a large, dimly-lit room equipped with pool tables, a concert stage and a wall of televisions connected to Xbox 360s, youth from the West Central neighborhood take refuge.

Youth for Christ
Dan Tremblay, Josh Roe and Josh Hoover

They show up after school, right when the doors open to the City Life Youth Center.

For some, this “clubhouse” operated by Youth for Christ Spokane is a home away from home. For others, it’s the only place to go.

“I like the attitude here.  It’s a lot of fun,” said Dan Tremblay, a 16-year-old who has been coming to the center for two years. “Knowing there’s always someone to talk to here and that someone cares about me has made me a much happier person.”

Since the center first opened in 2005, hundreds of young people have flocked to the brick building on the corner of Ash Street and Sharp Avenue. 

What was once an old, abandoned warehouse has been renovated into a hip, new hangout—a place where youth can play games, receive tutoring help, eat a meal and talk to young adults who know their names and have taken the time to learn their stories.

Many teens who visit the drop-in center come from poor homes.  Their parents don’t have time to help them with homework or attend to their other needs.  Some are from broken homes plagued with drug and alcohol abuse. Others just need a safe place to spend time with other youth.

“These young people are bursting with potential, dying to have someone love them and invest in them,” said Josh Roe, executive director of Youth for Christ Spokane.  “They are victims of circumstance.  They come from backgrounds of poverty and hopelessness.

“Our goal is to provide for them an environment where they can build relationships with caring adults and be involved in healthy activities,” he said.

Four times a week, youth from the neighborhood walk to the center and take part in activities—games, tutoring, leadership meetings and even sewing.

Last year, Youth for Christ touched the lives of about 400 teens and served nearly 850 family-style dinners to teens, who often don’t have the chance to eat healthy food at home, said Josh.

An international nonprofit group committed to youth evangelism and biblical Christianity, Youth for Christ was first established in Spokane in the 1970s.  In 1998, after experiencing some problems in leadership, the program ceased to exist.

It came to life again about six years ago when Josh, who earned a degree in recreational management, returned to his native Spokane to minister to youth.

After a nine-month internship with Youth for Christ’s regional office in Tacoma, Josh and Whitworth College graduate Mary Scheuerman set out in 2002 to lay the groundwork in Spokane.

For many months, their “office” was the trunk of Josh’s car.  Using an old list of names from when YFC was still active in Spokane, the duo drove around the city, knocking on doors, and meeting with pastors and others who shared their vision of helping young people and re-establishing Youth for Christ.

Josh and Mary also did a feasibility study, meeting with people from Whitworth, Young Life and other organizations. They discovered that there was a need for “intentional youth ministry” in West Central and other neighborhoods plagued with poverty.

So the two developed a ministry model with three components: a strategically located neighborhood youth center, ministry houses where college-age adults could live together and serve YFC, and programs to serve at-risk youth.

In 2003, work with youth began.  Off Broadway Bible Study, a ministry in West Central, asked YFC to become involved with youth in the neighborhood. 

So Josh, Mary and a few others met with eight teens in a West Central home. By Christmas, the group had outgrown the space.

Josh asked the Rev. Tom Soeldner at Salem Lutheran Church for permission to use the church’s gym.  YFC also established its office in the basement of nearby First Free Methodist Church.

Meanwhile, the number of youth attending YFC gatherings at Salem continued to grow, which prompted Josh to look for a permanent home.

When he saw the 7,000-square-foot warehouse at 1309 N. Ash St., he called its owner, Bill Bates, who owns Bates Pharmacy.

Over coffee, Josh told Bill of his desire to help at-risk youth and his vision to start a center.  He told him there were at least 800 youth between the ages of 11 and 19 who came from broken homes and were living in poverty in West Central Spokane.

Josh also provided national statistics, including the fact that misdemeanor crimes, along with drug and alcohol use among teens, occur at alarming rates between 2:30 and 8 p.m. weekdays.

“Those are the hours when kids aren’t at school and have nothing to do,” Josh said. “Our vision is to give them a safe, culturally relevant place where they can hang out and ultimately move toward spiritual wholeness in Christ.”

Bill agreed to donate the warehouse to Youth for Christ.

After a capital campaign that raised nearly $200,000 and months of renovation, the City Life Youth Center became a reality.

Now, YFC Spokane has four full-time staff members and many community volunteers. It also has help from 14 young men and women who live at YFC’s two ministry houses. The volunteers pay only $150 a month for rent and provide about five to 10 hours a week of service to YFC.

While the ministry welcomes young people from many backgrounds, those now there are affiliated with Whitworth University or Moody Bible Institute in Spokane.

The organization also partners with 15 area churches and 24 community organizations that include schools, the Spokane Regional Health District and several higher education institutions.

Several youth who come regularly attribute Youth for Christ’s success to adults on staff.

“We have mentors who teach us how to lead and how to be a follower of God,” said 16-year-old Josh Hoover, a sophomore at North Central High School.

He and Dan, who live in the neighborhood, credit Josh, who welcomed them to the center.

Josh Roe grew up in Spokane, attended First Presbyterian Church and graduated from Lewis and Clark High School in 1994.  His past helps him relate to the young people who become part of Youth for Christ, he said.

When he was an eighth-grader, he “steered away from the Lord,” he said, and became involved with drugs and alcohol.

On the outside, everything looked fine.  He was an honors student with a good job and a network of friends.

Inside, however, he felt empty.

“Something was missing,” he recalled. “I was in the desert. I wasn’t right with the Lord.”

About 10 years later, as a college student at Western Washington University, he re-discovered his faith.   During a heated debate over religion in a Bellingham bar—instigated by a drunk man reading out loud from a Bible he pulled out of his back pocket—Josh heard his good friend, Andy, proclaim: “I know my Lord and savior, Jesus Christ.”

“My world changed,” said Josh, recalling his sudden transformation. “The Lord started leading me on a path.”

He started going to a non-denominational Christian church, joined a group for young people and met his future wife, Lindsey.

Since his return to Spokane, Josh and Lindsey have become members of New Community Church, a non-denominational Christian congregation that worships Sundays at the Rendezvous Event Facility in Spokane.

They bought a house and rental property in the West Central neighborhood, living in the neighborhood to show their commitment and conveyed their solidarity with the people they serve.  Other YFC staff and volunteers have followed their example.

“That’s what Christ did.  He came down to earth and moved in with the people who were down and out,” Josh explained.  “That’s how he developed his life ministry.  Moving into the neighborhood has had a powerful impact.”

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