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West Michigan Youths Mentored for Leadership


It was the stress of urban youth ministry that drove Amy Westra and Christy Carlin Knetch to participate in the Grand Rapids (Mich.) Initiative for Leaders, designed to support and strengthen urban youth workers.

The training was so beneficial that they wanted to share it with their young people from Oakdale Park Christian Reformed Church and Madison Square Church, located less than a mile apart.

Participants in the Grand Rapids Initiative for Leaders gather at their graduation ceremonies at Oakdale Park CRC.

So for the past six years they have worked together to develop youths for leadership. One of the ways they do that is through technology-free retreats designed to create space to practice theological thinking and reflection.

Knetch identifies the participants as “future elders and pastors—leaders of cities and communities.”

Participation in the program requires that the youths serve on the board of their church or a local non-profit organization, meet regularly with a mentor from their congregation, and contribute to another ministry at their church.

The experience helped Allison VanderPloeg to articulate her future and solidify her faith. She is now a social work student at Calvin College, and she is becoming a youth leader and mentor to younger students. She has realized that she doesn’t want to take her gifts with her out of the community from which she’s come.

Through the program, Dutcher Snedeker identified his gifts and how he can use them in his church. He is a musician who started a worship team for the youth group.

Now the high school participants in the program are passing on what they have learned to middle school youths in their congregations.

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