Plans to expand

by: SUSAN MATHENY/MADRAS PIONEER - Zac Caldwell, back center, talks with students at the City Life rec room in Madras.After 11 years of working at a Christian Camp in Colorado, where he oversaw a staff of 30 college kids, Zakary Caldwell was about to become the executive director, but felt another calling.

“I felt called to do more to help raise youth up,” he said.

About the same time, a position with the Youth For Christ program in Madras opened up and Caldwell took it. He had majored in business at Barkley College in Kansas, and learned about youth programs at the camp.

Moving to Madras in August with his wife, Katrina, and daughters, Parker, 5, and Reilly, 3, he became the executive director for Central Oregon YFC, while his wife got a job as a teaching assistant at Metolius Elementary.

“What I’ve noticed here was how closely knit the community is. It doesn’t matter what church you go to, and there’s no competition with other youth pastors,” Caldwell said, adding, “It was so refreshing to get here and have Eddie Brown (Free Methodist youth leader), and John David (Living Hope youth leader) be so welcoming.”

The YFC organization was founded in 1946 by the Rev. Billy Graham, and opened a Madras center in 1981. Since then, it has operated back and forth between Madras and Redmond, he said, noting past directors have included Curtis Fox, Eddie Brown, and Yancy Wells.

Caldwell’s assignment seems overwhelming. “Our goal is to open YFC ministries in Madras, Culver, Warm Springs, Redmond, Prineville, Bend and Sisters,” he said. “Ideally, I would find people and train them, and then they would take over the ministries.”

To start, he is running the City Life center for high school youths in downtown Madras, in the Odd Fellows Building. In exchange for acting as superintendent of the building, which also houses State Farm Insurance and Garden Gate Flowers, the Odd Fellows give YFC space for an office and kids’ recreation room.

He works with a five-member board of directors, and has seven to eight adult volunteers to help him with activities. A successful fundraising banquet was held a few weeks ago, and he pointed out, “Everything we do is all community donor-based.”

Just since September, attendance at City Life has grown from 15 participants to 34, counting the adults. “We’re about at our limit for this building now, which is a good problem to have. And in the summer we can do outdoor stuff,” Caldwell observed.

The center is open on Tuesday and Thursday, right after school. On Tuesdays, kids hang out in the game room until 5:45 p.m., when a family-style meal is provided by either the Caldwells, or other volunteers.

After dinner, Caldwell gives a short lesson, and they break up into small groups for discussion, each with an adult leader.

“I’ve led small groups of college kids before, but teens were a big adjustment for me,” Caldwell admitted.

In the groups, he said, “We share our stories and see how they fit in with God’s story. The kids get to vent and talk through things, and there’s a lot of trust.” In just the short time he’s been here, Caldwell has seen growth in the teens.

“We had lot of freshmen and sophomores, who are really shy and still figuring out who they are. It’s really cool to see how much they grow and get more comfortable with themselves,” he said. To support kids, he tries to attend the school plays, and sports events they are involved in.

Some teens attend other youth groups, too, which he encourages. “If I’m doing my job right, I’m getting kids that are unchurched and plugging them into other churches,” he said.

On Thursdays, kids just hang out in a safe place to play pool, video games, foosball, talk or strum guitars. Other students use the time to catch up on homework in the office area.

In addition to youth groups, YFC has a wide variety of ministries including ones for teen parents, foster parents, deaf teens, kids in the juvenile justice system, and more. “We see what the community needs and fit the ministries around that,” he said.

Statistics show this area has high teen pregnancy and teen crime rates. “So, we felt the focus for Jefferson County should be a juvenile justice ministry and a teen parent ministry,” Caldwell said of his short-term goals.

The juvenile justice ministry works with kids coming out of detention centers, and their social workers, “to mentor them, give them value, and teach them life skills as they transition into society,” he said.

The teen parent ministry would match teens with adult parents who would mentor them and teach parenting skills. “We’re coordinating with the Pregnancy Resource Center on this,” he said. “We help teen parents learn to make good life choices for themselves and their children.”

Getting volunteers will be a big push for this program, and Caldwell said YFC has professionals who can come in to do trainings at no cost for both ministries. Anyone interested in being a volunteer can call him at 541-475-6070.

Caldwell said his job is to get local communities to invest in themselves and their youths. He has been impressed with groups like the Faith-Based Network, and the fact that no businesses turned him down when he was seeking auction items for the banquet fundraiser.

“I’ve never seen anywhere else a community willing to work together like this, and during my life I’ve lived in 22 different states,” Caldwell said with admiration.

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