It’s been 49 years since Youth For Christ gained a presence in the Omaha area.
Since then, the organization — with roots stretching back to 1944, when renowned evangelist Billy Graham became its first full-time employee — has made inroads throughout the community and found a home for its largest annual fundraising and recruitment event.
Sunday, April 7 at 6 p.m., the organization will host its 15th edition of the benefit event, themed See the Story, which brings in a motivational speaker to talk about the power of hope and faith and also asks local youth to share their own stories at the La Vista Conference Center.
“It’s been a growing process,” said Jason Currie, executive director of Omaha Youth for Christ and Campus Life. “In the past, (Youth for Christ) has looked a little different at different periods in its history. In the 1970s, it was mostly aimed at juvenile detention centers and working with kids who were at-risk. But the last 20 years, it’s been primarily aimed at campus life and getting into the schools and looking into how we can best serve the youth in our communities.”
The mission has included start-up programs at Papillion and La Vista junior high schools, both of which were up and running this past fall.
And now, with the use of the La Vista Conference Center for the benefit event the past five years, Currie said Youth for Christ has seen an explosion in interest around the metro area. More than 700 people attended the event last year.
“As an annual fundrasing event, it allows us to provide a service to more and more mentors across the area,” he said. “It’s a great first experience with what we’re doing and it just keeps getting bigger every year.”
An example of the event’s reach can be found in the person of Rick Rogers, who first attended the event in 2010.
“I’d heard of Youth for Christ before, but I didn’t know anything about their program or their outreach,” Rogers said. “So I went and I listened and I was encouraged by what they were doing in the nation and around Omaha. I made a contribution and I left.”
In 2011, Rogers attended the event again. This time, he watched a video of Youth for Christ’s programming in Gretna’s schools.
The video talked about all the activities the organization brought about, including fun, games and food. Then, the camera turned on a young girl who told her story.
“It was very compelling, very moving,” Rogers said of the video. “It showed everything they did from dodgeball to doughnuts. But then they talked to this girl who said it was the one place she could go where she had an adult to talk to while her dad was in jail. That’s when it hit me. Not all kids have a positive adult role model in their lives and with what these mentors do in Youth for Christ, you have that.”
Rogers, with two grandchildren in the Papillion-La Vista School District, contacted Currie and said he wanted to look into bringing Youth for Christ to the schools in his neighborhood.
Rogers continues to help coordinate the growth of the junior high school programs and is also assisting in the effort to bring Youth for Christ to the school district’s high schools.
“There are a lot of stories like Rick’s,” Currie said. “That’s how we’re growing. Individuals are seeing what a difference Youth for Christ can make and they’re saying, ‘I want that in my schools. I want that for my kids or my grandkids.’”
Currie said a study is currently under way to bring Youth for Christ into the two high schools in the Papillion-La Vista School District.
He said he’s hopeful the April 7 See the Story, featuring Nathan Kroll — a father who lost his son in a tragic drug-related accident — will be yet another opportunity to bring new mentors into the Youth for Christ fold.
Students in the La Vista and Papillion Youth for Christ programs will also be sharing their stories, oftentimes moving testimony.
“Wherever there’s a community that wants to see the best for its kids and mobilize its kids and give them hope for their world, we want to help make that happen,” Currie said. “I’ve been working here 10 years and it still is an incredible thing to see. We’re looking forward to what happens this year.”
Tickets for the See the Story benefit event are free. Table sponsorships are available, starting at a price of $200. Call Omaha Youth for Christ at 402-597-9323 for more information or to reserve a table sponsorship.