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‘Young Life’ Helps Bronx Youngsters Grow

Young Life Regional Director Carolyn Harrison (L) and 20-year old Bryan Rellano at the final ‘Club’ of the year. (photo Gary Axelbank)

by Gary Axelbank

December 26, 2017

Something special happens for Bronx youngsters every Friday afternoon in the Fordham Manor Church, a century-old building on the corner of Kingsbridge Road and Reservoir Avenue.   That’s where Young Life: Bronx runs its weekly ‘Club’, getting youngsters together for fun, games, companionship, and more importantly, a chance to put some stability in their lives academically, culturally, socially, and spritually.

‘Young Life’ at the Fordham Manor Church (photo by Gary Axelbank)

While Carolyn Harrison, Bronx Regional Director for Young Life: Bronx, says that Young Life adult leaders are firm in their goal to, “introduce adolescents to Christ and help them grow their faith,” that’s not the main goal.

“We’re for all kids,” she said, “kids of some faith, kids of no faith, kids who are wrestling, trying to find their way. We don’t turn any kid away because we believe every kid has a future and a promise. We help kids thrive holistically, emotionally, academically, physically, intellectually, and physically.”

Making reindeer antlers from balloons (photo by Gary Axelbank)

At last Friday’s last “Club” session of 2017, which doubled as a spirited holiday party that featured food, music, games, and 25 Bronx kids who were just being kids, the youngsters had a plentiful holiday feast, played some fun games where they worked together in teams (like a create-reindeer-antlers contest with balloons in stockings!), and did a little plain-old hanging out. But there’s value to even just that.

“I need to go out, not to be home all day,” said 20 year-old Bryan Rellano, who joined Young Life five years ago. “Most of the time I don’t get along with my parents.   I wanted a place to go hang out and have a good time.”

Gary Axelbank gets to know some of the ‘Young Life’ youngsters (photo by Suzanne Axelbank)

So Bryan comes every Friday to not only play the games he likes, like ‘Steal the Bacon’, but to be part of a larger youth community that helps broaden his outlook.

“I’ve met many new people, all kinds,” he said. “They have interesting lives.”

Young Life has branches in more than 100 countries and has been in New York City for more than thirty years. They currently operate in two Bronx locations: in the Fordham Manor Church where they’ve been for nine years and across the street on the Walton HS Campus, where they’ve been for just a year. And while the goal is to provide adult mentorship and guidance, they’ll undertake any task that can help.

“If the school says they need someone to coach the soccer team, we place volunteers on that campus to coach the soccer team,” Ms. Harrison said.  “We need adults to mentor kids who have fallen by the wayside.   We have basketball programs, creative programs, knitting programs.  We bike with kids, swim with kids.  We are working with kids all the time.”

The results, she says, are palatable.

(photo by Gary Axelbank)

“We have a young lady, she’s a first semester college student at SUNY Pottsdam,” Ms. Harrison said. “We met her when she was a sophomore at Marie Curie High School.  She was not anchored. She had a vision to become an actress.  She knew about Broadway, but had never been south of 161st Street. We took her to shows and to meet other women in acting.  Now she has her head shot and resume and has a vision that becoming an actress is a possibility for her and she is pursuing it.”

Bryan, too, attributes his own growth to Young Life.

“I’m now at BCC (Bronx Community College) and I’m thinking about doing engineering. If it wasn’t for Young Life I probably would be a totally different person.”

To find out more about Young Life programs, to volunteer, or contribute, visit younglifenyc.org


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