Young Life supporters raised more than $125,000 during their annual banquet held at the Capitol Theater on Thursday, Nov. 5.
Area director Clay Bagby said 215 people attended the event which was held at the Capitol for the first time. Although planners expected closer to 250, Bagby was happy with the turnout. “We did have a good crowd,” he said.
Between sponsors and support donated and pledged that evening, Young Life raised $125,000 of the $230,000 needed for their annual budget.
“It was a wonderful, wonderful opportunity for us, fundraising-wise. Our budget is $230,000, so we have a ways to go to raise what we need, but the evening took us a long way,” Bagby said. “The folks really did give generously. With only 215 attending, yet we raised more than in the last three banquets, so it was certainly a blessing to raise more with fewer folks.”
Bagby shared with those in attendance how Young Life volunteers work hard to build relationships with youth in area high schools. He said that often their work is simply showing up for lunch at school, going to football practice, cheering on cross country runners or any of those things that build relationships with the teens.
“Young Life is quite simply adults entering into the teen’s world and sharing the gospel of Christ and being there when they are needed most,” Bagby said. “That’s what I’m so excited about -- sharing Christ through words and actions -- not knowing if they will give a response, but just being there if they give us the opportunity to point out Christ.”
Bagby said the Young Life volunteers give so much of themselves. “This ministry could not happen without them,” he said.
Keynote speaker was Rev. Mike “Ash” Ashburn, who began the evening in overalls, posing as a fundraising expert for a hog-calling club. Later in the evening, he acknowledged that fundraising really wasn’t what Young Life did best.
“What we are really good at is loving kids,” Ashburn said. “You help us do what we do best. We believe every single teenager has the right to hear about Jesus.”
Ashburn told the supporters that Young Life was started by Jim Rayburn, a Presbyterian youth pastor whose got some words of wisdom from his senior pastor about luring young people to Sunday School.
“The pastor told him if he wanted young people to come to Sunday School, he couldn’t call it Sunday School, and he couldn’t have it on Sunday,” Ashburn said.
Rayburn listened, Ashburn said, and started the first Young Life group by having an hour-long meeting where the teens got to have fun and play games. In the last 15 minutes of that hour, he shared the story of Jesus. From that, Young Life grew into the nationwide ministry it is today.
In Blount County, there are four Young Life clubs, one at each high school. “We try to show kids the best hour of their week,” Ashburn said. “We laugh, we sing, we do messy things. Then in the last 15 minutes, Clay or Tyler (Merchant) or a volunteer who knows your kids by name opens up a Bible and makes it come alive,” Ashburn said.
Ashburn said that Young Life is mission work in a “foreign”culture, the youth culture of the community. The speaker said the Young Life supporters were looking and praying for a roomful of people who will “pray and pay” to send 24 missionaries into the culture of high school in Blount County. “We’re building a bridge of friendship,” he said. “Our message is Jesus and our method is friendship.”
Jeff Mitchell and his wife, Carol Ann, attended the banquet to support Young Life. Their daughter Caitlin was active in Young Life at Maryville High School before going on to the University of Tennessee. Jeff Mitchell said their younger daughter Rachel would probably attend when she is a freshmen next year. “I’ve been a big supporter of Young Life since we got here,” he said. “It’s a great group of people who volunteer a tremendous amount of time. I try to give sacrificially to Young Life because it’s one of the best things going for the kids. They’ve got so much on them.”
David Talley said he was pleased with how the event went at the Capitol Theater and enjoyed Ashburn’s comments. “I told someone that night it was the first time in a long time I hadn’t looked at my watch during a banquet,” he said. “It was over before you knew it. I thought he did a great a job.”
Talley said he and his wife Jennifer have been involved with Young Life for 24 years. “Three of our four children have gone through Young Life, and two have been leaders. It has been the most positive thing to happen to my kids,” he said. “They started off in Sunday School when they were little and got to high school and drifted. I think Young Life leaders rescued them.”
Will and Joy Carver attended the banquet and he said Ashburn did a good job of capturing the essence of Young Life, which Will described as “building relationships, and exploring what those relationships do to allow young people to get to know Christ.”
Will said he and Joy have two small children and many of the Young Life members in high school now will be teachers and coaches when their children are in high school. “It’s important to make that investment now for our children and the other children of Blount County,” he said.