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Celebrating 50 Years of Young Life in 2024

— Lakes Area Young Life initiated its ministry at Detroit Lakes High School fifty years ago.

Area Director Peter Paulson, who shares responsibilities with co-director Jessica Pudwill, reminisces about the organization’s humble beginnings, catering solely to high school students.

In commemoration of this milestone, the group is organizing a three-day event reminiscent of a “class reunion” in October. Simultaneously, they are launching a new website and social media platforms that delve into the organization’s historical roots within the community. The local Young Life journey commenced with Fred and Sue Harker’s relocation from the Chicago area to Frazee in 1973.

Sue Harker expressed her fondness for the lakes area but noted the absence of Young Life for her daughters and their friends, prompting the inception of the local ministry. The Harkers collaborated with Dave and Mary Carlson, managers of the Young Life Castaway Camp on Pelican Lake (established in 1964), to garner support and resources for establishing a new Young Life chapter in Detroit Lakes.

In 1974, Perry Hunter was appointed as the organization’s inaugural area director, marking the commencement of an uninterrupted 50-year journey, as reminisced by Pudwill, a former Lakes Area Young Life member during her teenage years.

“I’ve remained dedicated because I believe in the transformative power of God through this ministry… I have faith in the individuals involved,” she affirmed. “Young Life provides adolescents with a platform not only to encounter Jesus but also to be truly understood and acknowledged, fulfilling a fundamental human desire.”

Paulson emphasized the unique aspect of Young Life, highlighting that it thrives on imperfect, flawed individuals striving to make a positive impact, with the recognition that the true hero is God.

Over the years, this ecumenical, faith-based organization has expanded its reach to encompass youth ministry at both middle and high school levels, extending beyond Detroit Lakes. Presently, Pudwill spearheads the high school Young Life group, considered the organization’s “flagship ministry,” while Paulson oversees the middle school group, known as Wyld Life. Additionally, they run Capernaum, a ministry catering to children with disabilities.

Although headquartered at Lakes Area Vineyard Church, the Young Life, Wyld Life, and Capernaum groups convene at various venues, including the Castaway Club, the Cellar at Beautiful Junque, and occasionally at Detroit Mountain, among other locations hosting group activities. With Paulson and Pudwill as the sole full-time staff members, the organization also employs four part-time staff to support the volunteers dedicating their time to advance Young Life’s mission.

The upcoming 50th-anniversary celebration, scheduled for October 11-13, will feature two days of recreational activities at the Castaway Club on Friday and Sunday, culminating in a grand celebration on Saturday at Detroit Lakes High School’s Lakeshirts Fieldhouse. For further details, visit the organization’s website or explore their social media platforms under “Lakes Area Young Life 50th Celebration.”

Pudwill anticipates a vibrant turnout of 700-800 attendees at the celebration, inviting past LAYL members, parents, staff, and volunteers to partake in commemorating the organization’s accomplishments over the past five decades and looking ahead to the future.

By Vicki, a seasoned reporter at Detroit Lakes Newspapers, now serving as the Community News Lead for the Detroit Lakes Tribune and Perham Focus since January 1, 2022. With a background covering diverse topics from county board and city council to entertainment and sports, Vicki, a Hamline University graduate, brings a wealth of experience to her journalistic pursuits. For inquiries, contact her at 218-844-1454.