Jeff Thompson joined Young Life as a freshman in high school. He liked it so much he led a Young Life group for four years in college and volunteered as a leader for another two years.
Now, after more than a decade of being involved in the international Christian youth ministry in one way or another, Thompson has taken a position on staff with the group.
Thompson and his wife, Maddie, moved from Ohio to Hilton Head Island in July. He took over as area director of Hilton Head & Bluffton Young Life on Aug. 1. Maddie, who is a special education teacher at Pritchardville Elementary School, volunteers with the group.
"I love (Young Life) because it really just allows kids to be kids," Jeff Thompson said. "It's fun, it's exciting, and at the same time there's so much meaning behind it, and there's so much purpose."
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Thompson said Young Life is financially supported by several local churches, but there is no direct affiliation with any church. He said sometimes church sermons go right over kids' heads, but Young Life keeps it simple and shares the Gospel message in a way that is relevant to teens -- Young Life introduces adolescents to Jesus Christ and helps them grow in their faith.
The organization's leaders and volunteers pray for young people, build relationships with them, provide fun experiences and share the gospel with them.
Thompson said he thinks Young Life is so successful because of the community aspect of the program. He said it's not just weekly meetings. The kids in the group often hang out together every day, and they build strong relationships with each other and the leaders. As area director, Thompson reaches out to local teens by getting involved in their activities -- going to football games, volunteering at their schools and spending quality time with them. It's something at the core of the program, something Young Life leaders call "contact work," Thompson said.
"We always say, 'We go to where kids are,'<2009>" he said. "At any footbame or basketball game, you'll find Young Life leaders in the crowds."
Once Young Life leaders and volunteers become familiar with students, they invite them to club meetings, where they play games, watch skits and sing songs.
The Hilton Head & Bluffton group meets every Monday night. Thompson said there are usually about 30 kids who attend each week, and they represent Hilton Head Christian Academy, Hilton Head Island High School, Hilton Head Preparatory School and Bluffton High School.
For teens on the other side of the Broad River, Beaufort Young Life meets every Tuesday night. Beaufort area directors Ali and Alex Holroyde became Beaufort area directors a little more than a year ago. The Holroydes get to know local teens by volunteering their time at Beaufort and Battery Creek high schools. Ali said their weekly meetings usually draw about 80 kids.
And now there's even Young Life for college students in the area.
The local leaders have teamed up to offer a Young Life College Bible study on Thursdays at the University of South Carolina Beaufort Hilton Head Gateway Campus.
"We want (the club) to be the most welcoming and loving and exciting thing that the (teens) do all week," Thompson said. "There's so many people that once they go to Young Life -- like me -- can't get away from it."