Youth For Christ - Bringing His Love To Rochester’s Youth
By Susan LeDoux
According to Mike Hennessy, Executive Director of Youth for Christ, the location of its spacious building at One Favor Street is perfect for reaching urban and suburban young people.
“It’s a tangible place to connect mind, body, and spirit,” Hennessy said.
His mind-body-spirit approach to caring for the whole person has not changed from when he was Executive Director of the Open Door Mission.
Hennessy believes it takes more than one agency to meet all the needs of young people. After years of working with, and doing consulting work, for faith-based organizations, Hennessy uses the “hub and spoke” approach. Why reinvent the wheel when you can maximize your impact with the contribution of other agencies?
For example, YFC’s Parent for Life Program equips and supports teen moms who made the brave decision to have their babies. When Mothers in Need of Others (MINO) needed to relocate, Youth for Christ invited its founder and director, Maria Wherle, to form a partnership and move into their building, so moms could easily access the material resources they needed —such as diapers, cleaning supplies, baby equipment, etc.
Youth for Christ’s Parent Life Program reaches out to pregnant and teen moms to help them become independent, make better choices, further their education, and learn parenting skills. After life returns post COVID-19, Hennessy hopes to have a coordinator on board who will work with groups of dedicated mom volunteers from local churches to mentor the teens and help them understand God’s plan for them.
“So many grow up without healthy parenting role models,” he said. The goal is to teach life skills with “facilitated parent life lessons so they can become responsible mothers and know how to establish and access resources they need.”
But it is not only teen moms that need help. Children need a mother and a father, and according to Hennessy, 75% of urban households are headed by a single mom, meaning, too often fatherless. For that to change, boys need healthy, strong, and faith-filled male role models to help them grow into responsible men and good dads. He said Pastor Reggie Cox teaches fatherhood classes at the Open Door Mission, and Hennessy hopes to have such a program for Youth for Christ boys called “Boys to Men” so they grow into men who are “life long followers of Jesus.” God willing, teens will become capable parents who are the role models they never had, and who pass on the Gospel and Biblical principles to their children.
COVID-19 shutdowns have altered patterns in giving, awareness, and resources. Hennessy believes it is time for new initiatives and options, including forming a team of mentors to go into urban high schools to set up Bible & Prayer clubs, as well as other programs that churches will want to support. With Youth for Christ’s Fatherhood Initiative, he will work through strategic program partnerships like Christian summer camps, or establish a Royal Rangers or Christian Service Brigade chapter to help young fathers grow in their role— https://royalrangers.com/home and https://csbministries.org/
Just as Bishop Singleton leads an army of tutors in elementary school, Hennessy hopes to “create an army of male fatherhood role models to be mentors in city high schools.” Clearly, both boys and girls need strong Christian mentors to help them become good parents who are “life-long followers of Jesus.”
Right now, following all of Dr. Mendoza’s COVID-19 directives for Monroe County, Youth for Christ has been successful in avoiding outbreaks. They are able to remain open and their All-Star Sports Program for basketball, provides plenty of exercise to help maintain a healthy body weight as well as Respiratory and Cardio systems strong. These are the ways to keep kids healthy.
As the pandemic subsides, Hennessy hopes for more aggressive support from church groups, and plans to hire more staff as well. He said he would be glad to visit any church group to recast his vision for Youth for Christ and share ways they can promote its goals.
Hennessy said longer-term goals must be focused.
“Who is in the most need? Find the biggest leak in services for youth. Where are they falling through (the cracks)?”
For example, Hennessy even has a long term vision to see a potential residential program at One Favor Street someday. It is appalling that recent data indicates on any night in Rochester about 250 young people are homeless.
“They are homeless, not roofless. They couch surf from one place to another; until they wear out their welcome… Or they share a floor with other homeless youth.”
Hennessy said he sees hardened street boys gradually soften over time as they are loved and cared for —some more gradually than others. While promoting education with parenting classes and the computer program to help with academics, providing for physical needs, and leading youth to Christ through love, Youth for Christ is poised to make a significant contribution to Rochester’s youth in 2021 and beyond.
You can also tune in to Mike’s Radio Show “Good News Talk” on WYSL 1040am/92.1fm Sat & Sun at 2p & 7P.