Having been serving the community for more than 30 years, Central Alberta Youth Unlimited/YFC continues to expand its vision across the region.
“Our vision is ‘Hope and Wholeness for all Youth’. Our mission, and how we accomplish that vision, is that ‘CAYU exists to bring the hope of Jesus to all youth, facilitating wholeness through mentoring relationships,” explained Jerel Peters, the organization’s executive director.
“Mentorship and relationships are at the heart of what we do as an organization, and we long to walk alongside youth and young families in Central Alberta.”
Youth Unlimited has a wide reach across the region, serving youth in eight communities across Central Alberta – Lacombe, Ponoka, Red Deer, Sylvan Lake, Crestomere, Maskwacis, Rimbey and soon, Blackfalds.
“All of our youth or our pregnant and parenting young women programs are safe and supportive places where all youth are welcome,” he said. “Our desire is to create community and friendship, and offer support and hope in every program we facilitate.”
Central Alberta Youth Unlimited, located at 5025 50 St. in Lacombe, also has a lengthy history in the community, stretching back more than three decades.
“Since then, the organization has grown into our eight different communities, and from a few staff to now over 50.”
Peters explained that the program got its start in Lacombe with Don Albers in 1989 with the vision to see it spread throughout Central Alberta.
Steve Perry carried it on in the 1990s followed by Jake Schellenberg as the executive director who led CAYU through significant growth from 2002 until 2018 when Peters stepped into the role.
Over time, the organization has also grown significantly in the services and ministries that it provides.
“Across Central Alberta, we provide four young mom programs called Stepping Stones, three youth drop-in centres, two coffee shops (Timber Coffee Co.), many youth programs happening throughout the week in various locations, a housing program for vulnerable youth, and a counseling program that offers subsidized counseling for youth and young families in our communities,” said Peters.
“It is our goal to provide hope and wholeness for all youth and young families.”
For Peters, it was back in 2003 that he stepped into an opportunity to provide hope for youth in the community of Ponoka. It proved the perfect fit.
“I quickly discovered how incredible it is to be a part of the lives of youth. I have had the privilege of working with youth in schools, coffee shops, drop-in centers, church youth groups, and even service project trips with youth as well,” he said.
“One of my favorite things to do is to sit down with a youth for coffee and hear their story. It can be easy to look at youth today and see only problems or issues but when you hear their stories and you connect with them, relationships change everything.”
There is no doubt Central Alberta Youth Unlimited is having an impact.
“One young mom explained how Stepping Stones had impacted her life. She said, ‘I was a young mom who didn’t know how to take on life and they gave me hope and inspiration. Stepping Stones grows leaders. They teach us to work with our weaknesses and our strengths to embrace who we really are. I wouldn’t be who I am today without the love and support of the women in this program’.
“A young person in our housing program also explained, ‘It feels more like a home than anything. We’re like a family. I don’t know if you will ever know the life-changing, trajectory-altering impact that you have had on my life as a teen. You straight up discipled me and modeled for me what it looked like to deny yourself and follow Jesus. Your example was foundational in my journey: it showed me a better way’.”
A counseling program client also noted how grateful they were to the staff for helping their family as they did. “My heart is so full of hope.”
For Peters, there really couldn’t be a more meaningful or fulfilling role.
“We are inspired by the significant need among youth and an unwavering desire for every young person to experience hope and wholeness,” he explained.
“The past few years have led to gaps among vulnerable youth in relational connections and mental wellness,” he said. “Our hope for 2023 is that more youth would experience hope and wholeness.”
For more information, you can find them on Facebook or give the office at call at 403-789-2298.