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A group of local youth and Young Life leaders recently spent time at Young Life-s Timber Wolf Lake camp in Lake City. Efforts to launch the Christian outreach ministry are under way in Traverse City.

TRAVERSE CITY -- In high school, Dr. Sherry Small joined the Christian group Young Life.

Her parents, who also participated in Young Life, helped start a group in the Stevensville area, where she grew up. Now, with sons in high school and middle school, Small is working with a committee to bring Young Life to Traverse City.

The non-denominational outreach ministry is centered around school campuses. It offers youth a chance to participate in activity-filled club meetings where the message of God's love is shared, as well as camps, where kids experience fun and fellowship.

Young Life leaders are often young adults who form friendships with teens, spend time with them and hang out where the kids hang, said Small, a Traverse City pediatrician.

"They become friends with these kids," she said, adding that the leaders love the youth whether or not they "choose to make Christ the center of their life."

A committee of 16 to 20 local adults want to raise $15,000 to launch Young Life. The funds would be used for a Web site, training, a leader stipend, camp costs and scholarships.

"Eventually, what we hope is that we'll have weekly or every-other-week meetings for the kids, and then hopefully they'll go to camp. We are hoping to send a group this summer," Small said.

She hopes that a Young Life club will begin to meet after Christmas, likely in someone's home. Young Life operates Timber Wolf Lake camp in Lake City, and its proximity to Traverse City is a bonus for the fledgling group.

A handful of local kids recently went on a weekend trip to the camp. Traverse City Central High School freshman Kailey Mattarella, 14, said the time away was "awesome."

"The counselors you could totally relate to them," she said. "You just felt like they were one of your friends."

At camp, she and her friends went to dance parties, played games and survived "a huge snowball fight." Classmate Kelly Milliken, 14, said hundreds of guys and girls from across the state attended.

"It was really fun," she said.

The local committee is forming Young Life leadership teams for area high schools, starting with Central. Because Young Life is organized around schools, kids get to hang out with their friends, even if they go to different churches or don't go to church at all. That makes it different from a church-based youth group.

"Usually kids invite kids to club," Small said. "This may reach kids that don't have a home church."

Young Life leader and Traverse City teacher Kate Heydlauff has been active in Young Life for years. The program is successful because of "the way that leaders build relationships with kids," she said.

"There's just so many different ways to introduce kids to Christ in a really non-confrontational way," Heydlauff said. "It's just basically showing them that we care."

Locals would like to eventually offer a program for middle school students. Young Life formed in the early 1940s and is now an international organization based in Colorado.

For more information on the local Young Life effort, visit the group's Web site at www.traversecity.younglife.org.

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