AU student starts Young Life chapter serving Hispanic community

Fri, 2013-06-07 09:14 -- univcomm
June 7, 2013

Lizbeth Barajas is a junior at Anderson University, double majoring in exercise science and Spanish. Aside from her studies, she devotes a portion of her time to serving and volunteering. Barajas has been a volunteer with Young Life, a faith-based student outreach ministry, since 2011. Throughout her time serving as a volunteer, she saw a great need within the program to reach the Hispanic community. Recently, Barajas started Vida Joven, which translates to Young Life, and serves Spanish-speaking students in the local community.

Young Life is an outreach ministry that seeks to build meaningful relationships with kids. The program provides a unique way to introduce the kids to Jesus. The leaders invest in the teenagers’ lives to communicate their support, and these volunteers encourage students to live life with a purpose. [Photo: Barajas’ Young Life chapter for Hispanic youth, Vida Joven, averages approximately 100 attendees per meeting.]

Barajas grew up in Guadalajara, Mexico, and now resides in the Indianapolis area with her family. In high school, Barajas participated in her school’s Young Life chapter. She came across the opportunity to give back and serve as a volunteer when Joe Snyder, area director for Young Life in Westfield, Ind., was seeking students at AU to get involved. Her background led her to realize the need for a more focused approach to Spanish-speaking students.

“This was the first year for Vida Joven. We had around 30 students show up for the first club. We were very happy with this turnout. Those kids told their friends, who brought more friends,” said Barajas. “Needless to say, Vida Joven continues to grow. We now have around 100 students who attend each meeting. Young Life is an international organization recognized all over the world. That is how big I want to make Vida Joven. Wherever there is a Young Life, I want to add a Vida Joven.”

Vida Joven seeks to provide the Hispanic community with a branch where they can feel at home. The group meets twice a week. The first gathering is called “Club,” which meets Monday nights for an hour. Club consists of praise and worship music, games, and discussion about what the kids are facing in their life. Thursday night is called “Campaigners,” which is held at the home of one of the volunteers. This is a time when a designated male and female leader split the group up by gender. This creates a safe and comfortable environment for the students to feel at ease to open up about their lives. In addition to the two meetings, the volunteers plan outings on the weekends, such as sporting events and movies.

“Many of the kids who come to Vida Joven experience culture differences living in the United States,” said Barajas. “Young Life gives them a place to connect with others who are going through the same thing. We wanted to give them a place to help them grow in their faith and still keep their roots.”

Dianna Stankiewicz is the director of learning assistance programs at the Kissinger Learning Center at AU. Stankiewicz has been both a teacher and a mentor to Barajas. She attended a Young Life and Vida Joven awards dinner where Barajas was honored as the originator, designer, and implementer of the first chapter of Vida Joven in Indiana.

“Lizbeth demonstrated outstanding leadership skills and a true love for the youth,” said Stankiewicz. “It was obvious that Vida Joven was her passion, and she was completely in her element. Everyone could see that she loved what she was doing. I am proud to have Lizbeth as my student and proud she is a part of AU.”

While serving as a volunteer with Young Life, Lizbeth has grown in so many ways. “Being a part of Young Life changed my life when I was a student,” said Barajas. “Now I get the opportunity to be a leader and help change the lives of these kids. It has truly been a rewarding experience to be a part of such a unique program.”

— Emmalee Strait is a 2013 graduate from Bluffton, Ohio, who studied communications arts and minored in marketing. Strait worked as an associate with Fifth Street Communications®, writing on behalf of the Anderson University Office of University Communications.

Anderson University is a private Christian university of about 2,600 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson University continues to be recognized as one of America's top colleges by U.S. News and World Report, The Princeton Review, and Forbes. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, music, nursing, and theology.