Youth organization director dedicated to helping children
ELKINS – A man dedicated to his faith with a drive to positively impact the community presented a year’s worth of accomplishments to the Elkins Rotary Club Monday.
Ohio native Heath Sizick felt called to the area and moved to Elkins in 2010 with intentions of spreading Young Life clubs in the Eastern Mountain region extending from Lewis County to Hardy County.
“Our vision is that every kid in the eastern mountains will have the opportunity to hear and respond to the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” said Sizick.
Young Life officially found its roots in 1941 as an organization committed to making a positive impact in the lives of adolescents worldwide, allowing the non-denominational Christian ministry to reach out to more than a million students around the world per year.
Sizick said when he moved to Elkins in 2010 only three Young Life clubs existed in the region. Now there are 13 clubs and the organization continues to grow.
He also explained how children are given the opportunity to hear the Gospel of their own will, saying the group is open to “believers, non-believers and those in-between.”
Through Young Life activities, students can hear and ask questions about the Christian faith. He said many have found Young Life to be an alternative, safe environment that allows them to build healthy relationships outside of their home-lives.
Recently the “Capernium” camp was created for those with disabilities. It began in Upshur County last year, and has now made its way into Elkins. This year, two EHS students with disabilities will attend and participate in the same events as their peers, Sizick said. They will go zip-lining and weave through a high ropes course with two other EHS students who will help guide them.
“It’s really a privilege to walk through life with teenagers,” said Sizick.
Once a school allows for their students to have Young Life opportunities, a series of things must happen before clubs are created. All leaders go through recruitment, background checks, extensive training and interviews before they are placed in a specific club or school. From there, the leaders and even Sizick himself can be found having lunch with the students, holding club meetings, attending games or assisting with coaching.
“We walk the halls. We might eat lunch with kids. We might coach with kids. Where kids are, we go,” said Sizick.
They get to know the children and allow them to get comfortable being around them as they create a positive, caring environment.
“When I go to a school for the first time, kids are like, ‘what are you doing here?’ And my response is, I came to see you,” he said.
This year Young Life in Tygarts Valley had youth participate in various club meetings and an array of different games. The Wyldlife Club, an extension of Young Life for middle school students, saw the attendance of every middle schooler with the exemption of approximately five students at one event.
In Pickens, Young Life runs on an alternate schedule switching between the leadership of the Buckhannon club and the Elkins club. Club members recently played dodgeball with balls made out of duct-taped toilet paper rolls.
After first meeting the kids and getting to know them, Sizick makes sure he brings them a surprise every time he visits.
“I like to bring them something from McDonald’s every time I go,” said Sizick.
The last few times he has given the Pickens kids McDoubles and milkshakes, because the students expressed that they wished they had a McDonald’s closer to the area.
As for Elkins, 71 students attended at least one Young Life-related event last year at Elkins High School, where the club leadership knows at least 300 students on a name-by-name basis.
An average of 35 youth attend Campaigners, a Young Life Bible study group open to those interested in the faith. They discuss Christianity, sing songs and socialize over snacks in Sizick’s home.
The Elkins group had other events this past year, such as a hoe-down complete with line dancing, a Mr. Christmas Tree pageant at The Old Brick Playhouse, a “Crud War” full of messy games, attendance at Young Life camp and other activities.
Meanwhile, Elkins Middle School’s Wyldlife club was the largest club at EMS. Eighty-five kids, varying in faith and background, attended the club, Sizick said, noting that he is on a first-name basis with 200 students at EMS.
Sizick saw the need for the presence of Wyldlife in EMS when a female student passed away during a house fire. The very next day, Sizick went to the school and ate lunch with the sixth graders, giving them high fives, and knowing he was inspired to go back again.
EMS students participated in various events that included Winter Weekend, a “Crud War” of their own and summer camps.
Eight people from the Eastern Mountains area also went to Edinburgh, Scotland, to run a camp for middle schoolers and high schoolers.
Sizick mentioned that during the years where children are going through middle school and high school transitions, they often don’t like to listen to their parents. He noted in some ways, Young Life leaders can provide guidance while reaching the children.
The leaders can offer the same advice as a parent, but in some situations – because the leaders are seen as friends – youth may be more likely to adhere to their life advice during this developmental period.
Sizick said that he currently has 13 leaders in the Eastern Mountains, ranging from college students, teachers, professionals, parents, youth pastors and even a soon-to-be grandparent.
Young Life is working on having clubs available in all 55 counties. Sizick says that in order to be really effective this school year, he will need closer to 40 leaders.
Those interested in making donations or becoming involved with the organization’s extension for the area can visit www.easternmountains.younglife.org, or call Sizick at 304-940-9090. Donations can also be addressed to Young Life Eastern Mountains, 20 High Street in Elkins.