Running Wild for Miami’s Youth

By: BJ Benkhen
Miami WILD Run and Fun Walk at Zoo Miami

This year, Youth for Christ (YFC) celebrates 65 years of ministry in Miami at the Miami WILD Run & Fun Walk at Zoo Miami on Saturday, November 9. “This is a unique opportunity for the Christian community to support missions in their own backyard. We are dedicated to taking Jesus to youth outside of the church, and excited to celebrate God’s continued work in such a diverse, transient city,” says YFC Executive Director Bonnie Rodriguez.

“The Miami WILD Run & Fun Walk is a way for us to get together, have fun, and share with the community a little bit of what we do. This is our 4th year for the Wild Run/Walk, and we expect well over 1,000 runners, walkers, and strollers.”

Youth for Christ Miami has been making an impact on the community’s youth for years, and is always adapting and changing with new programs and strategies to reach youth right where they are.

Catalyst
Miami Youth for Christ runs 30 after school and evening programs each week, reaching over 5,000 youth.

The Hip-Hop Outreach, Catalyst, reaches four elements of the hip-hop culture: break dancing, emceeing, deejaying and graffiti. Youth from all over the city come to practice their specialty. Everyone is accepted and no one is turned away. While the energy is upbeat and the kids are given freedom to fully express themselves, each night at 11 p.m. when the music is turned off and Catalyst Director Joel Stigale presents the gospel, you can hear a pin drop. “I show them respect and in return, they give me respect,” says Stigale.

Kevin Sanchez came to Catalyst for many years to practice break dancing before he placed his trust in Christ. Lost in the drug and party scene, “I was tired of the lifestyle; sleeping during the day, staying out all night, smoking pot and using drugs,” admits Kevin. Eventually God’s message of love penetrated Kevin’s heart, and he was saved. Kevin is now a husband, father and the Catalyst Break Dance Director.

Campus Life
The Campus Life program provides a positive Christian influence through weekly club meetings, small groups, one-on-one appointments, trips and events. Clubs are held both on and off public high school campuses. With many youth growing up without any spiritual input at home, Campus Life fills that void. Before finding Christ at Campus Life, Samantha’s life was chaotic. “Frequent bouts of depression, anxiety, confusion, coupled with alcohol, weed, and an overall lack of integrity kept me discontent,” remembers Samantha. “I honestly believe I am a better woman, daughter and friend because of Campus Life, and I will be a better wife and mother because I am a follower of Christ,” Samantha says with a smile.

KIX Clubs
KIX Clubs are after-school and evening programs for kindergarten through high school students in low-income neighborhoods. There are presently three clubs, meeting in Homestead, Naranja and Overtown, serving 300 youth. “In this holistic ministry, we help students with their schoolwork while challenging them to build their lives on Christ,” says KIX Director, Stacy Morales. “We spend a lot of time with them and pour deeply into their lives. Since we’ve been doing this for 20 years, we’ve seen so many kids break free of the crime and poverty in their neighborhoods and start new lives.”

Many that graduate from the program become strong supporters, come back to work with KIX, or send their own children to the program. Delna Elisme began attending the program when she was just 8 years old. After earning her master’s degree, Delna returned to work full-time with KIX, giving back to the program that changed her life. Her daughter, Thalia, represents the second generation of KIX kids, growing up in Christ.

Juvenile Justice Outreach
The Juvenile Justice Outreach program reaches an often forgotten group of young people; those living in residential facilities because they have been arrested, abused or abandoned. Miami YFC’s Juvenile Justice Outreach ministers to those lost and hurting youth. “I’ve been doing this for 30 years, and am humbled to have had the opportunity to share the gospel with over 100,000 young people,” says director, Glenn Craig. “For many it is a very dark, scary time. I share a message with the group and then ask if any of them would like to speak with me one-on-one. I always have a list,” says Craig. “They share their stories, their fears, and their questions. And we have the answer: Jesus. “

Miami Youth Leadership Initiative
The Miami Youth Leadership Initiative (MYLI) was formed to train church youth leaders how to reach young people outside the church walls.This innovative 3-year training program actually provides financial grants to 15 youth leaders to learn and implement youth ministry. It focuses on effective evangelism, discipleship and empowerment of young people. Presently, 25 youth leaders are participating in MYLI, impacting over 2,000 youth.
To support the life-changing ministry of Youth for Christ in Miami, register to Run, Walk, or even Stroll through Zoo Miami on November 9. Join the 1,000 plus – and run WILD in the zoo – to help kids at risk. Be there early if you’re going to run in the certified 5K. Starting time is 7:30 am. After the official runners get their start, the rest of the crowd can line up for the Fun Run/Walk, where you follow the same course as the runners – right through Zoo Miami – but at your own pace. When you cross the finish line, there will be breakfast food, coffee, activities, music, entertainment and a KidZone. Then stay and enjoy the rest of the day at Zoo Miami.

If you can’t be there in person, be there in spirit by making a donation. Check out the event, or register online at miamiwildrun.com. For more information, call Miami Youth for Christ at 305-271-2442.

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