YoungLives: Mentoring Teen Moms for Nearly 30 Years

Authored by Lauren Spain

Taken at YoungLives camp at Rockbridge, VA, Summer 2002. This photo shows teen moms, their children, and leaders enjoying a Fifties theme-night during their week away.

Young Life began as a ministry to teens in Texas in the 1930s (Young Life, n.d.). It went on to become a multinational organization in the effort to “go where kids are, win the right to be heard and share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with them” (Young Life, n.d.). Through fun club meetings and summer camps that in 2007 totaled 24 and reached over 100,000 teens a year (Lanker 2007, 15), Young Life strove to reach the many teens who were not part of a church.

However, it wasn’t until 1991 in Tulare County, CA that some Young Life leaders noted the need for a different kind of outreach for teens who had gotten pregnant and had unique challenges to face (YoungLives Manuscript Collection). For teen moms, who still need parenting themselves, “social support is crucial for successful child rearing” (Shrag and Shmidt-Tieszen 2014, 315-16). Mentor Moms was born; a ministry that paired a teen mom with an adult volunteer who would support her one on one for at least a year. The leaders recognized that, “Young, poor pregnant women are failed not only by policymakers, but by most other social institutions in their communities as well,” (Waller, Brown, and Whittle 1999, 470) and decided to do something about it. Soon the idea began to spread through the organization. Young Life chapters in several different parts of the country began Mentor Mom groups. Mary Sommerville, who started the first group in California, was the national head of this ministry and it flourished (YoungLives Manuscript Collection). However, by 2001 it was clear that some changes needed to be made. Mary was ready to step down from the national role, and the name “Mentor Moms” had some trademark issues. So, with much discussion and thought, the name was changed to YoungLives and Betsy Stretar, a former teen mom herself, was brought on as the national head of the ministry (YoungLives Manuscript Collection).

Betsy made some helpful changes to the ministry. She gave it more of a standard club format as well as recommended that the young moms have an exclusive camp experience at which their babies would be present (YoungLives Manuscript Collection). Having the moms and babies attend camp together was a wise choice for a number of reasons. First, it allowed the moms to be free from any potential judgement from other teens. Second, it freed them financially to come to camp without having to find childcare. Third, it supported the attachments between the moms and their children, which is critically important for positive developmental outcomes (Fish and McCollum 1997).

YoungLives has continued to grow and provides much needed emotional support, education, and hope to hundreds of teen moms each year. Their goal is for the girls who participate to become healthier and stronger young women and mothers who are empowered to make positive choices for their futures (YoungLives Manuscript Collection). “YoungLives demonstrates to teen moms that they are not stuck in a cycle of poverty, but can reach their full potential and make healthy choices for themselves and their children” (YoungLives Manuscript Collection). All young mothers are in need of such hope. Encouragingly, studies have shown that teens who participate in Young Life regularly demonstrate an increased sense of purpose in life (Schnitker, Felke, and Barrett 2014, 90). As the teen moms involved in this ministry grow in their sense of purpose this has a positive ripple effect to their children and peers. Thus, showing compassion to this marginalized group of teens and helping them regain their footing in life exemplifies the type of love and respect that teen moms do not often receive, but desperately need.


Fish, Betty, and Jeanette A. McCollum. 1997. “Building a Clinically Relevant Picture of Attachment from Case Study Observations in a Parent-Infant Play Group.” Child & Adolescent Social Work Journal 14 (3): 153–70. doi:10.1023/A:1024513418352.

Lanker, Jason. 2007. “Jim Rayburn: a young life legacy.” Christian Education Journal 4 (1): 6+. Accessed October 11, 2019.

Schnitker, Sarah A., Thomas J. Felke, Justin L. Barrett, and Robert A. Emmons. 2014. “Longitudinal Study of Religious and Spiritual Transformation in Adolescents Attending Young Life Summer Camp: Assessing the Epistemic, Intrapsychic, and Moral Sociability Functions of Conversion.” Psychology of Religion and Spirituality 6 (2) (05): 83-93. doi:

Schrag, Allison, and Ada Schmidt-Tieszen. 2014. “Social Support Networks of Single Young Mothers.” Child & Adolescent Social Work Journal 31 (4): 315–27. doi:10.1007/s10560-013-0324-2.

Waller, Margaret A., Bernice Brown, and Brenda Whittle. 1999. “Mentoring as a Bridge to Positive Outcomes for Teen Mothers and Their Children.” Child & Adolescent Social Work Journal 16 (6): 467–80. doi:10.1023/A:1022353422676.

Young Life. n.d. “Young Life History and Vision for the Future.” Accessed October 18, 2019.

YoungLives Manuscript Collection. MC 1206. Young Life Archive. Colorado Springs, CO.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *