Everyone in our city has a story, even our young people. Their stories may not be as long as others, as most of it is still being written; however, the stories of our teens matter just as much as anybody’s when it comes to helping shape the community in which we live. It takes a special person not only to realize and appreciate this fact but also be willing to dive in and walk alongside our youth as they try and navigate through their journeys. It takes a unique person because living a life of intentionality with teenagers is not an easy thing to do; it takes patience, endurance, dedication, and compassion. This is why we’re excited to introduce our guest for today; he’s someone who has taken on this task because he genuinely cares about seeing the youth of our area grow and succeed in positive ways!
Today, we’re stilling down with Brad Distad. Brad is the area director for Young Life Elko/Spring Creek. For those of you who may not know, Young Life is a faith-based ministry which looks to come alongside local churches and help introduce teenagers to Jesus Christ and help them grow in their faith. Young Life is a worldwide organization, but we’re going to spend some time getting to know the man leading the Elko area’s YL gatherings. Brad, why don’t you start by telling us how you got here doing what you do? “My heart has always been to invest in the next generation. When I was in eighth grade, living on the East Coast (Maryland), my sister was a volunteer leader with YL; she looked at me, saw I needed help, and invited me to YL. They met on Saturday nights, and I didn’t have anything going on Saturday nights, as an eighth grader. Plus, she knew all the high school girls (I had no shot with any of them). I started going and fell in love with it. I did YL all through high school, and when I went to college, I’d do summer internships at YL camps. After college, I came back home and started leading in the high school I graduated from. I led voluntarily and started substitute teaching and helping coach soccer. Eventually, the school hired me as a long-term sub and then a full-time math teacher. However, I realized I was spending more time prepping for YL than I was teaching; I thought that was silly and knew I needed to look into doing YL full-time.”
“This was around 2007, right when the recession hit. A lot of non-profits were nervous about their growth because many people were panicking. So, the spot that ended up opening up for us (Brad and his wife Jessica) was overseas. My wife and I went on international staff (location off the record); we taught English as a second language. There is no official YL documentation stating that the organization is in the country we lived in, but, in fact, there is. We just had to call it “English Club,” which didn’t get us into trouble. Eventually, however, my wife and I were expecting our first child. We chose not to have our child overseas, so we came back to the US and started looking for positions again. I did YL in Minnesota for a little while and then back in Maryland and then in Yuba City California for the last six and a half years. My wife and I always had the idea that we wanted to get back to the East Coast. We interviewed and met with a lot of good people out on the East Coast. However, in one interview after another, we just realized the potential areas just weren’t a good fit, or I wasn’t a good fit for it. The oddity of it all was, Lucy Hebert (former YL Elko/Spring Creek Area Director) called me and asked me to think about Elko! Long story short, I accepted the position! January 1st was my first official day as the area director out here. However, my family was still living in Yuba City, so Mondays I would drive out here (6 and a half hours) and Fridays I would drive back; I only got snowed in once! April 13th, we all made the move here! We just got back from YL camp, and we’re excited to roll into the next school year with our group of freshmen! We didn’t move here wishing we had looked more on the East Coast (we did). I just believe we’re truly here because this is where God wants us to be.”
What a road of events! Thank you for sharing, Brad! As someone who has worked with YL all over the world, are there any challenges you’ve had to work through serving specifically in the Elko/Spring Creek area? “There’s a rich history with Young Life here in Elko, so much so that people want to help in many ways. However, the next closest YL organization to us is Winnemucca. Everywhere I’ve always been before the next YL staff person lived a half an hour away at the farthest. That’s a challenge because I can feel a little bit isolated in Elko, I’m sure my wife feels this sometimes, and nobody really knows what a YL staff person does/goes through except another YL staff person.”
That makes sense. Well, many people around town are in support of you and your family, Brad. Thank you for what you’ve come here to do! Is there anything else you’d like to share before we let you go? “Young Life isn’t in competition for anything; I don’t know if there’s ever been a sense of that in this community. Other areas I’ve worked in, I’ve had to explain to local churches that we’re not trying to “steal” their kids. Our goal is to reach the 80% of public school kids who don’t go to church; if you want to come to YL and take our kids and take them to church…great! I’ve never seen YL as competition but complementary to the church. My heart as always just been for leaders and kids to know Jesus Christ on a deeper level.”
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See you around, Elko teens!