Category Archives: Children’s Stories

When You Give, Lives are Changed!

Youth Haven ChildDear Youth Haven,

Your camp has impacted my life immensely. I was in a very bad spot when I came to you guys, and you helped me see that God is still there to love me and help me through the hard times… You guys, this camp, has helped me move through those hard times blocking my way, with faith and love. Before you guys, I lost my way, but all of your lessons and meaningful team talks have been wonderful in helping me restore my relationship with God.

I am very proud to say I’m training to be an L.I.T. (Leader-in-Training). I love being able to take part in helping kids find God like you guys did for me. I love it when kids come to me and ask questions about things they don’t understand, or just to ask me to play a game. Youth Haven brings out the best in a lot of people, from kids to adults.

Thank you!


You Changed His Life

Arizona Children's Group

Thank you for investing in this child!

Matt* came to us at the impressionable age of 12. He had been living with his foster parents, whom he now considers “Mom” and “Dad,” since the age of nine; prior to that, he had been in the foster care system for two years.

Our Food Service Manager, Faith, remembers Matt as thin and frail-looking, quiet and sad. He stood out in her mind because of his many dietary restrictions, but it was his apparent sadness that touched her heart. “Here was this 12-year-old kid,” she says, “and he just seemed so sad all the time.”

Because you invested in this ministry, our staff were able to invest in Matt’s life. To love him and persistently show him the love of Christ. To share with him that his life has great value, and that God has an incredible plan for him. “In short,” Matt says, “the staff at Youth Haven were strong for me when I couldn’t be.”

Five years later, Matt’s desire is to return to Youth Haven to serve as a volunteer or staff member. He recently wrote to us, “Years ago I was a troubled young boy with a history of trauma and was very very lost. That was in about 2010. Now I have grown in nothing short of enormous ways, but was only able to do that with help from many many people along the way, including the staff at Youth Haven Ranch in Rives Junction, Michigan… I think it is high time I return the favor by helping the kids who are there today.”

Matt’s foster dad added his own note: “I’m so proud of the man Matt is becoming, and delighted that he’s interested in finding a way to serve.”

You can be proud of him, too. This is your ministry, and the Youth Haven children are your children. Thank you for your investment in their lives.

*Name changed for confidentiality.

Thank You for Everything You Do!

The following letter was written by a teen who has been part of our programs since she was seven years old:

“A few weeks after I had turned 3 years old my real father died in a semi wreck and was killed instantly. My real mother took his death and decided to make some wrong choices. She got into a relationship with an abusive drug addict. She did these things with him and he would hit and try to hurt me and my siblings. The courts found out and gave my real mother a choice: him or her children. Sadly she chose him instead of us, because of the things he gave her that ‘made her feel good.’

“So because of this we were put into the adoption services and sent different ways. Me and my little brother, who was almost 1 year old at the time, went from house to house. But no one would take us. I felt unwanted and unloved. Then I remembered that my school had taught me that God was there for me. But times kept getting tougher and I pushed God away. Blamed him for everything that had happened and forgot about him.

“Then my great aunt and uncle, who we call Mom and Dad, decided to take me and my little brother. So they adopted us, along with the five other foster kids before us. My dad was a construction worker and a roofer. My mom was retired at the time. But she used to be a social service worker and would drive foster kids to Youth Haven Ranch.

“So my mom told me about the camp, and when I turned seven I came there as a rancher. I used to only go there for the activities and the kids I can make friends with. But that was only until I met the Youth Haven staff. They opened up my eyes and told me that God really was there. That he would help me push through the hard times and give me the strength to move forward. So then all I wanted to do was come to Youth Haven to learn more about God.

“When I turned 13 I decided I wanted to become an LIT. I decided to make this decision because of all the LIT’s I had seen before, and because I wanted to teach other people what I knew about God. So I took my training and became an official LIT. I’ve been one for about a little over a year. But even through this I went through hard times. My dad (great uncle) was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and died on Valentine’s Day. Also my mom and I didn’t, and still don’t, get along. She had always favored my brothers, and worked me like a maid. She has treated me badly and I’m not fully considered family anymore. But I know that God is there for me and that it is my job to share my testimony and relate to others to help them. So I’ve kept coming out to help the kids understand the meaning of having God as our Savior.

“I love helping others and I know you do, too. I just love seeing the smiles on their faces and knowing I made a difference. I know that what you do really does make a difference because I was once a rancher and I have the experience. So I want to say thank you for everything you do!”

A Life Transformed

One choice changes everything.

Josh* first came to Youth Haven in the summer of 2013, at the request of his adoptive mother. Although he was adopted at the age of 3, he bears the scars of abuse, neglect, and sexual abuse as an infant and toddler.

When his adoptive parents divorced and his dad grew less involved in his life, things became worse. Josh craved male attention and needed positive role models. He lost interest in many of the things he once enjoyed. His mother wrote to us, “Everything seems to be such an effort for him. He seems like a lost, unhappy soul lately that lacks in self-confidence.”

His first few visits to Youth Haven were a bit rough. His team leaders saw the scars that had caused his adoptive mother to reach out to us for help. He complained a lot and seemed disrespectful, even hostile. He showed very little interest in learning about God. Yet there was a side of him that was affectionate and thoughtful, in spite of his stubbornness.

In the spring of 2014, during a weekend stay at the Ranch, Josh made the decision to accept Christ as his Savior.

When he came again that summer, there was a marked improvement in his behavior. He was cooperative and got along well with others. And in the fall, even more improvement was visible. Josh appeared affectionate, self-confident, enjoyed himself, and was a good listener. His team leader even recommended him for our Leaders-in-Training program!

Choosing to give provides the opportunity for Josh and so many other like him to come to Youth Haven, not just once, but several times. It gives those kids the steady positive influence they need to  make the choice to accept Christ. It helps them transform their lives.

Yes, one choice changes everything.

*Name changed for confidentiality.

Rachel’s Story

We don’t always know a child’s background or circumstances at home when they come to spend a week or weekend with us. We know they come from very difficult situations; that’s why they were referred to us in the first place. But we have no idea what heartache, loneliness, fear, or rejection many of them experience on a daily basis.

Your gifts and your prayers enable our staff to shower these attention-starved children with love and truth. And it is this persistent love and caring that God uses to transform lives.

Here is one transformation story as told by Amanda, one of our team leaders.

I had Rachel* (age 8) on my team for the first time last summer. She was one of the three most difficult children of my summer because all week long she was trying to get attention by being stubborn and unresponsive to my requests. In chapel she would sit at the very end of the row, as far away from the other children as possible, and refuse to sing the chapel songs or do the motions.

Mid-week God prompted me to look at her being difficult as an indication of her being starved for attention. With this in mind I began showering her with compliments, telling her how happy I was that she was on my team, telling her she was beautiful, calling her “Princess Rachel,” and pointing out ways I saw positive things in how she treated her teammates. She was very uncomfortable with compliments to the point of running away from me yelling, “Stop saying that! I’m not pretty!” I carefully didn’t stop.

On the last chapel service before the week was over I was rewarded for my efforts by Rachel sitting front-and-center while enthusiastically singing the songs and doing the motions.

When she came back to the Ranch, she was on my team again. I was blown away by the change in her. Rather than being difficult she was holding open the door for me and cooperating with my requests, obviously wanting to please me. In chapel she was fully participating and singing with the rest of us. In devotions she had contributions to many of my questions.

I was so blessed to witness this transformation in her life, which I can only imagine is the work of God through the attention and patient love poured out on her from the staff she has been with at Youth Haven. She gave me one of the biggest hugs I have ever gotten from a child as she left to go home.

Thank you for giving, praying, and investing in the lives of these precious children who need the love and hope of Jesus Christ. God is using you to make a powerful difference in the lives of hurting boys and girls!

*Name changed for confidentiality

If We Don’t, Who Will?

Youth Haven RanchersThese children need to know they are loved and cared for. Will you help?

By Amy Carlson

“I’m afraid people will hurt me because I’m small,” she confided. We were sitting in the back of the chapel, just the two of us, after the rest of the kids had left. She had hung back, needing to talk, longing for someone who would listen and care about her struggle. My heart broke when she revealed the reason for her fears: “I was abused when I was younger.”

It was hard to hold back the tears as her story unfolded. The bruises have healed, but the emotional pain lingers. Someone she loved and trusted intentionally hurt her. Her own mother doesn’t want her, so her grandmother is raising her. She lives with a feeling of worthlessness. And every day she is afraid. Afraid someone else she loves and trusts will get angry and hit her. Afraid she will be given back to a mother who doesn’t care about her and treats her unkindly. Afraid the pain and fear will never end.

Although I could not take away all of her hurt, I was able to reassure her she is loved and valued – by the people here at Youth Haven, and by the God who has promised He will never leave her or abandon her. We prayed together. We cried together. We read Scripture together. This was not her first visit to Youth Haven. She loves coming to the Ranch because when she is here, she feels safe. People love her and take the time to listen to her. She is reminded of God’s love and care for her. Every visit to Youth Haven gives her renewed hope for the future.

And every week of the year, we welcome a whole campus full of kids with similar stories, similar hurts, and similar fears. These kids need you to care for them and help provide for them. If we don’t love them, meet their needs, and teach them about Jesus, who will?

You are an important part of our ministry team here at Youth Haven. All of the children who attend our programs do so free of charge, and Youth Haven does not receive state or federal support. Quite simply, if you do not give, the children cannot come. They may never know they are loved and cared for. They may never discover hope in Christ.

Your gifts and prayers are the reason lives are being positively influenced and forever changed at Youth Haven. Please continue to give, for the sake of the children. Thank you for caring about children and teens who so desperately need love and hope.

Youth Haven Ranchers

Kimberly’s Story

Kimberly first came to Youth Haven as a fun-loving fifth grader, full of potential, but struggling at home and in school. A concerned neighbor wrote to us:

Kimberly struggles with academics in school and has been held back a year. She is the oldest of 4 and has a lot of responsibility thrust upon her to watch over her younger siblings. She tries to do her best with them, but she is young and just wants to be the child that she is. Her home life is intact as far as her parents still being together, but both her parents work and she is often put in charge – even if one of her parents is at home. At school, Kimberly has been referred to the school counselor because of exhibiting signs of depression as well as early signs of acting out behavior in an attempt to develop self-identity. I have observed her to be very happy one minute and instantly change to very angry and lashing out verbally or physically. I have never encountered her being physical with adults – but I have witnessed her being disrespectful towards her parents in both her language and her disobedience. This seems to be the way the whole family communicates, sometimes merely for the purpose of self-defense. I do not suspect an abusive situation that warrants a call to protective services, however, I have witnessed on several occasions the mother extremely and instantly angry with the children and threaten to hit them. Kim begs her parents to take her to church, which doesn’t happen very often. She desperately needs someone to love her so she can better understand God’s love for her.

Thankfully, because friends like you cared and wanted to make a difference in Kimberly’s life, she was able to come to Youth Haven, where she was loved and cared for. She has continued to come to Youth Haven on a regular basis since that first visit, and what a change we have seen in her life! It’s amazing what love, care, and hope will do for a child. She is beginning to find her sense of self-worth in God’s unconditional love for her. She is not disrespectful or disobedient with our staff. And when she turned 13, she became a Leader-in-Training (LIT), which has offered her the opportunity to grow and volunteer beside one of our adult staff members, helping the children learn some of the very same truths she learned as a child at Youth Haven.

As a financial supporter, volunteer, staff member, or prayer partner, you are having this kind of life-changing impact on children just like Kimberly. And to those children, you are a hero. To us, you are a hero. We just can’t thank you enough.

Your Gifts at Work: One Rancher’s Story

One Rancher's StoryHe came to us a confused, hurting child.

Michael* lives with his mother in a home where he is surrounded by immoral behavior. His parents divorced some time ago, and there is no man present in the home to provide the guidance a young boy needs.

Going to his father’s house on occasional weekends doesn’t help. In fact, it makes matters worse for him. You see, his dad is so mean that Michael hates going to visit him. And he is certainly not a good role model for his son. The last time Michael was there, the police had to be called because his dad got into a bad fight, and Michael was taken back to his mom. He confided to our staff that he hopes he never has to go back to his dad’s house again.

It’s no wonder Michael struggles with low self-esteem. The first time he came to Youth Haven as a Rancher, he had a hard time following the rules and treating the other Ranchers with kindness.

Like all of our Children’s Programming staff, Michael’s team leader understood that his “acting out” was a result of deep-rooted pain, a need for attention, and a lack of positive examples in his life.

It takes a special kind of person to show these children the love of Christ. To be patient, kind, and gentle. To provide that positive example that has been lacking in their lives. And to lovingly but firmly teach them that certain behaviors are not acceptable. This is what our team leaders do so well.

Michael accepted Jesus as his Savior while he was at Youth Haven. He received his very own Bible, the Youth Haven “Trailbook,” to take home with him. He will continue to receive letters in the mail, encouraging him to read his Trailbook and do what it says. And he has been back to the Ranch and will continue to be invited, allowing our staff to provide a stable positive influence in his life.

One of the verses Michael learned at Youth Haven is John 12:46: “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.” What a privilege it is to share this hope with children!

Michael and many others like him have a new hope for the future because you cared enough to make a difference in their lives. We know these children would not be able to come to Youth Haven if they had to pay for their stay here. That’s why we are committed to offering our programs to them free of charge. We also receive no state or federal support. Your financial love gifts, prayers, and volunteer hours have made these life-changing experiences possible.

On behalf of Michael and the many children whose lives have been changed at Youth Haven, thank you for your support, and for allowing God to use you to show children the light of Christ.

*Name changed for confidentiality

A Letter from a Youth Haven Teen

Youth Haven TeenMy first time coming to Youth Haven was when I was seven. I had the time of my life. But I was terrified at first because it was a completely new environment. Regardless, everyone was welcoming and kind! The staff at Youth Haven have a knack for making everyone feel welcomed and just like family. It’s amazing how loving and generous every single person at Youth Haven is. It’s because of these wonderful people that I am who I am and that so many other children feel like they finally have a home somewhere. A special thanks to the phenomenal people who generously give donations to Youth Haven so they can continue doing what they do so well; help children understand how much God loves them.

Thank you, Youth Haven, for giving me a home away from home.