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A heart for young people

71Five connects youth with caring adults
Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Bud Amundsen, executive director of 71Five.

Editor's note: Community Builder is a periodic Q&A series providing perspectives from local people who have been involved in significant change in Southern Oregon. Today's conversation is with Bud Amundsen, executive director of 71Five.

Q: What is the mission of 71Five?

Bud: The mission is to share God's story with young people through trusting relationships and sharing hope that’s found in the story of Jesus. Our culture has created a situation where many kids are dealing with what we call relational poverty. Trust is hard to find when families are fractured and kids have less of a support system around them. What we really do is connect young people with caring and trusted adults.

Q: Why are mentors so important?

Bud: Adolescence is a wonky time no matter what, and it’s easy to get stuck in a bad spot. If you don’t have important relationships where someone says, "Hey, here's how life works," it can get really tough. Comprehensive mentoring is when adults walk with those young people day-to-day. Sometimes we're teaching kids how to brush their hair or other areas of personal hygiene. Sometimes we're teaching kids how to handle a job interview. Along the way we share, “There's a way to have peace with God and have hope that’s eternal and indestructible."

Q: In what situations do 71Five mentors interact with young people?

Bud: We have our old standbys, the traditional club meetings that used to be called Campus Life. They provide fun activities, a safe place to hang out, an opportunity to make good friends, and connect with adults in trusting relationships. We have neighborhood-based ministries in Liberty Park and west Medford. We also have 71Five Mentors, which is formalized relationship where young people know an adult who is committed to them. Our 71Five VoTech programs teach young people vocational skills, and 71Five Justice reaches kids in the detention system.

Q: The vocational component historically hasn't been part of Campus Life, has it?

Bud: Nationwide, there were a few places with some vocational elements. We've taken that another step to build a pre-apprenticeship school. Automotive repair, woodworking, sheet metal fabrication, small engine repair, welding and soldering are all tracks that a kid can plug into. We introduce basic skills, then young people pick an 8-week course in a particular trade. At the end, they’ll have the skills where a business could hire them for an entry level job.

Q: So, you have relationships with businesses that know your kids and mentors?

Bud: Exactly. Our case manager will take those young people to employers. Part of relational poverty is not having good role models for work. If we just give them a phone number for a possible job, they usually don’t follow through. They've never been taught how to make a phone call or interact professionally. It's just a bridge too far. The case manager or program staff will share, "Here's how we apply for a job. Here's how we interview for a job. Let's go down and let's fill out an application and get you started in that process." Our education system is built for information, and that's good and needed, but so many kids don't know how to use it. They're missing the relational component that helps them put it to use.

Q: Was there a mentor in your life who made a difference?

Bud: I was 12 years old and living in central Pennsylvania. My Dad was a good father, but he was more of a bookworm. I love the outdoors, I wanted to be outside all the time. I’m kind of a thrill-seeker, and that just didn't compute with my dad. In our church there was a farmer named Tim who needed help picking up hay bales. "Hey, can you help me on Saturday?" So, I helped him out and he invited me back the next few weekends. That's where I wanted to be, I wanted to be out on the farm. Tim knew I wanted to go hunting, so he signed me up for a hunter safety course. When I completed the class, he took me hunting for pheasants, rabbits and even let me use his granddad's old 32 Special rifle to hunt deer. Tim invited me to join him in whatever he was doing. He dealt with some serious tragedies and traumas, and I got to see how he handled it and where his faith was more than just words.

Q: What draws you to young people?

Bud: I started with Campus Life in Ashland and was looking to run a traditional Campus Life club. But Ashland isn't very traditional, so that didn't work well. A lot of kids were into adventure sports, so I started an Adventure Club. We met at the SOU climbing wall. We'd climb for a while and then we'd talk about important life issues then climb for a while longer. I taught kids rock climbing, backpacking, winter camping, snow sports and whitewater kayaking. On weekends we’d go on some type of outdoor trip. It was a lot of fun. I enjoy being active, doing fun things, so it wasn’t hard to be sold on the job of a Campus Life coordinator. Kids are funny and they're fun. I used to work with horses. Horses and kids have similar responses. Horses can freak-out in an instant, and if you know teenagers, they can do the same. They're not always working with much logic and reason. There’s rarely a dull moment working with kids, and there’s amazing fulfillment when you learn you can help someone.

Q: How did you initially get involved with young people?

Bud: After college, I went to work at a ranch in Colorado, then went to Maine and worked at a ski area. My girlfriend told me, “You’re not taking life very seriously," and she broke up with me. I was mad, and in my young brain I'm thinking, "Well, I'll just have to prove her wrong." So, I quit the fun and got hired as an investment broker. I guess it worked because that girl ended up marrying me. The firm I worked for moved us to Ashland.

I was still interested in outdoor things, adrenaline sports and stuff that's more exciting than 20 phone calls a day. I got to a point where I was just working for the weekends. My father asked, "What do you want to do next?" I didn’t know. He said, “Keep working, God will show you." A few weeks later I heard about the Campus Life job and told my wife. … She literally stuck her finger in my face and said, "I knew you were going to do this. You’re going to make me some kind of pastor's wife." I kept my mouth shut, but internally I thought, "Well, God, if this is from you, you're going to have to deal with that." Three days later, she came back and said, "I hate that I'm going to say this, but I know the Campus Life job is what you're supposed to do." That was 30 years ago, and we’re still here.

Q: How do you define success when you're working with kids?

Bud: I think people get off track when they're thinking about success in the life of a kid as an end result. It’s healthier to think about moving the needle. Are we moving the needle for that young person to be more settled, to have greater confidence, to understand a better life? Have we moved the needle to where they're functioning at a higher level? I was successful when they knew that I cared about them and that there was a means to finding hope.

One of our current directors was an Adventure Club kid back in the day. He was a punk, didn't listen to a word I said. He told me later, "I can't remember one thing you taught me, but I knew you loved me, and I knew you loved Jesus." He found himself standing in front of a judge who said, “Here are three options.” One option was a Christian program. He told me, “I know Bud loves me, so I'll try this.” God got a hold of him in that program, where other programs didn't work, and he was transformed. Now he's paying it forward. He's our coordinator in the detention system and working with kids coming from the exact same background he came from.

Q: What would make life better for young people in Southern Oregon?

Bud: We as adults just need to care. It's more than stuff, and it's more than programs, it's trusting relationships. Those relationships are difficult to find when our culture abandons kids in subtle ways. Broken homes and communities with self-centered adults offering performance-based love leads to kids feeling isolated and worthless. If we can change these things, life for kids will be so much better.

Q: Why do you like living here?

Bud: Probably the best answer, but maybe the least understood is to say, “It's my mission field.” Sometimes the wilds of Wyoming or the coast of Maine call my name, but this is where God called me.

Q: What are you thankful for?

Bud: I love the concept mentioned at Don Hildebrand’s memorial service, that we’re standing on the shoulders of giants. Don invested 20 years and was highly successful in building Campus Life. In addition to Don, I’m thankful for this community that gives so much. There’s a heart for young people here. Everything 71Five has comes from the heart and generosity of this community. My job is to be a good steward of the investment, do our best with that generosity and spread it as far as possible. I’m thankful for all the giants who have poured so much into 71Five, and I want to move it forward into the future.

Steve Boyarsky is a retired educator and longtime resident of the Rogue Valley. He continues to be involved in educational and youth programs.

Youth 71Five bio

Youth 71Five Ministries believes every young person needs trusting relationships with caring adults who walk with them through the challenges of life. 71Five provides safe, fun and informative activities where youth can find trust that leads to hope.

Activities include:

• 71Five Campus and 71Five City: Fun clubs for different ages that usually take place in youth centers located near schools or neighborhoods in Jackson and Josephine counties.

• 71Five Parents: Mentoring for teen parents

• 71Five Mentors: Mentoring for any young person

• 71Five Justice: Discussion groups and mountain-biking program for kids in the justice system

• 71Five VoTech: Vocational training for ages 16 to 24 in Jackson and Josephine counties

• 71Five Camp: Multiday summer camps for different ages

More information can be found at 71Five.org.