At the heart of Todd Laws' story is a handful of teachers who took the time to love, support and believe in a kid, and how far-reaching a teacher's dedication can be. In Todd's case, some of his teachers inspired a 30-year ministry with kids through Young Life.
And life always has a way of coming full circle. There is no telling whose life has already been, or will be, impacted through Todd's work in Young Life.
He was first introduced to Young Life when he was in college, working as a grocery store clerk in Seaside, Ore. Camp counselors who were taking kids to the Breakaway Lodge for summer camp would come to the grocery and stockpile supplies for camp. Over the course of that summer Todd bagged hundreds of sacks of groceries, and as he bagged, he talked to the counselors about Young Life.
His interest in ministry began even earlier, however. In middle school, Todd was blessed to have four doting teachers, two husband-and-wife couples -- Jim and Darlene White who taught him science, and Wally and Ginny Hamer who taught him health and P.E. To this day, these four teachers stand out to Todd for the love, affection and care they showed him and all their students. Under their guidance, a group of students, including Todd, created a youth group at the school. "It was a bunch of teachers investing in their students and loving their students," Todd said. He and his classmates kept the group going through middle school and into high school.
As he was graduating and making plans for life after high school, he intended to head to college and earn a teaching degree. His former science teacher Darlene White took him aside one day. "She told me, 'Todd, you'll always have people like us in schools who will reach kids, but you have a different calling,'" he said. She counseled that he was meant to reach kids through ministry.
Fast forward a couple of years. Todd was in college, studying religion and history with the intention of becoming a pastor. He came home in the summer to work at the grocery store. At that time, a small group of teachers, new in town, began the conversation of bringing a Young Life program to Seaside. Todd was asked to help with the startup, by working with kids as a leader. His first experience with Young Life -- an experience that would shape his career and his passion many years later -- was with a volunteer-driven, small town ministry of loving kids.
Another mentor stands out for Todd from those initial Young Life days: Paul Maynard. Paul lived in Lebanon, Ore., about 150 miles from Seaside. Paul, also serving as a volunteer, was a regional Young Life support member. His job was to support leaders who worked directly with kids. Paul would drive to Seaside often to pray with, support and care for the volunteer leaders. "Paul really invested in me, and helped shape me to lead Young Life for four years," Todd said.
It was during this time that another Young Life mentor, Don Stuber, first took Todd to camp to serve as a leader. Don and Todd ended up performing a skit together in front of the entire camp, and that experience -- ministering and witnessing to a camp full of kids -- solidified Todd's call to work in youth ministry. After that camp, he switched schools so he could be closer to Seaside and be able to continue volunteering for Young Life.
After seminary, he continued to volunteer with Young Life while he worked as a staff pastor at the Cannon Beach Conference Center. It was there he met his future wife, Cheryl. They married, and then had their first child, Kiley. Meanwhile, Todd continued to volunteer with Young Life. The Laws family moved to Salem, Ore., soon after, where Todd worked as a youth minister at a church, and volunteered for that community's Young Life program as well.
In 1994, after eight years serving as a volunteer for Young Life, Todd accepted the position of area director for Delta County Young Life. He, Cheryl, Kiley and siblings Kathryn and Caleb -- and baby Conor expected within the month -- made the move to Colorado. Todd served as the area director here for 16 years.
While Todd dearly loved his tenure as the director, he remembers others within the Young Life organization who acted as a support system for leaders and people in Todd's position, and how those people sustained his ministry. "They came in, and gave of their time, and cared for us," Todd said. "And I remember saying, 'Man, I want to do that for others.'" He felt called to reach out and serve and support other leaders within the organization.
When he sensed his time as area director had reached the end and he was ready for a new call, he reached out to TJ Dickerson, who is the regional director of the rocky mountain west region, which includes all of Utah, western Colorado and Taiwan. The two spoke about how to best give care and support to all kids and all leaders in the region. A position was created for Todd as the small town ministry developer. His task is to visit communities within the region and either help facilitate the creation of a youth ministry, or, if a youth ministry had once existed and since gone away, to help restart the ministry. "Where ever I can reasonably reach, I go and build relationships," he explained.
One of the unique things of Todd's ministry in this role is that he hasn't been directed to be a numbers guy, creating Young Life programs in every community for the sake of showing that he did so. Instead, Todd's job is very much focused on reaching kids in any way possible. Sometimes that means starting a Young Life chapter; other times it means simply helping bring churches together to cost-share a youth minister who creates his or her own program. Young Life has an idiom that is a focal point of the ministry: every kid, everywhere. Kids are kids and ministry is ministry, so if what works for a local community is some youth ministry other than Young Life, Todd works to support that just as hard as he supports Young Life. "I want to help people who have a heart for kids," he said.
Young Life works because volunteers are trained and expected to meet kids where they are. Volunteers don't wait for kids to seek them out; instead they are in schools meeting kids on their home turf, where they are comfortable. Adult leaders spend countless hours listening to kids and loving them, in a "no matter what" mentality -- no matter if they go to church every Sunday or not.
Similarly, Todd does that in his work. Instead of working one-on-one with kids, he works with community groups, school personnel, church teams and others who have a heart for kids. He travels to small towns all over the region (even adding small portions of Wyoming and New Mexico) and talks with people who want to develop something for the kids in their town.
"My job is going out to find people who love teenagers, and who want to serve them," Todd said. "It's finding a need, and helping meet that need. It's bringing people together to serve kids."
If a community wants to start up a Young Life program, Todd helps to form a committee and train leaders, helps the group with its initial fundraising and takes leaders and kids on their first camping experience -- basically everything to help get them into the culture of Young Life. Once a Young Life program has started up, Todd's job as small town developer is done, although he continues to cheer on the leaders from the background.
Another great thing about Todd's ministry is that he meets a local community on its terms. So often, an international organization looking to add to its number of outposts will come in to a new place and put its program into the community, without first getting to know the community. "Small towns especially don't like outside things coming in and taking over," Todd said. And in small towns, "kids are everything to them," he said. Instead of putting programs in place for the sake of programs, Todd builds a youth ministry organically, meeting communities where they are and working with leaders to build something they are invested and which works for their unique community.
Like the Young Life volunteers who keep showing up for kids, Todd keeps showing up for communities, wherever they are on their path in youth ministry. He visits the same small towns dozens of times, always offering care, support and a relationship. "I get to experience the best people in our region," he said. "And we have really great people here. That's my joy -- these people are already predispositioned to love kids, and I get to help provide the tools for them to love kids more. Now, I get to do what Paul [Maynard] did for me. My passion is helping adults give gentle, loving care to kids."
Young Life just celebrated its 75th anniversary of serving kids worldwide. The organization is in 100 countries, and there are 2 million teenagers active in Young Life.
Two fatal accidents occurred in Delta County within a two-day span last week.
Casey Gillenwater, 25, of Delta was killed the afternoon of Wednesday, Sept. 13, in a single-vehicle rollover on Highway 133 outside of Hotchkiss.