71Five connects young people 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 insights 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 71Five’s mission?
Bud: The mission is to share the story of God with young people through relationships of trust and to share the hope that is found in the story of Jesus. Our culture has created a situation where many children struggle with what we call relational poverty. Trust is hard to come by when families are fractured and children have less support around them. What we really do is connect young people with caring and trusted adults.
Q: Why are mentors so important?
Bud: The teenage years are a rocky time no matter what, and it’s easy to get stuck in a bad patch. If you don’t have meaningful relationships where someone says, “Hey, this is how life works,” it can get really tough. Full mentorship is when adults walk with these young people on a day-to-day basis. Sometimes we teach children how to brush their hair or other areas of personal hygiene. Sometimes we teach kids how to handle a job interview. Along the way, we share, “There is a way to have peace with God and to have a hope that is eternal and indestructible.”
Q: In what situations do 71Five mentors interact with young people?
Bud: We have our old vigils, the traditional club meetings that used to be called Campus Life. They provide fun activities, a safe place to relax, an opportunity to make good friends and connect with adults in trusting relationships. We have neighborhood ministries in Liberty Park and West Medford. We also have 71Five Mentors, which is a formalized relationship where young people know an adult who is committed to them. Our 71Five VoTech programs teach young people job skills, and 71Five Justice reaches children in the detention system.
Q: The work component has never been a part of campus life, has it?
Bud: Throughout the country, there were a few places with professional elements. We have taken a further step towards the construction of a pre-apprenticeship school. Auto repair, woodworking, sheet metal fabrication, small engine repair, welding and brazing are all avenues a child can branch out into. We introduce basic skills and then young people choose an 8 week course in a particular trade. At the end, they will have the skills that a company could hire for an entry-level job.
Q: So you have relationships with companies that know your children and your mentors?
Bud: Exactly. Our case manager will take these young people to employers. Part of relational poverty is not having good role models. If we just give them a phone number for a possible job, they usually don’t follow up. They never learned how to make a phone call or how to interact professionally. It’s just a bridge too far. The case manager or program staff will share, “This is how we apply for a job. This is how we interview for a job. Let’s go and fill out an application and start you through this process.” Our education system is designed for information, and it is good and necessary, but so many children do not know how to use it. They lack the relational component that helps them use it.
Q: Was there a mentor in your life who made a difference?
Bud: I was 12 years old and lived in central Pennsylvania. My father 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 a bit of a thrill seeker, and that just didn’t count 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 and he invited me to come back the following weekends. This is where I wanted to be, I wanted to be on the farm. Tim knew I wanted to go hunting, so he signed me up for a hunter safety course. When I finished the course he took me hunting pheasants, rabbits and even let me use his grandfather’s old 32 Special rifle to hunt deer. Tim invited me to join him in everything he did. He faced great tragedy and trauma, and I could see how he handled it and where his faith was more than just words.
Q: What attracts 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 it didn’t work out well. Lots of kids were into adventure sports, so I started an adventure club. We met at the SOU climbing wall. We would escalate for a while, then talk about important life issues, then escalate for a bit longer. I have taught children rock climbing, hiking, winter camping, snow sports and whitewater kayaking. On the weekends, we would go on an outdoor type of trip. It was very fun. I like to be active, do fun things, so it wasn’t hard to be sold on the position of campus life coordinator. Children are funny and they are fun. I used to work with horses. Horses and children have similar responses. Horses can freak out in an instant, and if you know any teenagers, they can do the same. They don’t always work with a lot of logic and reason. There is rarely a dull moment working with children, and there is incredible satisfaction when you learn that you can help someone.
Q: How did you start getting involved with young people?
Bud: After college I went to work on a ranch in Colorado, then I went to Maine and worked at a ski resort. My girlfriend said to me, “You don’t take life very seriously”, and she broke up with me. I was angry, and in my young brain I was like, “Well, I’m just going to have to prove her wrong. “So I stopped having fun and got hired as an investment broker. I guess it worked out because this girl ended up marrying me. The company I was working for moved us to Ashland.
I was always interested in outdoor activities, adrenaline sports and things more exciting than 20 phone calls a day. I got to a point where I only worked weekends. My father asked, “What do you want to do next?” I did not know. He said, “Keep on working, God will show you.” A few weeks later, I heard about Campus Life’s work and told my wife about it. …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 inwardly I thought, “Well, my God, if this is coming from you, you’re going to have to deal with it.” Three days later she came back and said, “I hate to say this, but I know Campus Life work is what you’re supposed to do.” That was 30 years ago, and we’re still here. .
Q: How do you define success when working with children?
Bud: I think people get confused when they think of success in a child’s life as the end result. It’s healthier to think about moving the needle. Are we moving the needle so that this young person is more stable, has more self-confidence, understands a better life? Have we moved the needle to where they work on a higher level? I succeeded when they knew that I cared about them and that there was a way to find hope.
One of our current directors was an Adventure Club kid at the time. He was a punk, he didn’t listen to a word I said. He told me later, “I don’t remember one thing you taught me, but I knew you loved me and I knew you loved Jesus. He found himself before a judge who said, “Here are three options.” One option was a Christian program. He said, “I know Bud likes me, so I’m going to try this.” God got a hold of him in this program, when other programs didn’t work, and he was transformed. Now he pays it forward. He is our coordinator in the detention system and works with children who come from exactly the same background as him.
Q: What would improve the lives of young people in southern Oregon?
Bud: As adults, we just need to care. It’s more than stuff, and it’s more than programs, it’s relationships of trust. Those relationships are hard to come by when our culture subtly abandons children. Broken homes and communities with self-centered adults offering performance-based love lead children to feel isolated and worthless. If we can change these things, children’s lives will be so much better.
Q: Why do you like living here?
Bud: Probably the best answer, but perhaps the least understood, is to say, “This is my mission field. Sometimes the wilderness of Wyoming or the coast of Maine calls my name, but that’s where God called me.
Q: What are you grateful for?
Bud: I love the concept mentioned at the Don Hildebrand memorial service, that we stand on the shoulders of giants. Don has invested 20 years and has been very successful in building life on campus. In addition to Don, I am grateful for this community that gives so much. There is 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, to do our best with that generosity and to extend it as much as possible. I am grateful to all the giants who have invested so much in 71Five, and I want to take it forward in the future.
Steve Boyarsky is a retired educator and longtime resident of Rogue Valley. He continues to be involved in educational and youth programs.
Youth 71Five organic
Youth 71Five Ministries believes that every young person needs trusting relationships with caring adults who support them through life’s challenges. 71Five offers safe, fun and informative activities where young people can find the confidence that leads to hope.
• 71Five Campus and 71Five City: Fun clubs for different ages that typically take place at youth centers located near schools or neighborhoods in Jackson and Josephine counties.
• 71Five Parents: mentorship for teenage parents
• 71Five Mentors: Mentoring for all young people
• 71Five Justice: focus groups and mountain bike program for children in the justice system
• 71Five VoTech: vocational training for 16 to 24 year olds in Jackson and Josephine counties
• 71Five Camp: multi-day summer camps for different ages
More information can be found at 71Five.org.