In his 15 years volunteering and working with Young Life, Mike Heritage has mentored dozens of young people in the Federal Way community.
Young Life is a non-denominational Christian faith-based organization with chapters throughout the country. In Federal Way, clubs meet weekly at each of the high schools. As associate director, Heritage coordinates clubs and leaders at Federal Way and Thomas Jefferson high schools.
“Our mission is to bring the gospel of Jesus to kids,” he said. “We are not trying find youth group kids because they are already plugged into a church. We are looking for kids that have never been to church or that have no idea what the gospel of Jesus is all about.”
Heritage didn’t get involved in Young Life until after high school when he was recruited as a volunteer through a friend whose mom was a committee chair for Young Life.
“He kind of roped me in. From there, I got hooked in and haven’t stopped,” Heritage said.
After volunteering with the organization for nine years, Heritage got on staff part time six years ago. He also works full time for Bellmont Cabinets.
“I have mentored at least five to 10 kids a year for the last 15 years,” Heritage said. “A lot of the time, what gives you the motivation to keep going is knowing that you are having an impact.”
Being in the schools for 15 years, Heritage has built trust with youth in the community.
“Kids that were just babies when I was mentoring their older brothers or sisters are now in high school,” he said. “It gives you credibility in a place where it hard to find credibility, especially for kids that are raised in a different culture than how I was raised. For a big white guy to be able to walk in and connect with them is not normal, especially from the outside. I am not a coach. My only connection is Young Life.”
In addition to hosting weekly club meetings and Bible studies, Heritage said much of his time is spent building relationships.
“We get involved in a lot of things that our kids are into, as far as our Young Life kids,” he said. “If they are into plays, then we are going to watch plays. If they are into gymnastics, we are going to gymnastics meets. We are going where they are, which is a different approach than what a church would have, because church is like come to our program, come to us, come to us. We are going and reaching the kids where they are at to get involved in their lives.”
Todd Zern, area director for Young Life who nominated Heritage for Citizen of the Month, said Heritage has a positive impact wherever he goes in the community.
“No matter if you walk through the hallways of Federal Way High School or spend time with other volunteers Mike serves alongside of at Federal Way Young Life or Christ’s Church, you will hear the same thing: ‘I love Big Mike!’” Zern said. “He truly loves all kids no matter their background or history, and he truly embodies the best of what Young Life is as a mission.”
Working in ministry can be challenging, Heritage said, but his love for and desire to serve Jesus keeps him going.
“I have tried to quit three or four times in hard years,” he said. “We work with some pretty tough kids in our community. Somehow they find their way to us. … When you see lives that are changed, not just individual lives but families that are impacted from generation to generation. It is really cool.”
Heritage’s wife, Stephanie, is starting a version of Young Life called Young Lives, which ministers to teen moms.
“There’s not a lot of people reaching out to teen moms,” he said. “Even in the Christian community it can be very judgmental toward teen moms. A lot of those young ladies have a very bad taste in their mouth, so we want to break that and let them know they are loved and supported as well.”
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