As Taylor alumnus Irv Polk (‘63) lay sick on his hospital bed, the last words he spoke to his friend and coworker Darrell Peterson were, “Don’t let it die, don’t let it die.”
Polk was the founder of Lifeline Youth Ministries in Elkhart, Indiana and the words he spoke to Peterson referred to his organization. He served at Lifeline for 46 years before dying of cancer in 2009.
Peterson soon became the director of Lifeline, with hopes to continue the legacy and impact of Polk before him.
“Polk had a real heart and passion for at-risk students,” Peterson said.
And Polk’s passion has carried on to this day.
The organization has a mission to show God’s love to students in practical ways. They accomplish this through partnering with schools, businesses and other organizations to assist the social, educational and career areas of children’s lives.
Lifeline provides after-school programming for kids in 3rd-12th grades as well as an eight-week summer camp for 1st-7th graders. Currently, over 400 students are participating in the organization’s various programs.
Lasting relationships are created at Lifeline; ones that not only impact the children, but also the adults who work there.
“The amount of love that we get from our students is amazing,” Peterson said. “For many of us, we become family. I just got a text from a student who called me dad. We really become family.”
In addition to after-school programs and summer camp, the organization recently started “Renew Housing Restoration.” This program teaches students the art of construction and home restoration.
Students in this program have helped restore three homes over the span of just one year. These students are able to learn valuable skills that they can utilize in their future careers.
Lifeline also offers internships to college students. Senior orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) and global studies major Sierra Twigg interned there the past two summers.
As a part of this internship program, Twigg was a counselor at Lifeline’s summer camp.
“What’s really cool that I love about Lifeline is that you have the same kids for all eight weeks mostly,” Twigg said.
This attribute of Lifeline promotes relationship building among students and staff.
As a second-year intern, Twigg had the opportunity to grow and develop relationships this year from her previous summer at the organization, along with establishing new ones.
“I absolutely love the relationships that are built there,” Twigg said. “I also love the structure of Lifeline. I think their goal ultimately is they would love to see Lifeline be sustainable and self-sufficient where kids that grew up in Lifeline are now the counselors for their summer camp.”
One of the ways Lifeline promotes self-sufficiency is through having junior camp counselors. These are high-school-aged students who get to assist camp counselors in leading a group of children.
Twigg valued the opportunity to work not only with the younger children, but also with the older children, helping them develop leadership skills of their own.
“I just love how we get to pour into them while they’re also getting to learn skills and hopefully become counselors in the future,” Twigg said.
Over half the junior camp counselors this past summer attended Lifeline themselves, which is powerful for the staff to oversee, as well as for these students to experience.
She finds this reflective of Lifeline’s care for the well-being of children and the dignity and respect the organization displays to them.
This summer, she became especially close with one specific family.
Two of the girls in this family were in her group, and Twigg and her co-counselor started taking them to church each week.
“Every Sunday, we would go and pick them up for church, go to church, go to lunch and then sometimes do a small activity like going to the park or something like that,” Twigg said. “And I think that was super special to grow not even just with those two girls this summer, but with their family as well.”
This was an incredible opportunity for Twigg to become closer to this particular family and share her beliefs with the girls.
Through her experiences at Lifeline, she has learned the importance of being a reliable person that children can count on.
“Lifeline provides a whole different perspective on life because life in Elkhart looks very different than what life at Taylor looks like,” Twigg said.
In order to ensure readiness for these positions, each of the interns and staff members goes through Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI) training.
In summary, this training prepares staff to be able to work with children who are coming from backgrounds of trauma, neglect and abuse.
Peterson is excited about the future of Lifeline, as they are in the process of building a brand new facility that will be much larger in size and contain multiple sports courts, classrooms and a computer lab, among other exciting features.
The organization will be celebrating 60 years in 2023, and Peterson is already looking forward to what the next 60 years have in store.
“It’s a great opportunity to impact young lives and to have students love you back in a way that is difficult to describe,” Peterson said. “The relationships that we build here are very rewarding.”