City Life SwitchUp is a ministry of Youth for Christ, their vision to empower Van Buren youth and create a positive place for students to hangout after school.
The program takes place after school Monday through Thursday from 3-5 p.m, but it’s more than just an event to those involved.
Sarah Johnson, a Taylor sophomore, described SwitchUp as one big family.
This sense of family makes a safe place for students to relate to many Taylor students who are actively involved and volunteering. About 40 students come daily. In total, SwitchUp has had about 100 students come in a whole school year.
Raenah Hyde started volunteering at SwitchUp her freshman year.
“I fell in love (with SwitchUp),” Hyde said. “I walked in the doors and five or six of them (SwitchUp students) ran up to me, two of them grabbed me by the arm and just automatically kind of started opening up and asked me who I was. I still have a great relationship with them today.”
Hyde’s first experience with Switchup was as unexpected to her as the way she arrived there.
One day she was walking to get dinner when her friend stopped the van she was driving and told Hyde to hop in. Without any other context, the pair drove to SwitchUp.
The impact on SwitchUp students and Taylor students is mutual, however.
“I had a student come to me with some faith questions, and they were the exact same questions I had,” Hyde said.
Seeing the amount of work that the student had put into his faith taught Hyde not to be content in her current knowledge, rather to desire to constantly be learning more.
Hyde is able to relate to kids at SwitchUp on a deep level. She extends vulnerability while intentionally seeking to integrate her faith and hope within her interactions with them.
“My mom was a single mom; I have a lot of family who are alcoholics and addicts,” Hyde said. “I get that. I’ve lived that life. And now to be a woman of strong faith, I can tell them it does get better. No matter what happens.”
It’s a message Sarah Johnson also hopes to share.
Johnson has attended SwitchUp as a sophomore in high school and knows firsthand what an impact the program can has on students.
“I really got invested and started going,” Johnson said. “Since I was one of the older kids, I kind of stepped into more of a leadership role.”
Four years later, Johnson is now a sophomore at Taylor University.
She reflects on the impact SwitchUp, and specifically Sarah McLeester, the director, has had on her.
“[McLeester] just poured into me, like, a lot when I was in high school, just allowing me to grow as a person,” Johnson said.
With McLeester at the helm, SwitchUp has given Johnson a sense of belonging. It’s a feeling she hopes other Taylor students will also experience. For those hoping to become involved, Johnson offered simple encouragement.
“You won’t believe it until you see it,” she said.
Johnson suggests to come see for yourself.