Thirteen-year-old twins Mary and Mark recently relocated to Fort Carson from Ansbach, Germany, but they’re already frequent travelers accustomed to regular moves. This is the eighth time they’ve followed their Army father to new location.
Such moves can be jarring for young people, who must start anew making friends, attending school, and finding a place to belong.
Thankfully, Mary and Mark found a community to call home in both Germany and Colorado: Club Beyond, a Christian ministry to military teens organized by Military Community Youth Ministries, a Springs-based group that’s celebrating its 40th anniversary and planning a July alumni/staff reunion.
Every week, some 2,300 middle school and high school students like Mary and Mark attend Club Beyond gatherings at 27 Army and Air Force installations around the globe, including a group that’s been meeting at West Point since 1997. The permission process is underway for new clubs at Navy and Marine installations.
“It’s life changing for them,” says the twins’ mother. “It was a safe place to go, out of the house to be themselves, away from siblings and have fun. It was reassuring for me because I felt like I didn’t need to worry about them.”
Paying the price
Men and women in uniform make many sacrifices for their country, and some of their biggest sacrifices are those that affect their families.
According to the 2019 Military Family Lifestyle Survey of about 11,000 respondents, family issues outweigh concerns about pay or health care:
• 45% of survey respondents said their biggest concern was the amount of time they spend away from family.
• 44% said their top concern was dependent children’s education.
• 42% cited military family stability.
Children who move from base to base may have difficulty forming deep, lasting relationships because they know they could be moving on again tomorrow.
Young people who were varsity athletes or first chair violinists at their old schools need to start all over at their new schools. Not even National Honor Society accomplishments travel with them.
Military kids also deal with the absence of mom, dad, or possibly both, when parents are deployed for long periods to the other side of the world.
In addition to the unique challenges military children face, they must also deal with the universal challenges of growing up, finding out who they are, and deciding what they want to do with their lives, while avoiding substance abuse, various digital addictions, and depression.
“We want to bring Club Beyond to as many military installations worldwide as possible,” says Marty McCarty, MCYM Executive Director, “because we want to ‘be there’ for these teens when they arrive at their next installation.
“These teens move every 18 to 30 months and we want to provide them with something familiar they can grab onto, to provide some added-stability to their lives.”
Colorado is home to two of the world’s biggest evangelical youth ministries: Springs-based Young Life and Denver-based Youth for Christ International.
After struggling for years to effectively reach military teens, the two ministries helped create Military Community Youth Ministries in 1980. Youth for Christ ended its legal partnership with MCYM in 2016, yet the two organizations continue to collaborate together in order to serve as many military teens as possible.
Military commanders and chaplains invite MCYM to serve their teens, allowing its staff and volunteers access to installations following background checks.
MCYM raises its annual budget of $3.4 million through donations and fees, and rents office space from Young Life. The salaries of MCYM’s 14 local headquarters employees and its field staff are paid by Young Life — which does not do its own military youth programs — through a “donated service” arrangement.
Club Beyond meetings are ecumenical (MCYM is a collaborating member of the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry). Meetings are held after school and resemble Young Life meetings, where fun meets faith. Gatherings start with games and activities, include food, and conclude with a brief Christian presentation.
“We are deeply committed to supporting installation chapels, chaplains, and commanders, and to operating in an ecumenical manner that honors all religious traditions, as we provide Club Beyond to Military Teens,” said McCarty. That’s our operating environment and that’s our enduring commitment.”