Potential GOP presidential candidates already are stopping in Iowa ahead of the 2012 caucuses. But here's a message from WORLD readers to the candidates: Visit Freedom for Youth in Des Moines, winner of the 2010 Hope Award for Effective Compassion.
Freedom for Youth's road to the national championship began last winter when readers George and Gail De Graaf nominated the ministry. They wrote on Jan. 21, "We read all the articles last year and are encouraged to learn about such wonderful ministries going on around our country, being used for God's glory. We have been involved with Freedom for Youth for over five years, and they are really special as they minister to disadvantaged youth."
We investigated by computer and phone and began to see that the De Graafs' description is accurate. Freedom for Youth runs a mentoring and tutoring program for elementary-school students, an after-school and summer program for teenagers, and a residential house for young adults. Chapel services, Bible classes, and volunteer-run activities all contribute to freeing young Iowans from poverty and hopelessness.
In the spring, two WORLD journalists visited Freedom for Youth and several other Midwest region finalists out of the many nominated by readers. The same process occurred in the West, South, and Northeast regions. By late June we had our Final Four: New Horizons (Colorado), Advance Memphis (Tennessee), Rock Ministries (Pennsylvania), and Freedom for Youth.
During the summer 7,500 WORLD readers voted online for the ministry they thought best provides effective compassion-not the kind that enables people to stay in poverty but the Bible-based help that pulls them out. Other groups were in the lead at various times during the voting, but Freedom for Youth surged near the end.
All four finalists sent their leaders to New York City for our awards ceremony on Sept. 16. Freedom for Youth executive director Mark Nelson spoke to the three runners-up as he accepted the Hope Award, saying, "You did not get here by being friends of the secular world. You got here by being insulted and beaten down and abused . . . and by persevering."
That was Freedom for Youth's experience as well. Nelson noted the pain of turning down government grants that would compromise a ministry's mission, and having to tell staffers that there was no money for paychecks. He also noted the thrill of seeing them "walk away smiling because they've been counted worthy to suffer for Christ."
The American Bible Society, co-sponsor of the competition, awarded each runner-up ministry $5,000. Freedom for Youth received $10,000, plus local television and press attention. Nelson said, "We don't work for recognition but . . . I'm tired of having all our visitors to our ministry tell us this is the best kept secret in Des Moines."
The secret is out, and candidates will now have the opportunity to visit what used to be a warren of rundown auto body shops, garages, and warehouses, but is now "Opportunity Avenue," complete with metal, woodworking, engine, and glassblowing shops, along with an art studio and kitchen.
The visuals will be great, but the spiritual transformation is greater. "We want teens in the program to discover their God-given talents so they can break out of a hopeless thought pattern," Nelson says. "They're beginning to see that God has created them with a purpose and given them unique gifts."
To view a video profile of Freedom for Youth and of each of the other 2010 regional finalists and to read profiles of finalists and winners from 2006 through 2009, visit WORLDmag.com/compassion.
Our sixth annual competition will begin in January, but executive assistant June McGraw will store up any nominations readers wish to send now via email. Please describe in a sentence or two how you think the local ministry that you recommend is practicing biblical compassion that is challenging, personal, and spiritual. We tend to prefer small groups that don't take money from governmental agencies.