The Allure of Community and Faith for College Students amid a Pandemic

Maggie Durling looks into an increase in attendance in the Christ-centered Young Life college club at UNR, since going back to in-person learning this semester.

A group of Young Life College students attending the Reno Air Balloon Races on September 11, 2021. Permission to use by Reno-Sparks Young Life.

What is it?

The sun is going down, the barbecue is fired up with burgers cooking, a group of college kids debates the score of a game of cornhole, while another group is getting ready to make s’mores by a fire pit. This is the first official meeting of Young Life College, a club at the University of Reno.

The name Young Life is very well known, especially if you are from the South or are involved in Christian communities.

Young Life is an international faith-based non-profit organization that works with kids, to provide fun and friends.

“I feel like Young Life is a group of people getting together who share a commonality of believing in Jesus Christ,” said T Staley, a junior and long-time member of Young Life College.

People who know what Young Life is were most likely a part of it in high school. Young Life also offers programs for middle school, college, and other more marginalized groups like teen parents. It offers events like after-school clubs, small groups, camps, and leadership opportunities.

Young Life has been a part of the Reno community for over 40 years but only started college programs in 2018.

I was fortunate to go to one of the only Reno high schools that had a Young Life club offered to students. I started going my freshman year of high school and never stopped.

In late 2020 after a year and a half of being a volunteer, I was given the opportunity to work for Reno-Sparks Young Life, in a student staff position, working with high schoolers. Part of my job includes planning activities, with food, games, and a short Bible lesson.

The current staff of Reno-Sparks Young Life at the 2021 Fall Club Fair. There was so much interest that the sign-up sheets brought were full up and spilled over into other spare sheets of paper. Photo provided by Reno Young Life College on Instagram.

In the Beginning of the Pandemic

At UNR, in the early months of the spring 2020 semester, Young Life College was able to start up again after some time off due to a lack of staffing and interest from students. The club met once a week and was only a couple of students meeting to eat, play some card games, and maybe talk about the Bible. There was not a lot of energy or interest.

“There were only a few girls, and the rest were guys and I kind of got the feeling that this was something their mom wanted them to do. It wasn’t something people were intrinsically going to,” Staley remembers.

When the pandemic hit and students were sent home the club, like most, had to stop meeting.

The first Young Life college meeting of this semester. The meeting was spent getting to know one another by playing games and eating burgers and s’mores. Photo by Maggie Durling

Trying Again

When the new 2021 fall semester started, Young Life College decided to try again.

The idea was that now more than ever college kids needed to find a new community and maybe develop and explore their faith.

The first tell was the Club Fair held by the University.

All three of the signup sheets we brought were so full of names we were having to find extra spots and pieces of paper for people to put their contact information.

Members Nate and Megan playing a game of cornhole at last week’s meeting. The meeting was spent playing lawn games, eating burgers, meeting new people, followed by a short lesson from the Bible. Photo by Maggie Durling

Meetings with More and More Members

The Thursday after the Club Fair was the first meeting. As usual, there was food, yard games, smores, and more, but the number of people coming was unknown.

By the end of that first meeting there were a total of 11 people, by the end of the second there were 17, some of those being people who couldn’t make it to the first meeting.

Every week there seems to be new interest and more people showing up.

Nate Turner, a junior and a brand new member, described the environment as, “joyous, happy, fluid. All are welcome.” He thinks this new interest after COVID-19 hit is because of, “the disconnect and loss of human connection.”

After, so long spent in isolation people say they need to feel like they have people they can talk to and have fun with. The main idea is to give people what they seem to be needing most, a community.

“I think because the group has already started to build relationships and get to know each other more and become a true group instead of … people in a similar area,” Staley said. “I think when it comes to next year, more people will join. I see in the next couple of years that will get a little bit bigger, just because when a good group of people comes together there is undeniable energy there and when people like each other in the group people want to be a part of that.”

Reporting by Maggie Durling for the Reynolds Sandbox

The Reynolds Sandbox showcases innovative and engaging storytelling by students with the Reynolds Media Lab.

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Reynolds Sandbox

Reynolds Sandbox

Showcasing innovative and engaging multimedia storytelling by students with the Reynolds Media Lab in Reno.

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