Pointing At-Risk Youth to the Living Rock
Jennifer deVries ’00 is rethinking outreach ministry during a pandemic in her role as executive director of Living Rock Ministries.
5 min. read
March 22, 2021

It’s been over 20 years since Redeemer alumna Jennifer deVries’ life-changing summer at Living Rock—a youth centre planted in the core of downtown Hamilton. Two decades later, Jennifer still enters the front doors of that red brick building, but no longer as a summer student.

Today, she’s the executive director.

Though deVries has certainly found that sweet spot where gifts, passion, career and calling collide, her journey has not always been so certain. For years, she wondered what her path would be.

“When I started at Redeemer, I did not have a clear idea of what I wanted to do after graduation. Though many things sparked my interest, nothing seemed like a viable career path. The liberal arts stream was great, as it allowed me to explore multiple options in those first few years of studies.”

Along the way, deVries’ passion for diving headfirst into new experiences also helped her discover a new piece in the puzzle of what her career would be.

“I took multiple opportunities to try something new, including a mission trip to Honduras, Mission to Seafarers in Montreal, weekly downtown Hamilton volunteer opportunities in children’s clubs, student senate, intramurals, trips to Florida with you and on-campus employment.”

It was after these rich experiences in the classroom and on campus that deVries declared a major in youth ministry and minors in social work and business. She spent years praying and journaling, longing to know what God’s will was for her life. Little did she know that God was knitting together all her experiences to prepare her for the place she would passionately serve for the next 20-plus years.

“I had an opportunity for summer student employment at Living Rock Ministries and 20 years later I am still serving there,” she says.

Living Rock is a safe place of community and support serving at-risk youth for 35 years in downtown Hamilton. They provide essential supports to one of Hamilton’s most vulnerable populations: youth between the ages of 13 and 25 who are affected by loss of family, poverty, substance misuse and mental health issues.

“Despite the challenges we faced, we got creative and figured out how we could safely and effectively continue to meet the needs of at-risk youth.”

With a passionate team by her side, deVries spends her days dedicated to ensuring that youth in Hamilton have everything they need to thrive and have a future.

“Youth receive support and assistance with navigating the social systems to find ways to meet their basic needs of food, education and shelter. The programs and services offered at Living Rock provide a continuum of care for youth and their children while offering opportunities for personal development, life skills and employment training. We have a distinct call to show up and create a safe space for youth to be seen, known and loved. Our messages of hope and care point to Christ, extending the invitation to know him. That is our prayer and that is why we are so committed to this work.”

At the beginning of 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Jennifer stepped into her role as executive director at Living Rock. COVID-19 has taken its toll on urban ministries, and Living Rock is no exception.

“The first few months of the pandemic were filled with uncertainty,” says deVries. “We took this opportunity to pause, find our grounding and to reaffirm our purpose. This mindset launched us into finding new ways to do former things. Meals were soon offered out our side door in a take-out format and chairs were placed two metres apart around our building. A portapotty along with a hand washing station was placed in the back alley.”

With a desire to reach out to teens who may not be able to leave their houses or neighbourhoods, Living Rock was able to purchase a cargo van with the support of a generous donation.

“Despite the challenges we faced, we got creative and figured out how we could safely and effectively continue to meet the needs of at-risk youth.”

Looking back to her years at Redeemer, deVries knows it was her willingness to open her hands to what God had for her that ultimately allowed her to find a career that truly fit. She offers the same advice to current and future Redeemer students.

“Embrace the experience and this unique time in your life story. Accept and celebrate the community and support that Redeemer can offer you and be open to new experiences and opportunities.”

As she continues to navigate the complexities of leading a ministry well during a pandemic, deVries clings to the same anchor that grounded her through her years of discovering her career path.

“All parts of life are in his control. He is in charge, working all things for his glory, despite the unknowns or the uncertainties about what lies ahead.”

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