Meet the Youth Haven team! In addition to all of the staff listed here, there are also hundreds of volunteers who serve throughout the year. We have been blessed at Youth Haven to have some great people who love kids and have the hearts of servants.
Having been involved with Youth Haven's ministry all of his life, Lars would be quick to tell you that God is amazing as He directs people's lives and often changes what is expected. With a career goal of becoming an airline pilot, God clearly moved in Lars' heart and directed him, and his wife Amy, back to the ministry where he grew up as the son and grandson of the founders. So in 1997 they joined the full time team and have never looked back.
Having served in various industries including banking, marketing, and IT, Lars brings a wide variety of skills to Youth Haven's organization. As a passionate and strategic leader, his heart is to help “the least of these" and see the staff and team at Youth Haven use their professional and educational backgrounds and gifts to further the Kingdom by reaching one child at a time.
Lars holds a B.A. in Business and Social Science from Liberty University and a Masters Degree in Business Administration from Michigan State University. He and his wife Amy have two boys, Stefan and Lukas, and reside near the Michigan campus.
Rick Isham first came to Youth Haven as a summer camp team leader in 2002. He joined our full-time staff in 2005 and has served in many different areas at both our Michigan and Arizona campuses. He currently serves as our Director of Operations, assisting in the day-to-day business operations that ultimately enable us to reach disadvantaged children for Christ. "I see that as a central part of the call to all Christians," he says, pointing out the specific reference to looking after orphans and widows in James 1:27. "Youth Haven is a very real answer to the call to reach modern day orphans." Rick enjoys finding and training staff who are passionate about reaching lost children for Christ. But his favorite thing about serving at Youth Haven is "seeing the testimonies over the past 10 years as I have watched children grow up in Youth Haven's programs and witness the hope that brings them long-term in their lives." Rick graduated from Spring Arbor University with a bachelor's degree in Family Life Education. He has been a foster parent, and he and his wife (whom he met at Youth Haven) adopted one of their foster children. "Through that experience I have a greater appreciation for the work Youth Haven does," he explains. "I see how great the need is for these kids to come to Youth Haven and experience the hope we offer. I often wonder what my daughter's life would be like if we did not answer God's call and get involved. I think the same is true for the children who get a chance to come to Youth Haven." Rick loves fishing and the outdoors. In his own words, "I am obsessed with hockey and love my Detroit Redwings, but most of all I love spending time with my 3 kids and beautiful wife. They remind me how good and faithful God is."
Thor Kolemainen joined the Youth Haven staff team as recently as February, 2016. As Director of Advancement, Thor's role is to build and develop relationships with existing and new ministry partners, as well as to lead our fundraising program in order to make sure we have the financial resources we need to reach more disadvantaged children for Christ. Thor is thrilled to be part of this team that is called to minister to disadvantaged children. Having worked for over 25 years in relationship building as recreation leader, business owner, department manager, and sales executive, Thor is right at home meet with donors and prospective donors to talk about what motivates them to give to Youth Haven. And he loves putting his gifts to use for the Lord. "Serving is my primary spiritual gift," he says. Thor also holds a BS in Education, with a major in recreation and youth leadership. When he's not busy serving at Youth Haven, he enjoys "time with my wife and family, outdoor recreation, golf, racquetball, and reading."
Amy Carlson has been part of the Youth Haven staff team since 1997, currently serving as the Director of Communications and Marketing. She met her husband, Youth Haven President Lars Carlson, when they were both in high school, and they began dating their junior year. "I always believed God would call us to serve at Youth Haven," she says, "I just didn't know when." That day came two years into their marriage, when they both felt God calling them into full-time ministry. Amy quickly put her English degree from Western Michigan University to good use, writing and designing various promotional pieces and communication tools. But what she loves most is sitting in the back of the chapel and watching the children. "I love to watch them worship. It's such an incredible thing to realize these kids might never hear about Jesus and the sacrifice He made for them if not for Youth Haven. Seeing them come face to face with God's love when they might not have ever know real love before in their entire lives... half the time I just sit there with tears in my eyes because I want so many good things for these kids. I'm just grateful we get to be a part of their lives." A passionate worship leader herself, Amy often leads the women in worship during our Ladies' Day events. When she's not busy with ministry responsibilities, you can probably find her at one son's track or cross country meets, or her other son's baseball games or band concerts. She is also an avid Michigan State Spartans fan and loves college sports.
Emma joined the Youth Haven staff team as our Director of Community Engagement and Special Events in 2015. In a word, she describes her role as "FUN!" She is responsible for engaging the community in the work we are doing at Youth Haven, recruiting more children to attend our retreats by making local agencies aware of the programs we offer, and coordinating all of our special events. She earned a degree in Family Studies and Human Development from the University of Arizona, and has previously served as a high needs case manager, developing service plans for children with extreme behavioral health issues. "I saw first-hand the brokenness of the world that we live in," she says, "and the desperate need for these hurting children to know about Jesus, and accept Him as their Lord and Savior." This is precisely what drew her to Youth Haven, and she loves the campus ministry. "The campus allows kids to be kids, and experience the beauty of nature!" She also loves being part of the Youth Haven "family" of staff and partners. "I am very social and love and building relationships with others, and my role at Youth Haven allows me to do just that." In her free time, Emma enjoys going to the gym, spending time with friends and family, and watching sports. She also has a twin sister, but is quick to add, "I am older...by a whopping minute!"
Stephanie Stanley started out as an intern in the children's program in the spring of 2013, then joined us full-time in 2014. As our Children's Scheduling Coordinator, she is responsible for scheduling children and agencies at both campuses. "I fully believe that a huge part of my role is loving every person I come into contact with," she explains. "I have come to realize that Youth Haven's ministry goes farther than just the children that we serve, but we also minister to the families and agencies we come into contact with. I get great joy out of creating relationships with the parents and agencies we work with." Spending time with the kids during summer camp is still her favorite thing, though. "There is just something about the summer, the warmth, the sunset, the camp life, children running around everywhere having an absolute blast... Gives me warm fuzzies. And when a little girl looks up at me and says she never wants to leave, or a little boy telling me he wants me to adopt him... I love and cherish those moments so much." Stephanie first discovered her love for kids on a missions trip to Dominican Republic, volunteering at schools and orphanages. She received her Social Work degree from Spring Arbor University, which gave her a good foundation of understanding when it comes to helping those in need. She says, "I find that I am the happiest when I am surrounded by and spending time with loved ones." She enjoys crafts and, in her own words, is "also known for enjoying a good, long nap."
Bethany Peterson has been involved with Youth Haven's programs for over 15 years, first serving as a summer camp team leader. In fact, she met her husband here that summer, and they were married in our chapel in 2001. She is currently the Constituent Services Manager, where she oversees the processing of donations and makes sure each one of our ministry partners knows how much we appreciate them. "I love the interaction I am able to have with our donors and volunteers," she says. "Without them, what we do wouldn't be possible!" But the real reason she's here is "to minister to kids who are hurting and need to hear that Jesus loves them and has an incredible plan for their lives!" Bethany has always loved children and holds a degree in social work, with a minor in psychology. This has helped her better understand the struggles people face, as well as how to appropriately respond to those difficult stories we often hear from the kids, families, and even our supporters. She adds, "I happen to also have a minor in history. That one doesn't really help in my position here and please don't quiz me. I don't remember much!" She enjoys growing her own garden and is learning the art of canning. "I was a full-fledged city girl when I came to Youth Haven," she saysl Slowly but surely, country is replacing some of that city!"
Cindi joined the Youth Haven staff in 2015 as the Financial Manager. She has always loved keeping books and paying bills, and earned her accounting degree from Michigan State University. She has worked in other offices in a similar capacity, but she loves the Christ-centered environment at Youth Haven, where everyone is working together toward the same goal of reaching kids for Christ. She and her husband Scott have two children in college, and in her spare time she loves to challenge her mind by putting puzzles together.
Sarah Lyman recently joined our staff team as Receptionist and Administrative Assistant. In her words, "I get to be the smiling face people see when they first step through the office door or be the friendly voice they hear over the phone!" She also helps with various office projects, and says "it feels good knowing it's all going to benefit and have an impact on the children and teens that attend Youth Haven." And that was the very thing that drew Sarah to Youth Haven. "Youth Haven offers hope to so many young faces," she says, "and it is very fulfilling to be around that positive energy even in the midst of so much pain and suffering that the world has in today's society." One of Sarah's favorite experiences so far at Youth Haven was Ladies' Day at the Michigan campus, where she had an opportunity to interact with our guests and volunteers. And God has equipped her to do so much more than answering phones and greeting guests! "It's amazing how God works," she explains. "I had no idea that they also had a radio station on site or that they needed more people to take photos. Just last year I received my bachelor's in communication-professional writing and broadcasting. I quickly learned my training in radio, photography, and writing would be very beneficial to Youth Haven and God has prepared me through my education and past internship and work experience to be able to help in multiple areas around the ranch." Sarah loves reading and photography, and is well traveled - she was born in Nuremburg, Germany, grew up in Naples, Florida, and studied abroad in Guatemala.
David Dean joined the Youth Haven Arizona team in August of 2014. He began as the Arizona Facilities and Grounds Manager, and quickly transitioned into the role of Arizona Campus Manager. He now oversees not just the facilities and grounds, but the entire Arizona campus operations, including the supervision of staff and volunteers. It's a big job for one person, but Dave handles it with ease and expertise! He and his wife Sandy heard of Youth Haven several years ago and were "impressed with the outreach to children." In 1993, they brought some teens from their church to Youth Haven's Michigan campus for a week to do various work projects around the grounds. Born and raised on a farm, Dave had to learn equipment maintenance and developed a strong work ethic. Before joining the Youth Haven team, Dave worked many years in both maintenance and administration - valuable experiences that have fully equipped him for his role here. Dave and his wife Sandy both love to serve wherever they are needed, and are grateful "to be a part of showing the love of Jesus to the children." They've become like grandparents to the Youth Haven children and staff alike. Dave also enjoys spending time with his grandson, watching movies, and "just kicking back and resting."
Alyssa joined the Youth Haven staff in 2015. As our Arizona Children's Program Lead, it is her responsibility to oversee the children's programs, which include weekend camps, summer camps, and Kids' Klubs. Alyssa's desire to be part of the Youth Haven ministry stemmed from a powerful impact Youth Haven had on her own family when she was much younger. She explains, "Fifteen years ago, my brother was experiencing some heart issues, and needed surgery. My parents had been long-time supporters of Youth Haven & several other ministries. They sent out letters to these ministries asking for prayer. Youth Haven was the only ministry who responded. They sent a handful of get well cards from the Youth Haven children. Since then, that memory has stuck with me." Alyssa enjoys playing with the children who attend our programs, praying with them, and being able to show them love that they may not be getting at home. She also loves the challenge of coming up with new ideas to keep the programs fun and fresh. She has a degree in Children and Family Ministry, previous camp experience, and has also served as a youth pastor. In her downtime, she enjoys shopping, crafting, and skateboarding. She adds, "I play four different instruments (guitar, drums, piano, & bass guitar). I really like Jamba Juice & coffee."
Youth Haven has been a part of Katherine's life for a number of years, having volunteered with her family, served two summers as a team leader, and helped out on numerous weekends. She joined our full-time staff as the Michigan Children's Program Lead just prior to the summer of 2016. In this role, Katherine leads the Michigan children's program and supervises our programming staff team. She says, "This amazing position offers me the opportunity of watching children's lives transform as they hear the good news of Jesus Christ." She was drawn to Youth Haven because our mission so perfectly aligns with her own life-mission: "that through my own life in Christ, Jesus would overflow into the lives of disadvantaged youth by means of teaching and relationships." And she loves being able to partner with other Christians to share the message of the Gospel with the children. "Seeing children smile in chapel or another Team Leader lead a youth to Christ makes everything we do worth it!" Katherine is a graduate of Moody Bible Institute with a double major in Bible and Elementary Education. Her ministry training there included weekly work with inner-city youth and two student internships that equipped her to work hands-on in teaching. Her parents also played an important role in preparing her for ministry. She explains, "Having been born and raised for a brief time in England, my parents intentionally sought opportunities for me to travel overseas, experiencing other cultures and understanding culture from a Biblical worldview." Katherine enjoys peaceful walks around the beautiful grounds of Youth Haven, where she can spend time in prayer and reflection. Her family, friends, and church are a priority for her, and she says, "Volunteering at my home church, exploring new locations with my friends, and having a cookout with my family are a few extra things that encompass my day to day life."
A former Youth Haven child, Norm Peterson is an example of how God uses Youth Haven to transform lives! Youth Haven played an important role in helping to meet his needs and those of his siblings, as well as teaching him about God's love and encouraging him in his decision to follow Christ. So as he thought about what God wanted him to do with his life, the decision wasn't a hard one. "I wanted to work in ministry," he says, "and seeing that I came here as a kid, I couldn't think of a better place!" Norm served as a team leader during the summers of 1998 and 1999 and joined our full-time staff in 2001, overseeing the grounds and facilities of our Michigan campus. He thoroughly enjoys working with our wonderful volunteers, and his attention to detail and eye for design are great assets as he keeps our grounds and facilities up to code and with today's current style. Norm has four years of schooling in plumbing and electrical, but his love for what he does stems from his childhood. "My dad and grandpa were both electricians and I used to go on jobs with them," he explains. "My father started doing construction when I was in my teens, which is where I got my passion for the trade." A licensed contractor in the state of Michigan, Norm is also in the process of earning his degree in architecture and construction management. When he's not busy around the grounds or in class, Norm loves to spend time with his family playing games and camping. He also loves to play sports and says, "I enjoy spending time outdoors, especially during hunting season. Whitetail deer hunting is a passion of mine."