Youth Haven was founded in 1968 as a result of a call God placed on the lives of Morry and Dorothy Carlson. Morry was a successful businessman in the Detroit, Michigan, area, and Dorothy taught Sunday school at their church. Driving to church on Sunday mornings, they would see children playing near the side of the road. Those kids wouldn't be in Sunday school to learn about Jesus. Who was reaching them? The vision for Youth Haven was planted, and the Carlsons began to pray about what God would have them do.
God directed them toward a parcel of farm land that was for sale in the center of Michigan's lower peninsula, in a small town called Rives Junction. Seeing its potential, Morry and Dorothy sold everything and moved into a mobile home on the property, which at that time was little more than a field. Their goal was clear: they wanted to provide a safe place where kids who were "falling through the cracks" could come and hear the message of the Gospel. And knowing those kids wouldn't be able to pay, they were determined to offer their programs free of charge. Through church meetings, word of mouth, and radio spots on Family Life Radio, they began to spread the news about the vision God had placed on their hearts. Ever faithful, He provided enough financial resources and volunteer labor to build the first building.
Youth Haven opened its doors to the first groups of disadvantaged children in the summer of 1968. That same summer, Morry and Dorothy's son Larry was married, and he and his wife Cheri moved into a small attic apartment on the property in order to help get the ministry running. It would be designed like a typical youth camp, with the primary age range of 7-13. But Youth Haven would be so much more than a camp, with year-round programming and follow-up efforts focused on having a life-long impact on the lives of disadvantaged children.
The Carlsons could tell many stories of God's constant provision, and it was clear this ministry was His from the very beginning. An unsolicited donation of bread from a local bakery when they didn't know how they were going to feed the children. Volunteers with just the right skill set, looking for a place they could serve. Financial gifts from people who wanted to help these children hear about Jesus. Through miracle after miracle, God not only sustained Youth Haven, He grew it! More buildings, facilities, and activity stations were constructed. Additional staff were hired. And that meant more children could come! Soon, Youth Haven was welcoming a new group of kids each week of the summer and each weekend throughout the school year.
In 1982, God expanded Youth Haven's borders even more. Morry Carlson's health had begun to decline, and Morry and Dorothy would spend their winters in Arizona to keep him out of the harsh Michigan weather. One winter, they were contacted by the owner of a soup kitchen in a small town called Picacho. His wife's health was failing, and he was no longer able to keep his ministry running. He wanted to donate 40 acres and the soup kitchen to Youth Haven, on one condition: that it would continue to be used for the Lord's work. Centrally located between Phoenix and Tucson, it was the perfect place for Youth Haven's "Desert Ranch" to begin!
In 1997, Larry and Cheri's son Lars and his wife Amy felt God's calling on their lives and joined Youth Haven's staff team. Larry retired from his position as President in 2016, and Lars stepped into that role as a third generation ministry leader.
As we look toward Youth Haven's 50th anniversary in 2018, we see how faithful God has been, and how much has been accomplished through the support of our financial partners, prayer warriors, volunteers, and ministry staff. Youth Haven now provides approximately 3,000 scholarships for disadvantaged children to attend our programs each year! But for us, this is just the beginning. We know God has so much more in store, and we are earnestly seeking His guidance as we look for ways to reach even more children with the Gospel message!