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History Highlight: the Beginning

Children at Youth Haven in the Early Years

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 was officially incorporated in 1968. That same summer, Morry and Dorothy's son Larry was married. He and his wife Cheri moved into a small attic apartment on the property in order to help with program design, hands-on construction, and ministry promotion.

Larry was appointed President in the early 70's and, along with his parents, began to lead the ministry into all God had planned for this special place. It would include weekend and summer camp programs, 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 almost every week throughout the year.

Only God knows how many lives have been changed since He laid the foundation for a place called Youth Haven 50 years ago!

(Click on the photos below to see a larger view with description.)


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