Bekah TenBrink, the heart behind the program, moved to Suttons Bay from San Diego, CA, with her husband and saw a desperate need for an after-school program.
The youth in Suttons Bay had nowhere to go and no place to hang after school. While the teens were hanging out at the ice rink that winter, Gerald, Bekah's husband, would go out and offer pizza, snacks, and his hockey playing ability. It was obvious there was a massive gap in the young adult programming and it desperately needed a leader.
And wow, was she the woman for the job.
The LIFT program has grown exponentially in the last few years, and we owe it to our amazing director and co-director, as well as every other staff member, volunteer, and donor who has supported us along the way.
Initially, Bekah and Gerald hosted teens at their house in Suttons Bay, but after they learned their family was growing with a baby on the way, it was time to find a permanent home. The Friendship Community Center (FCC) in Suttons Bay graciously offered their basement as the home base, and Bekah knew it was destined to be a teen center.
Since 2020, the FCC has been the LIFT Teen Center and has helped the program cultivate meaningful relationships, show guest speakers, set up field trips, and serve as an open hangout space for youth.
Our mission is to, "empower Leelanau County's youth to discover and embrace their strengths to become kind leaders by investing in their evolution, autonomy, and character."
"We want to bring the world to them in a way that they wouldn't be exposed to otherwise," says Bekah.
Now, five years later, the LIFT Youth Program has expanded into a partnership with Suttons Bay High School for a permanent Middle School Program three days a week and events for High Schoolers throughout the year. We hope to expand to all five counties in Leelanau, MI, and start our Elementary Programming with Suttons Bay in the coming years.
The LIFT team isn't shy about supporting the youth in the community either. We can be seen at football games, volleyball tournaments, and high school dance chaperones.
"It is a real privilege to be around youth. [I think] we lose sight of that, and we become hyper-focused on what they [the students] need to learn instead of what we have to learn, and they have so much to teach us", says Audrey Sharp, another brilliant mind behind this program's success.
"I love watching the excitement and belonging that flows out of the kids when it clicks, and they learn that they have a place with us," says Bekah. "Youth today need mentorship and belonging; that's what we are here to give them."
Anyone interested in attending the program or learning more about our impact can click here. In addition, we are always looking for volunteers to join us on our journey to empower our community's youth. Do you need a reason to volunteer? Click here and read our blog post on why you should.
As always, we appreciate all community support. If you're interested in donating, you can click here.