Andrew Held decided to devote his life to youth outreach after witnessing two troubling incidents in Bloomington during 2011.
Shots rang out as Held, then 27, left a community meeting at the former Jesus House in West Bloomington, leaving one community member injured and the victim's son traumatized. Two weeks later as he left the same place, he saw a guy running up to shoot a group of teens on a street nearby.
After witnessing those two events and others like it, Held decided that it would become his job to step up and take teens in the area under his wing. Held made it his duty to become the mentor that he never had.
In 2017, he became leader of a program called City Life Bloomington, with a goal to transform the lives of urban youth. He was recently named the new interim executive director of Western Avenue Community Center.
“I thought about how I didn't have an adult mentor in my life, when I was growing up, to help me through my struggles,” Held said. “When I moved Bloomington, me and my wife saw the need to help teens so we began serving and it just evolved to where it is today.”
Held is the director of City Life, a Christian ministry that engages 11 to 19-year-olds who are at risk in urban settings through weekly interaction with adults and peers.
“The goal is to first get to know them, and it can take a while because there's lots of walls put up since we’re talking with teens that have been let down,” Held said.
“Then we engage them in authentic Christ-sharing relationships by supporting them in spirituality, civil success, basic health and their endeavors overall. We want to walk through life with them, so if that means going to football games or tutoring, then we're going to do it. The time spent makes a difference,” he said.
Relationships with Law Enforcement
With his platform, Held has helped bridge the gap between black and brown communities and law enforcement.
“For black culture, yes there have been some negative things done in the past, but I don't believe that’s every police officer. I started reaching out to our police department. The assistant chief came out to meet the kids and we began building the relationship from there,” Held said.
Today he is acknowledged by the McLean County state’s attorney and Bloomington Police as one of the most successful youth outreach ministers.
“We wanted the officers to continue coming so the kids could see them as human beings who are here to protect and serve and let the kids know they don't want to send them to jail,” he said.
Held’s wife says they’ve taken in so many boys that she feels they have their own football team.
“There are quite a few teens that come to the house, eat all of our food, and spend time with us. When they open up and share their dreams and struggles, we become close and go from watching their football or soccer games to seeing them graduate,” he said.
“We pour into their lives as they pour into ours and that's the goal, not to be surfacing but to really build the relationship. We have quite a lot of awesome young men in our lives.”
New Position In Bloomington
Held was recently named the new interim executive director at Western Avenue Community Center as the former director, Amy Cottone, retires. With the new position he intends to keep up its reputation as a landmark where teens come for fun and support.
“One of our goals at City Life was to partner with a community center, and Western Avenue was the perfect fit. It has a rich history, many of the adults I know today have said, ‘Hey, I used to go there all the time as a kid,’ and it’s served in our community for years,” Held said.
Held began his journey with Western Avenue as a board member. Later he transitioned to assistant director.
“I’m grateful for the position and I’m aiming to really focus on that 11 to 19-year-old age range. If we can walk with a kid from kindergarten to 19, that’s a win for us because it means there will be a lot of positive influences in his life.”
Ultimately "my prayer is that lives get changed," Held said.
"I want to build great leaders and I want the leadership to go beyond our community,” he said.
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