Hi, my name is Chuck Russell and as the Executive Director of Bethlehem Youth Ministries (BYM), I would like to share a brief history of what has led me to start this nonprofit (501C3 tax-exempt) organization in 2012. To understand and gain insight into how BYM came to fruition, it is important to hear about some of my previous childhood, adolescent, and adult experiences.
I was raised in the inner city area of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania by my loving mom. I have two older siblings, my brother, and sister. I also had a younger brother of two years who died as an infant. About two years after his death, I was 4 years old. It was at this time that my biological father left home and abandoned all of us leaving my mom to raise three children without financial support or a high school education.
Shortly after my father left us, my older brother began having behavior problems to the point where the guidance counselor suggested to my mom that he be placed in a boy’s home. With some resistance and then feeling as though it was best for him at that time, my mom placed him in a boy’s home and spent about six years visiting him there often on weekends. My mom's hope was that with proper structure, guidance, and loving support, he would have a better opportunity to succeed in life. Today, he totally understands why being placed in the boy’s home was necessary at the time and is grateful for the decision that my mom made to give him a better life opportunity for himself as well as his own family.
During my early childhood, I did not have a father figure. The closest positive role models in my life were a few different fathers in the neighborhood. They invested their time by interacting with me through sports activities, inviting me to family dinners, amusement parks, and camping, etc.
At the age of nine, I learned firsthand how to have compassion and serve others in need when my mom opened up her two-bedroom home to a homeless family of five (mother and four teenagers) for approximately one year. About one year later, my mom again opened her home to another homeless family. This time, it was to my Aunt and five cousins (three children and two teenagers).
Many years later, when I was just out of high school and in my first year of college, my older sister gave birth to her first and only child. I took a major interest and invested valuable time in the life of my fatherless nephew. For sixteen years, I did the best I could to remain involved in his life without having any experience as a father. I tried to help her raise him until he went to college. I also accepted the responsibility to serve as a foster parent of his for a short period of time. He moved into at least 15 different homes and 6 different school districts before he turned 18 years old. God placed many people in my life who were instrumental in helping me steer my nephew through many obstacles that he was faced with and helped create opportunities in his life. Although I could not control all of the changes that he encountered, I believe the Lord knew I could provide stability and consistency as an Uncle until he was old enough to be on his own in college.
Hereafter, I redirected my time and energy to serve the Lord in a new capacity consisting of many church ministries which included four short-term youth sports mission trips to the Dominican Republic between 2007 and 2017. The primary focus of the visits was to share the love of Jesus Christ in poverty-stricken neighborhoods. This took place through coordinating baseball clinics, feeding families in various villages and visiting orphanages. With this memorable experience, I observed many children and families suffering in deplorable living conditions.
Several years ago, I worked at a children's home as a Recreation Specialist which has caused me to frequently revisit my own childhood experiences. I currently work as a PSR (Psychosocial Rehabilitation Specialist) working with individuals who need assistance with vocational, independent living, and social skills. Some of these individuals that I previously worked with have been homeless and were able to stay with a family member until able to find a job or affordable housing.
I believe that with a combination of these life experiences, I have been called to start Bethlehem Youth Ministries as an avenue where youth will be given the opportunity to engage, relate, and connect socially in the community as well as develop Christian values as they enhance life skills and build characteristics to thrive in a constantly changing world.
Ephesians 5: 1, 2 "Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God."
In His Service