By Zachary Bankston
Jessica Long is a jovial, 18-year-old La Grande High School graduating senior with a bright future. Four years ago she was on the verge of adolescent rebellion. "I was running with the wrong crowd; I was starting to get into trouble," she said.
So how did Long get things together? What helped her straighten out her act?
"My faith in God and the guidance I received at the J House," she said.
Located across from the high school on the corner of Second Street and J Avenue, the J House provides a safe place for teens while stressing a personal relationship with God.
The non-profit organization is run by Eastern Oregon Youth for Christ and is backed by six churches and numerous private donors. It is driven by active Christians who want to help young people grow in their faith.
"I can really be myself here," said Long. "I have made a lot of great friends and have grown spiritually."
Along with providing a lunchtime haven, the J House offers many other activities and religious opportunities for teens.
Campus Life, on Monday and Tuesday nights, is an evangelical program aimed at high school and middle school students. Campus Life is a division of Youth For Christ, an international outreach organization.
"I really like Campus Life, it draws people in that normally would not go to church," Long said.
Wednesday morning is the Breakfast Club. At 7:20, the students pile into the J House for breakfast, cooked by staff and board members, and then study their Bibles. J-House also takes the kids roller-skating, bowling, sledding, to Christian concerts and on mission trips.
Long has seen the Christian band News Boys live in concert in the Tri-Cities and went to Mexico in 2001. She said, "The Mexico trip was life-changing; it opened my eyes to see how the rest of the world lives."
Over the years, J House has gone through many changes and Long has seen them from the beginning. The house and property were refurbished and, "one day it had an Â‘open' sign in it," so she and some friends decided to check it out, she said. Immediately Long felt safe and accepted.
"I liked it, the people were personal and very friendly."
The J House has seen some changes in leadership. Three different executive directors have led Eastern Oregon's YFC headquarters, each leaving an impression on Long. "They are all very special people," she said.
The first two directors, Dan Mielke and Glenn Leslie, remain active in youth ministries, and Long says she still stays in contact with them.
Cally Goss is the current director of J House, and she receives high praise from Long who says she has known Goss her whole life and considers her a second mom.
"Cally is awesome," she said. "She really is doing a great job."
Long's frequent use of J House has earned her the title of number-one customer, according to Goss. "She is at almost all of our activities and has really become a great role-model."
This year, during spring break, students from J House went to Mexico again. They built three houses in San Luis.
"It was a chance to grow in their relationship with the Lord as they served others," said Goss.
One thing that kept Long coming back to J House was her relationship with people like Goss. "I like all of the staff," she said cheerfully. "I know the majority of them personally and feel comfortable talking with them."
The staff members are adult and college-aged volunteers who take on the role of building relationships with the teens and focus on giving them an accurate portrayal of faith in action.
Long said, "They have an honest love for God and have a genuine relationship with Him. They're not just talking the talk, they are walking the walk. And it starts at the top with Cally."
Another reason Long frequented the house was the spiritual growth that she says helped her to reinforce and reaffirm her relationship with the Lord.
"I've learned a lot of social skills and ways to deal with daily issues as a Christian here," she said.
Long also benefits from Student Leadership, a group started by Goss that consists of J House regulars who wish to develop their ability to reach out to their peers.
"The great thing about our student leaders is that they represent a variety of churches," said Goss. "We are unified with diversity," she added.
The skills Long has learned from Student Leadership have taught her ways to share her faith with others. The student leaders are always looking for outreach opportunities.
Would Long be different had she not visited J House four years ago?
"Oh yes," she said without a doubt. "I remember my freshman year; I was on shaky ground. But the J-House helped me make the right decisions and deal with everyday problems."
She claimed that without the positive influences she received from people there, she might not have come back to knowing Christ.
Long believes that she knows how to help people in difficult situations due to communication skills she has acquired from J House clubs.
"People need to be approached with love and patience," she said. A major factor that contributes to Long's view of others was a four-week study she participated in last year. "We learned about family, friends and marriage from a Godly perspective," she said.
As a Christian, Long found a sense of belonging at J House and enjoyed herself along the way. Youth from all around the area come in to hang out, see their friends and play games.
"It's a place we have fun at, make friends and grow in the Lord," she said.
"My parents think the J House is a good influence on me, and I would have to agree," mentioned Long.
"They like it when I'm here; they think it's better than being off getting into trouble."
Five years down the road, Long knows she will remember the Mexico mission trip, her ties with her J House pals and especially Goss.
Long refers to J House as a stepping-stone for spiritual growth and recommends that other kids her age check out some of the activities.
"They should come to Campus Life on Monday nights; we have a blast. There are a lot of kids there, and it's a great way to meet people," she said.
Long praises J House and the staff for their constructive influences. She said, "My life has been changed by my experiences at the J House. Without them, I would not be who I am today."
About the author: Zachary Bankston is a junior majoring in English at Eastern Oregon University. He graduated from Lewis and Clark High School in Spokane in 1999. He has been a volunteer at Eastern Oregon Youth For Christ's J House for more than a year.