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Like many city school districts around the nation, Pittsburgh City Schools are on a lottery system, which means kids can apply to a different public school than the one in their district area. Young Life leaders in a given community can do contact work in a neighborhood and meet kids who attend schools all over the city.

Doing contact work at dismissal is pretty universally utilized by Young Life leaders across the board and is still effective in the city. However, trying to find alternative places where critical masses of students meet and hang out can pose a real challenge. Recently, I had the opportunity to brainstorm with some of our staff and leaders in the city about different means of contact work and going to where kids are as we attempted to think outside the box.

Someone brought up that they had noticed waves of high school kids after dismissal hanging around the Wood Street Subway Station, which serves as a main transportation hub for mass transit in the city with subway cars and multiple bus stops. We became more curious about what contact work would look like post-dismissal at the station. After deciding to see for ourselves, we fought through traffic and eventually found some parking spots near Wood Street. Two of our staff members, Sly Williams and Olivia Horner, were able to join me.

We walked down into the subway terminal and took a loop around. Discouragement was beginning to set in as we hadn’t seen any students at this point. Suddenly, we bumped into two kids. One student attended Taylor Allderdice and the other Perry Traditional Academy, the two schools that Sly and Olivia lead in. We were encouraged by this Spirit-led interaction! It re-confirmed the brilliance of the intent to “go where they are” and “meet them on their turf.”

We persevered, and as we began to meet more kids, we thought, “OK, this is not a bad option and can be somewhat useful.” Soon after, the subway car pulled up and 100 students poured out!

We were surrounded by high school and middle school kids:

We talked to them and realized while they were from schools all over the city, a vast majority of them attended Brashear High School. We do not have Young Life in Brashear High School currently.

Since that day, I have been praying and brainstorming about what it would take to get Young Life going there. The idea of being able to do contact work in the station with access to so many high school kids spurred imagination and excitement. The day was a huge success and sparked multiple conversations about hitting up other stations in town and strategic bus stops in the city. At one point Sly, Olivia and I rode the train down a few stops and popped out where we thought there might be other critical masses of students.

Stopping and thinking outside the box with our team was a thrill for all of us, and it helped us unlock and discover new and innovative ways to reach kids. We’ve now even begun discussions on what it would look like to run a club near the Wood Street station so all the kids would have access to transportation. This had been one of the most energizing times of contact work I can remember! It truly was the best 45-minute window of contact work I could imagine.


  1. Pray for the Lord to help you think in a different and creative manner about the kids He would like your team to reach. No idea is too far-fetched. Pray for a “God-sized” vision.

  2. Identify the challenges in your “context” to reaching students at school. Busing, district policies, scheduling issues, distance and more.

  3. Identify the opportunities or non-traditional and “out-of-the-box” ideas that could be available, like the Wood Street subway station opportunity.

    1. What could be a ripple effect of the ideas you’re discussing? (new schools, ministries, clubs)

    2. What could help us reach new kids, different kids?

    3. Are there any adjustments we would need to make as a team to ensure success? (Funding? Travel? Commitment for consistency? More volunteers?)

  4. Try Something! Land on an idea or two and try it. Give it several weeks. Be faithful and consistent.

  5. Measure/Debrief/Tweak what you tried. What worked? What didn’t? What should be changed? What next?

  6. Thank the Lord! You listened, you acted, and you were obedient. That is the heart of contact work!

Contact work is the most flexible, informal, innovative and creative thing we do. As we reach a new generation of students with immeasurable challenges, our “out-of-the-box” thinking should be vibrant. Try something! What could go wrong?

Written by: Mike Chilcoat