Youth minister fosters community and service in Ambridge teens

Youth minister fosters community and service in Ambridge teens

Keenan Baker poses with teen mentees in the YoungLife program.

Silverware clangs against dishes.

The sound of chatter fills the cavernous fellowship hall of Good Samaritan Parish in Ambridge, Pennsylvania, as teen boys push around carts stacked high with plates of pasta, desserts and beverages.

A tall man in a bright red shirt moves about the crowd, personally greeting each diner.

Keenan Baker has been planning this spaghetti dinner fundraiser to benefit the teens in his youth group for months.

Born and raised in the Ambridge community, Baker serves as a Staff Associate for the Ambridge chapter of YoungLife, a religion-based organization that aims to spread Christian faith to teens and children in communities around the world, according to the organization’s website.

Despite the Christian faith focused mission, Baker does not consider the organization a church group, but rather a non-denominational group that reaches kids in a safe place and teaches them about service.

A banner advertising YoungLife drop-in sessions hangs in the entrance of Good Samaritan Parish in Ambridge, Pennsylvania.

Through the YoungLife organization, Baker operates an after-school drop-in program for teens in the local Ambridge community. The group also plans to offer expanded club and summer camp programs in the future. In addition to YoungLife, Baker also serves as the assistant varsity basketball coach for Ambridge Area High School, from which he graduated in 2015.

“The roles I have in the community are just bringing kids together to a safe place, providing food, providing time to mentor them, and providing time to pray for them,” Baker said.

Before joining YoungLife, Baker began working in the community after starting an online ministry on Facebook in 2021.

“God put on my heart that I need to do more, step out on faith, be there for others more,” Baker said. “But I didn’t know exactly what that was.”

Baker began praying for people in need during Facebook Live sessions, and quickly grew a large following on his personal page.

Keenan Baker chats with community members dining at the spaghetti dinner fundraiser Feb. 6 at Good Samaritan Parish.

“It started growing, more people were following, more people were trying to see what was going on,” Baker said. “And it just kinda just blew up real big.”

Through his ministry, Baker organized a community picnic in Ambridge in July 2021 to spread his message and raise support for his work. YoungLife approached him in September and offered him the position of Staff Associate, Baker said.

“When I took the position with YoungLife, I already had a bunch of people who already believed in me, from stepping out on faith,” Baker said.

Although Baker serves as the leader of the group, a staff of volunteers helps him manage the daily operations and programs.

Matt Puppich, a volunteer leader at YoungLife, said teens in the program look up to Baker and other volunteers as mentors.

“I was like, I have to do this, this just felt right.”

Matt Puppich

“They need something to really keep their minds right, to keep their souls filled, and just have that person to really look into, look up to,” Puppich said.

Matt Puppich and Keenan Baker deliver a speech to attendees at the spaghetti dinner fundraising event Feb. 6.

Puppich first met Baker in high school, where they played basketball together. The two did not see each other much after graduation, but when Puppich learned Baker began working with the YoungLife program, he had to get involved.

“I was like I have to do this, this just felt right,” Puppich said.

Although he has only been volunteering under Baker’s leadership since January, Puppich feels that he has made a connection with the teens in the program and felt blessed that he was able to be a part of the spaghetti dinner fundraiser.

The dinner, held Feb. 6 to raise the funds needed to send teens in the program to a summer camp in Rockbridge County, Virginia, consisted of a pasta meal, dessert bar and raffle. Puppich said the high attendance at dinner is an example of how well the public has reacted to YoungLife and Baker’s work in the community.

“I think the response has been just unbelievable.”

Keenan Baker

“We knew it was gonna be a great turnout, we seen all the people and it really puts perspective on what the Lord is capable of,” Puppich said. “This community is coming out here for these kids, and it’s really awesome to see.”

Baker said he has also seen a positive response from the public since he began his work and believes the community wants his organization to succeed. He expressed gratitude for the opportunity to have an office, game room and steady supply of support for his program from the community.

“I think the response has been just unbelievable,” Baker said.

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