As the tire-on-gravel crunching comes to a halt and the van doors burst open, the inviting fresh, cool breeze hits Graham’s face. He inhales the familiar smell of pine, as memories of past adventures reinvigorate his excitement. Even as the youth spill out of the van, it feels quiet. They are suddenly too focused on adventure prep to chitchat. Bikes get unloaded and checked. Elbow pads, knee pads, goggles, helmet — checked. A couple of snacks are stuffed into an empty pocket. The perfect entanglement of eager anticipation, nervousness and delight reverberates through their bodies. It’s time to ride.

“Bike Santa” was the name endearingly bestowed on Youth Unlimited youth worker, Graham Goertzen a decade ago, thanks to his iconic long white beard and his youth biking program. He runs Mountain Life, a YU program where youth ages 12 to 25 are taken skiing, snowboarding or mountain biking during the available seasons. He also supports the school’s “Take A Hike” program. Most kids first come for YU’s adventure and skill-building opportunities, but stay for the relationship-building mentorship that enhances their lives.



           Liam and Callum are two such youth. They met Graham at John Oliver Secondary in Vancouver in 2017. While they do not share the same vulnerabilities that some of Graham’s youth face, these teens have their own struggles to overcome. Enhanced opportunities for mountain biking and support from a healthy adult has been a huge boost — especially during the pandemic.

“A lot of my friends and I were not really sure what to do,” says Callum. “We can’t exactly have a social life outside of school due to Covid-19. With no indoor gatherings, a lot of people turned to the outdoors so

Snowboarding at Mounr Seymour for Mountain Life

they could still interact with others and not go insane cooped up indoors.”
           Mental health has been a popular conversation among YU youth for years, but the near year-long, varied, distancing measures have inevitably put the mental health of all youth at risk. This isolation is an increasing threat to lives across Canada. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, Canada’s youth suicide rate is the third highest in the industrialized world. The pandemic has only served to exacerbate this.
           Through Mountain Life, youth like Callum and Liam have had some reprieve from isolation and being sedentary, as Graham adapts the programs to satisfy restrictions. Like all YU workers, Graham pushes forward, making opportunities available for youth wherever possible. Now, more than ever, youth need outdoor outlets, creative expression and enriching human relationships.
           “Personally, I’ve found mountain biking to be a good platform for creativity,” says Liam. “It’s like the way you dress, or the way you ride: it can be unique. From the style of riding down the trail, to the way you set up your bike, every part uses your creativity. There won’t be any two people who ride something the same.”

These outlets are critical for boys like Liam and Callum. As young men nearing adulthood, they and their peers carry many anxiety-driven concerns.
          “Many people my age have developed a lot of stress,” Liam admits. “The amount of uncertainty towards the modified school system, university admissions, maintaining grades, among other personal things can carry a lot of weight — especially in our graduation year. That’s topped off with the decision around what to do after high school.”

          Research shows that higher levels of physical activity leads to greater self-esteem, determination to overcome obstacles, and general life satisfaction. It’s also associated with fewer mental health issues, reduced smartphone addiction and decreased odds for depression.

“When we’re together hiking up the mountain, they open up,” says Graham. “Normaly Liam doesn’t say much, but when we ride he’s a chatterbox.”

These honest and rewarding conversations are enabled by experiencing the safe oasis of the mountain. “When you’re on the mountain you don’t have any responsibilities or anything else to worry about,” says Callum. “You can just focus on being present in the moment.
          In addition to providing youth with mountain adventures, Graham runs formal and informal bike repair and maintenance training. There he invests in not only teaching bike maintenance and problemsolving, but he also mentors youth, helping them prepare for adulthood — wherever their starting point is.
          “Graham is a great dude,” says Callum. “He is both a mentor and a friend. He is always there for you and willing to help or do whatever to support you.”

Furthest to closest: Callum, Liam and Graham riding in Delta Watershed Park


This December, 154 incredible people took to their backyards, decks and fields to sleep outside for one night to help vulnerable youth. That night was called YUnite Outside. Over 1,000 generous people supported these sleepers financially to collectively help homeless and vulnerable youth. On December 11th, sleepers joined us virtually to learn and to share their own stories. We are deeply grateful for this life-changing support. We hope to have many more people join us in 2021. It’s an incredible experience!




An engaged and supportive company in Langley, Caliber Projects, stepped up this Christmas to provide gifts and supplies to some of our youth in the direst financial straits. Our kids and their guardians were overcome with joy and gratitude at this unexpected generosity and boost of encouragement. Thank you Caliber!


Twenty-twenty marked 75 years since Youth Unlimited’s inception (established as Youth For Christ). While we had initially hoped to celebrate in person in 2020, we instead launched a website with stories and photos from these last few eras to show how YU has been serving, supporting and loving youth for seven decades. God has been so good to us and our youth, and we are in awe of his transformational work. Check it out and celebrate with us. The site will continue to be updated:











In my early 20’s I worked as a camp counselor in Manitoba. As part of our prep for the coming onslaught of wild and wonderful teenagers we were told to spend an entire day, by ourselves, in nature. We were instructed to not speak to anyone for eight whole hours. For me, this was an impossible task. I thought I would die.

Thirty years later and I absolutely love spending time alone in nature. I live at the base of Mt. Seymour, a sacred place for me. Almost every day with great joy, I walk, hike, bike or snowboard in connection with the Creator.

There is a Japanese practice called shinrin-yoku. Shinrin means “forest,” and yoku means “bath.” Shinrin-yoku means bathing in the forest atmosphere; immersing one’s self in the bountiful mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual benefits of nature.

Regardless of whether you believe in God or not, it is undeniable that we are wired for connection with the natural world. Some folks will even travel thousands of kilometers to come here to bathe in it.

One of our programs, Mountain Life, is designed to make this connection with our youth and the impact is undeniable. Years ago, one of our street-entrenched youth joined the Mountain Life group for a day of skiing and snowboarding on Mt. Seymour. Even though he could see the mountains from where he lived, he had never been on a mountain before. One of our staff spotted him stuffing pine needles and cones in his jacket pockets and asked him what he was doing. He responded, “I want something to remind me that there is life outside my hood.”

“So you’ll go out in joy, you’ll be led into a whole and complete life.
The mountains and hills will lead the parade, bursting with song.
All the trees of the forest will join the procession, exuberant with applause.
No more thistles, but giant sequoias, no more thorn bushes, but stately pines —
Monuments to me, to God, living and lasting evidence of God.”
       — Isaiah 55:12

At YU, we provide opportunities for vulnerable youth to become whole through life-changing experiences with God in nature. I wish you could see the joy on their faces.

Mark Koop




Executive Director