A Toronto charity with bold claims about reducing youth crime is partnering with volunteers from the Winnipeg Police Service and two Blue Bombers to run lunch-time sport and mentoring programs at several inner-city schools.
More than 100 children at Hugh John Macdonald Junior High School gave a raucous reception at lunch-time Tuesday to 4 Life Foundation founder and executive director Peter Karl Youngren.
Youngren said members of his team will work with local volunteers to organize weekly lunch-time sport programs at Hugh John Macdonald and at five other inner-city schools.
Mayor Sam Katz, police Chief Devon Clunis and area MLA Kevin Chief, who were at the school event, applauded the program as an excellent example of a community partnership that can make a difference in children's lives.
"We have worked with tens of thousands of kids across Canada," Youngren said, adding he was grateful for the support and commitment of local organizers.
The 4 Life Foundation was registered as a charitable organization in September 2009, offering at-risk and disadvantaged middle school and high school students in-school and after-school mentoring and sport programs to divert them away from crime.
The sport and recreational programs are varied, including basketball, floor hockey, dancing, DJ competitions and life skills.
On its website (4lifefoundation.ca) and in brochures distributed Tuesday at the school, the organization states it is working with more than 26 schools in Toronto and has reduced crime, absenteeism and suspension among students at those schools.
The Toronto District School Board and the Toronto Catholic District School Board are listed as partners on the website. However, a spokeswoman for the Toronto Catholic board said 4 Life Foundation doesn't have a formal partnership with the board and questioned its claims of reducing crime among students.
"That sounds like a bit of a stretch," Mary Walker, communications supervisor of the Toronto Catholic board, said. "Philosophically, what they're doing is great but I don't know if I'd be comfortable with them laying claim that they've somehow reduced our suspensions. I don't think they've been in our schools enough."
A 4 Life Foundation brochure distributed at the school states it needs financial donations to support its programming: "Every dollar donated to the 4 Life Foundation helps another senior, a mother, a father, a son, a daughter, a brother, and a sister. With your support, we can continue to make a difference and change more lives."
Youngren said he is not a paid employee of the foundation. A former evangelical pastor, Youngren said he is no longer involved in church work and is now a consultant.
Youngren told the Free Press his foundation team works with local volunters in Toronto, Alberta and B.C., setting up programming that local volunteers operate.
Youngren told the inner-city students he understands the situations they face because he had a difficult upbringing.
"A lot of people go to homes in tough situations, I know a lot of you do and I want to share something about my life," said Youngren, who is the son of Canada's most prominent, wealthy and powerful Christian evangelical pastor, Peter Youngren. "I would go home to a tough situation and sometimes I can feel like there is no adult who cares about me."
The foundation was invited to Winnipeg as a result of a sporting connection: Youngren's brother-in-law is a former Toronto Argonaut who is close friends with Blue Bomber Chris Cvetkovic. When Cvetkovic heard of the success of the foundation, he contacted his friend, WPS Sgt. Danny Boyko, who got approval to set up local programming here and invited Youngren and his team to help.
Boyko said more than 100 police officers and cadets have agreed to give up their lunch hours to volunteer in the sport and mentoring programs at the six schools. He expects more officers to join the program.
Cvetkovic, and fellow Bomber Pierre Luc Labbe, have agreed to volunteer three days a week, alternating through the six schools, playing sports and every once in a while talking about problems the students face on a daily basis.
Youngren said the foundation doesn't provide financial support to the volunteers but added donations the foundation receives go toward developing programming at the local level.
4 Life Foundation
Offers after-school and in-school mentoring and sport programs to disadvantaged students, claiming it is "one of the largest anti-violence youth-mentorship programs in Canada."
Peter Karl Youngren is identified as founder, chairman of the board and executive director.
Foundation's website says its success relies on the "generosity of people like you who give of their time, resources and finances towards our vision."
Data contained in the Registered Charity Information Returns filed with Canada Revenue Agency show 4 Life Foundation had total revenue in 2011 of $44,836, but $42,100 came from government grants and only $2,625 in receipted donations.
Total revenue in 2010 was $43,325, with $42,245 from government grants, and $1,080 in receipted donations.
The major expense in 2010 and 2011 was the salary of about $36,000 paid to one employee.
The 4 Life Foundation website boasts it has been working with students in Toronto for several years but a review of the electronic databases of all major and weekly newspapers going back five years found only one reference to Peter Karl Youngren and 4 Life, an appearance last month at a Catholic high school in North York.
Peter Karl Youngren ran for a seat on Toronto city council in 2010, attracting 40 per cent of the vote. Later, Toronto's budget committee ordered an audit of his campaign expenses.
Peter Karl Youngren is the son of Peter Youngren, Canada's most prominent evangelical, who lives in St. Catharines, Ont., where he is pastor of the Celebration church he founded.
Peter Youngren is founder of World Impact Ministries, which focuses on international evangelical work.
Peter Youngren stages evangelical festivals across Canada, the U.S. and more than 80 countries, where it's alleged he performs faith healing, curing illnesses, including blindness.
Youngren's website (peteryoungren.org), claims he has attracted up to 600,000 people to a single service.
Peter Youngren founded Celebration Bible College and the World Impact Bible Institute.
In 2009, World Impact Ministries bought Christian TV and later rebranded it to Grace TV, Canada's largest Christian television network.
Winnipeg Pastor Mark Hughes of the Church of the Rock, writing about marriage and divorce in his blog in 2011 wrote, "Canadian evangelist/pastor Peter Youngren is getting married for the third time and that does not include the mother of his illegitimate child.How does one justify any of this?"
In 2000, Peter Youngren and Peter Karl Youngren founded the Toronto International Celebration Church, which they co-pastored until 2009, when Peter Karl Youngren left the church.