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Pittsburgh Kids Foundation members to reunite at Laurelville

| Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
School-aged students take part in the 'Mud Weekends' offered by Pittsburgh Kids Foundation at Laurelville Mennonite Church Center in Mt. Pleasant Township.
The official logo of the 'Mud Weekends' event offered by Pittsburgh Kids Foundation at Laurelville Mennonite Church Center in Mt. Pleasant Township.

Mud helped make Mark Williams the man he is today.

Since he was a student at Marshall Middle School in the North Allegheny School District in the 1990s, Williams has been a participant in what are known by many as the Pittsburgh Kids Foundation's “Mud Weekends” at Laurelville Mennonite Church Center in Mt. Pleasant Township.

In 1964, the foundation began offering the outings to children and teenagers at the bucolic center.

“Back then, the PKF was called the Pittsburgh Youth Network, and I eventually got involved growing up as a member of Orchard Hill Church,” Williams said.

The “Mud Weekends” there, which traditionally take place throughout November, feature myriad outdoor games which leave students' clothes in need of a good wash and their spirits prepared to learn of Jesus Christ, Williams said.

“It quickly would change from one of most fun times to one of the most meaningful times,” he said.

After graduating from North Allegheny in 1997, Williams earned a degree in elementary education from Wheaton College near Chicago in 2001.

From there, Williams worked as a counselor of inner city youth in the Windy City before returning to the area to work with the same demographic at St. Stephen's Church in Sewickley, Allegheny County. He then worked in a similar capacity for the Pittsburgh Project, a nonprofit community development corporation.

All the while, Williams said he always made time for “Mud Weekends” at Laurelville with the foundation, where he currently serves as director of urban ministry.

“For most of those summers and a lot of those falls, I'd still work with PKF to help lead worship,” Williams said.

On Friday and Saturday, Williams will again join many others who have experienced “Mud Weekends” at the center over the past five decades.

At that time, the foundation's celebrates its nearly five-decade pact with staff there to provide such outlets for middle schoolers and high schoolers throughout the tri-state area.

“It's certainly been a fabulous partnership for Laurelville and for the Pittsburgh Kids Foundation,” said the Rev. Michael Yoder, the center's executive director.

Brad Henderson, the foundation's president, has been attending the weekends at Laurelville for the past 28 years, and has directed the weekends annually since 2001.

“Laurelville is a beautiful place,” Henderson said. “They have been phenomenal to work with over the years.”

Periodically, the staff at Laurelville will “stir up the mud” there in preparation for the annual event, Yoder said. This summer's heavy rains helped that process, he added.

“It's a fun part of the weekend and obviously the most long-term impact to come with the Bible studies,” Yoder said. “But the mud, it's certainly something to watch. We're certainly delighted to host and serve these kids; it's a collaboration we hope goes on for another 50 years.”

For registration information, contact Christa Demi, the foundation's director of finance, at 724-272-3744 or via email at

“We'd love to see a great turnout for this event,” Demi said.

A.J. Panian is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-547-5722 or