Vandergrift man uses family knowledge to connect with Kiski Area youths
Editor’s note: This is part of an occasional series that features Alle-Kiski Valley residents and the notable things that they do.
Joshua Westurn of Vandergrift is following in his father’s footsteps by helping local youths.
He credits his upbringing with being able to lead the Kiski Area Youth Network the past three years.
“I always turn to my dad for wisdom because, more often than not, he’s ‘been there,’ ” Westurn said. “He’s dealt with the highs and lows that come along with working closely with other people.”
His father, John Westurn, was pastor of Five Oaks Church in Woodbury, Minn. for 15 years. He’s now the pastor of Pathways Church in Beaver Falls.
“Some of the things my dad passed down to me are that you really just want to love other people,” Westurn said. “My dad always put his family first. It was God, our family then work, and it kind of flowed together. My dad was always high energy, always put us first. And that’s what I would love to embody as well.”
Westurn, 26, grew up in Cottage Grove, Minn. with his father, mother, Michele and two sisters, Michele and Rachel. The family moved to Pennsylvania from Minnesota when he was 16 years old.
“Besides it being a little bit cold, it’s awesome,” Westurn said about Minnesota. “A lot of our family and family friends are out there. I kind of grew up in a church setting, going to conferences, camps, youth groups, Bible studies; you name it, I’ve been a part of it. To give a chance to offer that to the students, getting them plugged in, is extremely fulfilling.”
Westurn graduated from Beaver Area High School in 2010.
He went on to earn a bachelor’s in psychology and minor in student ministry from Geneva College in 2014.
A short time later, he married Amanda, a pediatric registered nurse, and moved to Washington State to become a pastor at Liberty Lake Church in Spokane County. They moved back to Pennsylvania after three years and have a daughter, Julia.
Youth network director
The Kiski Area Youth Network is a Christian-based nonprofit designed to connect students with other youths, their community and Christ. Between 30 to 40 youths participate regularly in its events and community service projects.
“It’s awesome,” Westurn said. “I love getting a chance to work personally with other people, especially with students — just a lot of fun.”
The organization has held kayak and canoe trips in Saltsburg, and brought high schoolers to other special events such as the Alive Music Festival in Atwood Lake Park in Ohio. The three-day festival features lots of Christian artists.
The Vandergrift Public Library partnered with Kiski Area Youth Network to offer an after-hours program the second Friday of the month so people can gather, play games and fellowship.
The youth group meets Thursday evenings at Kiski Valley YMCA for a similar get-together called Impact.
Working with youths lends a hint of nostalgia to Westurn.
“I think back to when I was in high school, there were a handful of people who had a very high impact on my life,” he said. “They gave me an ear when I needed it. There were a lot of activities I got plugged into and ended up meeting other people through that. It really pushed me in a direction to work with students.”
Kiski Area Youth Network’s latest major project is the proposed redevelopment of the old Vandergfift senior center at 306 Spruce St.
Organizers want to build a 10,000-square-foot youth center with two floors, a two-lane bowling alley, office and meeting spaces, a game room and other amenities.
Westurn said the project involves stripping everything down to the foundation and rebuilding it.
Estimated cost is $500,000. So far they collected about $125,000 through its Huddle Up fundraising campaign.
“It’s a massing undertaking, is what it is,” Westurn said. “There’s no reasonable explanation why a group of people would come together and try to raise $500,000 for an old broken down building, but we believe this is what God has planned for this community and for this area.
“We want this to be something that’s not around for a couple more years. We want the next generation of students to get a chance to be a part of this building. We want them to take ownership of it and take pride in it. … This is somewhere they can be proud to hang out and spend time and be safe.”
It’s unclear when the project would be complete.
More information about the youth network, including how to donate to the youth center project is available at kayn.org.
Michael DiVittorio is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Michael at 412-871-2367, [email protected] or via Twitter .