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Engineering to Youth Work: Embracing God's Unexpected Path

Host Chris Orme welcomes Greg Houldcroft, founder of Cross Town Impact, a ministry dedicated to serving at-risk youth. Greg shares his journey of faith and the challenges faced in establishing the organization. Cross Town Impact provides safe spaces for children, offering support and mentorship. Greg highlights lessons he's learned along the way especially for churches.

The following is a transcript of Season 8 Episode 2 of the Do Justice podcast.  It has been lightly edited for clarity.  Listen and subscribe on your favourite listening app.  

Chris: Well, hello friends, and welcome back to Do Justice. My name is Chris Orme. I'm your host and today really excited to be joined by Greg Houldcroft. Welcome, Greg.

Greg: Hi. How are you guys doing?

Chris: We're doing great. Greg, you are the founder and executive director of Cross Town Impact. It's an organization that works with at-risk youth. You're working in schools. You're really doing God's work. That's working with young people. That's a very, very special calling. Can you tell us a little bit about how you've been involved with working with youth over the years? Can you tell us a story about something that you learned the hard way when you first started in this work?

Greg: I was just reflecting this week, I was just looking at it and I've been going for 24 years now. I've been involved. Part of it, I would say, I was a little bit of a Jonah when it came to starting. God was calling and I was running and then finally I just decided: enough, I have to stop this running and start getting involved. So over the last 24 years I have been involved in community VBSs where we've reached hundreds of kids. We have a hundred kids in our VBSs. I did Christmas dramas with professional, high-end, everyone's mic’d Christmas shows with kids in the community. And then I was in the high school ministry for a long time – 15 years there. And then led international mission trips and then national to some of the indigenous, say, to the Montagnais in northern Quebec. And then I started with Impact Zones, which are after-school clubs for kids and also a youth program that runs for the downtown and the community. 

So it's been quite a run. It feels like we're just starting to get the wind beneath our wings – in a way of saying this – but just getting ready to continue to do what God has placed in my heart. And to work with children and youth, it's just incredible. And the favor that we've seen just in our area when it comes to the openness and the doors that have been open for us to have accessibility into the community, it's only God, you know what I mean? 

Chris: Yeah, sometimes we find ourselves in the middle of something that we're like, “How did we get here? How did this happen?” But I'm curious, Greg. It's hard to get something off the ground. What's a hard lesson that has popped up in this journey?

Greg: When we started out, I really wanted to go under an umbrella of another organization. So I remember meeting with Urban Promise and actually going down to New York and meeting with the directors there. And then they just said, “Greg. You're in Brockville. Our organization is called Urban Promise and you're not urban. You're in a town.” So they said, “We would support you,” but they said, “There's no way we could put our name in with that.” 

And then there was another organization that works with youth and they were having some trouble. And they were wavering within the community and they really wanted me to just take it over. But it wasn't gonna be a nice takeover, where you remove the executive director and then start going, right? So I just felt like I'm going, “Oh my goodness, how can we start a ministry that way?” 

And so, after exhausting all these things… And I know the church that I was involved with wanted me not to be involved. They wanted me to be separate because it was clouding up their books when it came to doing stuff. So we just decided to go on our own and I think that was – oh my goodness, that was probably the hardest thing because all of a sudden now you're starting something. Even getting your CRA approval to be able to become a registered charity. But all the paperwork, the documentation, the liability, the insurance, like, oh my goodness. It was crazy. And even when it came to insurance, I went to 5 insurance companies. Because I wanted to work with children and youth, a lot of them say, “You're not worth the liability,” and they wouldn't cover us. 

So I was really hitting some roadblocks in that aspect of trying to get this thing off the ground. And I'm always like walking around town going… I couldn't get by, it was almost a year and almost $3,000 or $5,000 into the CRA, working with this company. And, my wife just happened to run into a local Christian accountant and he said, “Have Greg drop by,” because I couldn't get by the numbers of making this work for the CRA to give me the okay. Honestly, I showed up to there, Brokshores – I'll just do a name-drop. But he sat with me and within two weeks, he had sorted everything out and we had gotten our approval to be a registered charity in the CRA. And then he went on to do our books for the last 14 years, pro bono, just as a blessing to us. It's just amazing how God is involved in getting this going.

Chris: So cool. And – a footnote for listeners in the United States – CRA is Canada Revenue Agency. CRA is like y'all's IRS and we like them just as much as you do. Thank you, CRA, for all your hard work. We appreciate you.

Greg: Yes, we love you guys. 

Chris: It's interesting, Greg. What I'm hearing you say is the vision is something really important to have and we need our visionary people, but we also need people who can help navigate the process toward the vision. Is that fair to say? Like sometimes we can have a vision. We want to do something. “I just want to work with youth.” And now you're doing accounting and insurance and tax stuff and charitable stuff. But I want to ask specifically, Greg, tell us about Cross Town. Tell us about Cross Town Impact. What is it?

Greg: Yeah, and it's something that we're always fighting against, just trying to raise awareness of what we're doing. A lot of people say, “Oh, I think it's that guy that works with kids or something.” But it's just… Yeah, when we started Cross Town Impact, honestly, there was a vision there. 

We wanted to go further than the arms of the church if that makes sense. So we wanted to go into where the church couldn't reach. We wanted to start something that we could work in a community, that would be a blessing. We wanted to work with children and youth and actually practically meet their needs, but at the same time inspire them, and teach them, and instill Christian character messages, and help equip them to make good life choices. And so it was something that when we started, yeah, we definitely had to have a vision of how this was going to look and how this was going to work. Especially when you're going into a secular environment to present that, you want to make sure that you're coming in with a vision or that what you're pitching is something that they're going to jump on board to. 

I know when I went in for my first… I went in to meet with the principal and I said – cause a lot of ministries I had seen would have to run their stuff off campus, so they would have to pick kids up and then take them to an off-site place and then run their stuff there. And I just kept going, “God, if we could just do the ministry at the school.” You know, bell rings, kids come out, and then we get to work with them. I was halfway through the conversation with the principal and she just looks at me and goes, “You know, we've got a double classroom upstairs.” I said it would be perfect. The kids could just leave from the bell. “Wednesday would be a great time for this to work. When can you start?” Right? And it was just like, everything that going in… After we talked about what we wanted to do, they were so excited about this. That's the crazy thing about this.

We started in that one school and then all of a sudden we got a call from another principal and another like down in Prescott. They heard about the program and they asked if we could come and bring the program to them. And that's word of mouth. We're at a spot right now with what we're doing where we can be in more schools, we just don't have the resources of the people to make it work. We're in four schools right now and one after school. But it is definitely… We work with children, grades 3 to 6, just so you know. And in that program, that's where we have a 4-year curriculum that we work with them. And then through that, things like developmental assets are huge and Stephen Covey’s Healthy Habits. Then also for the spirit, some of what we work with that is part of the other stuff. We do field trips, we do year-end parties where we go down to the river and go boating, and so there's a lot of things that these kids get and it's all free. So we're pretty thrilled about what we've created. 

The thing that’s neat about it is grades 3 to 6, they work with us. At grade 8, they can come back and volunteer. So our volunteer base is – actually, I have three 80-year-olds in my volunteer… so I have about 20 volunteers. And three of them are 80, but some of them are in grade 8. Some of them come through the program and then they come back to volunteer. So then from grade 8 to 12, we get to journey with these kids more. And then also with our youth program, we run from 6 to 12. And then we do internships. So in the span of 11 years, we get to travel with some of these youth. And one of the girls that's in our program, right now she is in two. She's actually volunteering in two of the programs and she was in the program. And so it's such a symbiotic thing that we've got going and they invest back into the program. But the thing that's cool about it for us is that we get to journey with these guys. Some ministry you do it's just like: okay, you get a year with them or two years. This is like 11 and then beyond that too, right?

Chris: In prepping for our conversation, Greg, I was doing some reading about Cross Town Impact and I noted that some of your partners are ministries of the Christian Reform Church, like we see you're partnered with Resonate Global Mission. You also have a partnership with Diaconal Ministries, Canada. 

But in reading about Cross Town and getting to the heart of what you do there was a term that kept coming up. That term was: at-risk youth. I want to ask a specific question about working with at-risk youth. But before we get into that, what are we talking about when we say at-risk youth, what does that look like?

Greg: I think one of the great things about what we're doing is the accessibility for youth. So the ability that's it’s free, it's run right in the schools. And honestly, I'm going to say we've been doing this for 14 years, so there's a comfort level when it comes to the relationship with the schools, but also a comfort level when it comes to the relationship with parents. But when it comes to youth, it's just like some of the kids you get in our program. I remember one kid showed up and for three weeks, he just was in a fetal position under his desk. And we just worked with them and after three weeks he finally sat in a chair. Then you realize his home life is terrible and he's bullied at school. Oh boy. Sometimes, this is the only safe place for them, sometimes for two hours that week, right?

Chris: Yeah.

Greg: For the place to rest. Some of the kids in our program, yeah, it's just like, one of the girls came in… Their dad's in jail for what he did to her. Like you're dealing with kids that shouldn't have to deal with this stuff. You know what I mean? Just to be a kid and it's overwhelming sometimes. Just sometimes when you hear the stories – these are the stories that come out at the table, when you're just sitting there across from them coloring and just listening to them and being able to support them. 

That's one side of it, but then there's the other side too. We've got youth that are doing well, but given the environment that we live in now, it's difficult for youth with everything that's going on. From the way that media is, and stuff with Instagram, and just for body shaming, and all the other stuff that kids have to deal with that I never had to really deal with in the generation I was in. So being able to come in here, and positively reinforce them, and let them know they're loved by us, but ultimately they're loved by God, that's the amazing thing. We get to stay in that gap and be that to these kids.

Chris: It's a beautiful image, man. And, for our listeners, pause for a moment and just remember what it was like to be a kid. It's hard enough being a young person. Everything's confusing and the world keeps getting bigger. I remember that as a kid. But now, like you're saying, Greg, you compound that with social media and the fast pace of information these days, it's a challenge. I'm thankful for people like you who are in that space, who create that safe place and let these kids know that they are loved by God. For this season with the podcast, we're talking about things we wish we had known before we started in a particular justice journey. So I'm going to ask you the question, what's something that people won't say or don't say about supporting at-risk youth but would be helpful as a starting point in trying to address some of the urgent needs that we see in this world?

Greg: I think, I've got written up here: pray, pray, and then pray. I think that's probably a huge thing. Even before I started, I remember, I walked through the city, just praying and wanting to hear from God. And reading the Bible and just letting God speak to me. “Is this what we should be doing? Is this the direction we should be going?” But it just seemed as we prayed and as we moved in through the community that these doors just kept opening for us. It was difficult. But at the same time, they were opening. One of the verses was in Isaiah 49. It says, “‘Look around and see, for all the children will come back to you. As surely as I live,”’ says the Lord ‘They will be like jewels or bridal ornaments for you to display.’” And then when I was feeling like: How can I do this? You know what I mean? And Isaiah 49:4 it says, “But my work seems useless. I've spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose. Yet, I leave it all into the Lord's hand and I will trust for my reward.” And ultimately, that has been this thing that is repeated through: we have to trust, and leave it into God's hand, and let him be the one that gives the reward, not what we get. 

Now some practical things. I think sometimes we overthink stuff. And sometimes we just need to do it. If God is saying something, we should just listen and do it. We did a thing where we had a veteran come in – he was a well-decorated veteran – and we bring them in at Remembrance Day to speak to the kids. But we also had in the MP and the in the MPP, so that's of the area they were in. They came over to me and they said, “You know, it's great what you're doing.” And I said, “And the crazy thing is that you're doing it.” He says, “I don't know how many phone calls I get to the office saying ‘We need to bring prayer back. We need to get the 10 commandments back in these schools.’ You know what I mean? And it just goes, “But you're doing it. You're in there working with kids and changing their lives.” And I think that sometimes it's just doing it, right? And the other thing is, when you're working with youth, you need to be prepared. That means with your volunteers, and your protocols, and your insurances, and all that stuff because you're dealing with a high risk. You want to make sure you're doing that not just to protect the kids, you're doing that to protect the volunteer. Because both of them are important in this whole thing. I've really come to realize: my work with volunteers is just as important as the work with the youth, and aiding them in their journey.

And the other one is be present. I think that's huge. These kids – when you're working with them, I always say to the volunteers – it's gonna feel like they hate you. Really. But they don't trust you. Once they’ve got your trust, they're faithful. I think one of the ones is we always bring a Sunday School mentality to the stuff that we do in the community. It's like that Sunday School, they need to sit there, and they need to listen when I talk. And then they get upset and they start yelling at the kids because they're not listening. I had to pull them off to the side and go, “Why are you getting upset?” And they go, “Well, they’re not listening.” Why are you taking that personally? This is their life. It's not about you, it's about them. Don't take it personally. They don't listen to anybody. You know what I mean? So coming in here and trying to force that on them, it's not a thing you should be doing, right? I always like to say, “It's not a reflection on you. Just meet these kids where they're at.” We just don't let it run wild, but at the same time, sometimes people take things so personally that it can ruin that relationship. Those are some of the things that I would say are helpful when you get into that world of working with children and youth, because it's important that we do things right, but at the same time we don't overthink it.

Chris: So in that vein… That's some great learning. I wonder how churches have grown – or communities of faith that you're connected to – how have they grown and learned alongside you in teaching and mentoring youth.

Greg: I think sometimes we have to think bigger picture. A lot of times, when I look at the community, I get to go into churches and I see that they're running a program for kids. I'm just sitting there going, “Man, there's some wonderful stuff happening.” And I think sometimes we don't even know what's happening in our communities, right? But for me specifically, I think just churches a lot of times it would be: see what's going on. I was just talking to a youth that wanted to start their own charity, was excited to be an advocate. But the first thing I said is, “See if there's something else going on in the community that's similar to what you want to do.” Cause sometimes it's better to put your effort in and join in on that, instead of trying to just restart something, right? And, I think that's what we see within the community.

In Romans, it talks about that whole idea of senders and goers. And being able to be part of that relationship, that symbiotic relationship of supporting the senders. I mean the senders supporting the goers. They're the ones that can help equip, support, and pray. They are a crucial element to what we can do in the community. And I think what we've seen a lot more of is that partnership. Instead of trying to be siloed, there's this partnership to come alongside and help, be it an individual or a church or a trust or something like that that helps in us. 

Also, I think the church, through COVID, is in trouble trying to get things started again. It just felt like the momentum was knocked out of everyone. And then they turned… Over the years coming forward, it would be great to see us try to do more things together and work in a way that is effective for the kingdom. But also highlight, when I see things… Cause one of the great things about what we're doing now is they realize the kids in our program, probably 90% of them have no idea who God is. So we get the opportunity to introduce these kids to God. Like that's amazing. But at the same time, when they're running a VBS or something like that or they're running a program that's offered, I get that information given to me and then I can give that to the kids and the parents because of our relationship and there's a trust with it. I won't give out something that I'm not behind. And obviously, even this year at VBS I was going to join in on one of the community ones, but I take a bunch of youth camping and it just seems to fall in that week so it doesn't work. I would just say, working together and me feeding back into them and them feeding into us. That whole sending and going is an amazing thing that needs to be increased amongst the community. 

Chris: So Greg, where can people go to find out more about Cross Town Impact?

Greg: They can go to And then that just leads you into different ways that you can get involved and support. And I'm going to say, if you would have told me… Honestly, when I came to Brockville, I was coming for an engineering job. My background is engineering. If someone said, “You’re going start a charity and be a missionary for youth.” I would have said, “You’re crazy.” But it's just funny how God works, right? There's a whole ‘nother story there, but ultimately we have been for 14 years living off the faith of others. And we've seen God do amazing things in those moments where we thought we were not going to make it. Then all of a sudden there's a check in the mail or in the mailbox or someone provides something. We’ve really experienced a lot, but it's something that, over the years, we've operated more like George Müller, where we pray and then God provides stuff. So we haven't really been intentional with getting involved in trying to raise support and stuff like that. So it's something that… we're trying to be a little more proactive now. Through COVID and stuff like that, it's been very tough keeping things going. But I really love, and as I talk about Resonate and Deaconal Ministries and just the support that we're getting. I talked earlier about when you start on your own and you got nobody and it's just yourself, to have someone like them to come alongside and be that partner and be a cheerleader and help. It's been amazing. It's been such a blessing to the ministry and what we're trying to do within the community.

Chris: Our guest today has been Greg Holdcroft, CEO and director of Cross Town Impact. Check them out at Greg, thanks so much, man. Thanks for joining us today.

Greg: You're welcome and thank you for taking the time. God bless.


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