By Julie Lorenz
An Instagram account changed the trajectory of Laura Valdez’s life.
At the beginning of last school year, high school senior Valdez felt unhappy and unfulfilled. “I was going through so much personally and mentally,” she said. “I just felt like I didn’t have as much faith as I did before. I didn’t feel God was there.”
As she was scrolling through her Instagram feed, she noticed that PVYouth (pv.youth) had started following her. PVYouth is the Placerville church’s youth group, led by Leif Cano, youth pastor. “As I was looking at their pictures, I saw something in them that was so different,” said Valdez. “On their bio they talked about how they engage with God.”
PVYouth features all three aspects of their ministry on Instagram: PVHuddles (Sabbath School), PVCares (once a month outreach activities), and PVHangs (social events). The account shows teens leading worship and studying the Bible. There are photos of them handing out blankets to the homeless, praying with community members, and visiting a care home. In addition, they’re playing volleyball and wakeboarding.
Valdez sent a message through Instagram, asking how she could join the group and wondering if she needed to fill out an application. Cano responded that the group met on Saturday mornings and she was welcome to come. Valdez didn’t go right away, but then Cano messaged her to say that the group was planning to attend a youth conference in Sacramento, and he had an extra ticket because someone had canceled. “I had this feeling in me that I should go,” she said.
First, she had to get permission. “I thought it would be hard to convince my parents because they didn’t know anybody,” she said. After some discussion, her parents allowed her to go to the conference, and the PVYouth group welcomed her with open arms. “She felt that we’re just one big family,” said Cano.
Cano and his wife, Kenia, wanted to reassure Laura’s parents that PVYouth was a safe place. “We talked to her parents and got to know them,” said Cano. “They said she had never been involved in something like this before. Laura had been telling them that she loved the Christian environment.” With her parents’ permission, “she came faithfully to our group every Saturday and invited her best friend from public school and her sister,” said Cano.
This summer Valdez was one of 17 teens from PVYouth who went to Texas to attend a conference and camp with teens from the Arlington church, where Cano’s brother, Danny, is the youth pastor. During the trip, 13 Placerville youth members made decisions for baptism, and 10 of them were baptized in Texas—including Laura. “Being in this environment with the youth group changed my life,” she said.
As she was considering what to do following high school, Valdez expected to apply to a public university. Cano arranged for her to visit Pacific Union College, and she received a scholarship to study nursing. In September, she began her first quarter—the first one in her family to go to college. “It’s stressful, but I love it!” she said. “I feel like I couldn’t have picked a better campus.” She is also happy to be walking with the Lord. “Because of Him, I got through everything,” she said.