Former Youth Specialties President Sets Record Straight

Former Youth Specialties president Mark Oestreicher set the record straight on his blog Tuesday about the recent layoffs and selling of the youth workers organization.

"The changes we made at YS early this year (resulting in letting go of 14 staff, including Tic) were brutal on us," he wrote, "but we saw those changes as the only path forward for survival."

Oestreicher revived his blog after being laid off last month and has since posted a few thoughts but didn't go into too much detail about the recent changes at Youth Specialties until Tuesday.

After a trip to the desert in southern California where he was able to get away and "lay low," he went on record to reveal where he stands in the midst of all the changes – including Youth Specialties being sold to YouthWorks!, Inc., just three years after being acquired by Christian publishing giant Zondervan.

"This is important for me to state as clearly as I can," he wrote. "Tic (who oversaw all events) and Karla and I all felt selling YS to Zondervan was the right decision. And, in hindsight, I can say with 100% certainty, that if Karla had not made this choice, YS would not exist today. YS would not have survived the financial turbulence of these last two years."

Youth Specialties had been partnering with Zondervan for decades and in 2006 was acquired by the publishing company.

Karla Yaconelli, widow of Youth Specialties co-founder Mike Yaconelli, said teaming with Zondervan would provide the organization with long-term stability and additional resources to increase their reach and offerings.

In a blog post earlier this month, Yaconelli said she'd make the same decision today as she did then.

Over the last year, Zondervan has made some changes at Youth Specialties, such as the firing of Oestreicher, that left some loyal YS followers disappointed or even bitter.

But Oestreicher noted in his blog that the leadership of Zondervan "was deeply challenged in the complex stew that was made up of a genuine affection for ys and the financial pressure and scrutiny they are also under."

Zondervan announced last week that YouthWorks has agreed to purchase Youth Specialties while publishing rights will remain with Zondervan.

Oestreicher, who was aware of the sale for months, believes "this whole thing is, potentially, a win for everyone (Zondervan, Youth Specialties, YouthWorks, and youth workers in general)."

He also went on record to say, "Zondervan is not an evil empire."

"Zondervan is made up of good and honorable people who love Jesus. Yes, they're a business. Yes, they want to be profitable. Yes, they're more corporate than YS (which isn't a bad thing!). But so many of the people there became dear friends of mine."

Tic Long, who served at Youth Specialties for over 30 years, also rejected criticisms against Zondervan.

"Z had great hopes for YS, BUT it just didn't work," he wrote on his blog. "YS did not perform well while Z was it's owner. There are a lot of reasons for that, BUT not all of them were on Z's side of the table by any measure.

"In the end, it was just not a good fit. It just didn't work and we don't really need to make up a villain for this story. Z could have could have just let YS die but instead they are giving YS a chance to move forward in a new home."

Looking toward the future, Long and Oestreicher don't know what to expect for the organization they long served and continue to love.

Long believes the sale "gives YS a chance to reinvent itself."

Meanwhile, Oestreicher said he expects YouthWorks "will do everything in their power to make wise and god-honoring choices about the future of youth specialties and serving youth workers."

"I do think change is – while often hard and painful – completely necessary at times, and often the only way an organization or organism will survive," he added.