Youth pastor Vinny Carillo, 28, spends a lot of time at the Yakima Foursquare Church writing sermons, meeting with local organizations for youth activities and planning prayer nights.

He wasn't always this involved in church. His life was once consumed by drugs, alcohol and late-night parties. He spent brief stints in jail. Then came a wake-up call: He was facing four years in prison for the possession and sale of stolen firearms.

About that time, he bumped into a good friend he used to party with. But his friend was different; he kept inviting him to church.

Stressed by the gun charges he was facing, Carillo eventually agreed.

"I just broke down one day and was just tired of the way I was living and I went," he said.

Inspired by the sermon he heard that day, Carillo joined the church. That was more than six years ago. His gun charges were eventually dropped, but he kept close to the church and embraced the support of his mom, grandparents and wife, Heather.

"That's been my home church ever since," he said. "Kind of amazing - just kind of met the right people at the right time, found God at the right time, or God found me."

Carillo's story of change not only inspires his church, but also the youths he comes in contact with, said church member Patricia Byers.

"I think Vinny is a developing leader," she said. "I think he's a great leader among young people. He inspires them and motivates them to have a good perspective."

Carillo's mission is simple: Help kids step off a path he once walked.

He coaches youth baseball in the spring, talks to area organizations about youth activities, and in December he organized law enforcement appreciation night, where police and youth gathered to get to know one another.

Youths face many challenges - drugs, gangs, violence - and they need positive role models, Carillo said.

"I wouldn't want to be a junior high or high school student right now," he said. "They're just dealing with a lot."

Carillo said he wants youth to be able to come to him for help no matter their situation.

"Just kind of loving them where they're at, is what we preach," he said.

Carillo says he's most inspired by Jesus.

"Just looking back on my life, I didn't think I'd ever be loved in that way," he said. "People gave me a shot and Jesus loved me where I was at and that's what inspires me. Jesus is love, and that's kept me all the way through."

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