It's been two decades since Steve Earl was recruited to the national staff of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to start the Young Adult Volunteer program.

“The goal was simple: to get more young people involved in mission service,” Earl said Sunday night as dozens of former YAVs and friends gathered to celebrate the program's 20th anniversary – and the sending out of more than a thousand volunteers.

The first year, 30 young people were sent to four international sites ― the Philippines, Argentina, England and Northern Ireland ― and in the United States to Miami to aid in hurricane relief in the wake of seven named tropical storms and three hurricanes that season.

“Planting seeds and seeing the change in these young people and the church has been wonderful to see," said Earl, who served as YAV coordinator until 2005.

Since 1994, more than 1,250 young adult Presbyterians have given a year of service in the United States ― from Haines, Alaska to Miami, Florida, and from Tucson, Arizona to Boston ― and in some of the most marginalized areas in the world, sharing the good news of Jesus Christ.

The motto of the YAV program is “a year of service for a lifetime of change,” and the celebration during the 221st General Assembly (2014) in Detroit exemplified the impact the service program has had on YAV participants.

Kori Phillips, associate pastor of Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church in Bethesda, Maryland, served in Peru in 2006-2007 under current World Mission Director Hunter Farrell and current Presbyterian Hunger Program Coordinator Ruth Farrell.

“I worked in the Lima office of the Joining Hands Network in Peru (a ministry of the Presbyterian Hunger Program), but I got to travel around the country visiting women who were part of Bridge of Hope, a women artisans collective,” she said.

Phillips was led to the YAV program a year after graduating from college by her pastor, who had served as a Volunteer in Mission for the PC(USA). “I told her I never wanted to work in the church ever,” Phillips said. “I was drawn to service opportunities, but after working in Washington for a member of Congress and then for a non-profit, I was finally drawn to seminary.”

As the Presbyterian Mission Agency seeks to triple the number of YAVs serving around the world, six new service sites have been added in the last year: Indianapolis, Little Rock and Washington, D.C. in the U.S. and internationally in Colombia, Thailand and Zambia. Phillips has agreed to serve on the site board that is developing the Washington YAV program.

Howard Dotson was in the 2003-2004 class of YAVS, joining the program after graduating from San Francisco Theological Seminary. He served two hospitals in Kenya as an HIV/AIDS counselor, prevention educator and support group facilitator.

“I went to seminary because of the HIV/AIDS situation in Africa and wanted to figure out a way to serve there,” Dotson said.

Dotson, who is now a trauma counselor in Sparks, Nevada, said his experience in Kenya “prepared me for the ministry I do now and has helped me as a pastor because lots of Africans have come to the churches I’ve served in the Twin Cities and in Los Angeles … we’re the mission field now.”

The original goal of the YAV program endures – to encourage Presbyterian young people to find a Christian vocation in mission service, professionally or otherwise. Dotson’s experience is not atypical. “Of our group of 10 YAVS who went to Kenya in 2003,” he said, “four are now pastors and two are doctors.”