He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.
Psalm 69: 33
Youth Direct Ministry shares the gospel of Jesus Christ with troubled and incarcerated youth through relevant and entertaining programs assisted by trained adult volunteers - believing a spiritual change of heart leads to lasting change and the stability of a law-abiding life consisting of continuing education, church attendance, prayer, and Bible study. These changes result in youth renouncing crime, drug abuse, and gangs.
Youth Direct Ministry, based in Dallas County, Texas, was founded in 2001 by Don Smarto. Don, a former sociology professor teaching Juvenile Delinquency and Criminal Justice courses at Wheaton College (Illinois) and the author of fifteen published books, believed in the need to bring the gospel of Jesus to troubled and incarcerated youth in a relational and relevant style using graphic comics, rap artists, sports professionals and dynamic speakers to get the attention of the youth. From his professional experiences, Don believes the style of prison evangelism commonly used for adult inmates was ineffective with incarcerated youth, who are average age - fifteen.
Trained volunteers visit juvenile detention, state juvenile prison facilities and department of corrections half-way houses (usually on a Saturday) listening and sharing with youth one on one or in small groups following an entertaining program for a one to three-hour period.
During the past twenty years, Youth Direct Ministry has presented programs in 830 juvenile prisons in 18 states including Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Kentucky, Virginia, New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Florida, California, Arizona, Louisiana, and Tennessee.
Statewide campaigns of multiple state juvenile prisons were conducted in Nebraska, Michigan, Texas, Colorado, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, and Florida. Youth Direct has returned three or more times to the states of Colorado, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Florida with multiple programs in over 10 youth prisons in each state.
The ministry currently focuses on the State of Texas, presenting programs in Texas State Juvenile Prisons, Half-Way houses, and County Juvenile Detention facilities. By invitation and donor support, the ministry presents programs in other states, too.
Ministry Focus Areas
State Juvenile facilities (prisons)
Youth Half-Way Houses
Residential Drug Programs
County Juvenile Detention Facilities
Don is available for presentations and speaking at: