BRADENTON — First Presbyterian Church in Bradenton has hired Pittsburgh native Jim Clark as the new director of its youth program.

Clark, who served five years in a similar role at his hometown Ruthfred Lutheran Church, moved to town this week and started work Aug. 1.

“The church has a real passion for youth and young adults,” he said. “I’m hoping to be able to start a really healthy youth group.”

Originally a radio and TV journalism major, Clark graduated with a Christian education degree from Taylor University in Indiana.

“I really felt like God was changing my interests,” he said. “I just felt that what I want to do with my life is invest in students.”

When he saw the open position at First Presbyterian, Clark applied because his wife never really liked cold winters and because much of his family had relocated to Florida.

First Presbyterian pastor Mark Jernigan said he is impressed with Clark’s work at Ruthfred.

“Over that five years, he’s really built it up into a thriving program,” he said.

“He’s really in it because he understands what a great opportunity it is for him to be able to be a part of kids’ lives.”

The youth program director position has been open since November.

Jernigan said he’s pleased that church leadership filled the position, even though many churches are struggling financially: “They said we just have to move forward with this.”

Jernigan said it isn’t an issue to hire a Lutheran to work at a Presbyterian church.

“We’re very, very similar in our theology,” he said. “We’re a congregation of people with different denominational backgrounds.”

Besides his hometown Lutheran church, Clark has also done work for Presbyterian and Methodist churches.

“The particular denomination with me isn’t too important, especially when you’re working with kids,” he said. “When you’re working with kids, the basics are really what’s important.”

Clark said he hopes to focus the program on children in middle school and high school.

“Children, in particular teenagers, are at a time of life when they’re making big decisions about the types of people they’re going to be,” he said. “This is a really critical time to be investing in people.”