HOW ONE WEEKEND CHANGED EVERYTHING

My name is Rosalind and my husband and I have been in love with Teen Leadership Foundation from the moment we learned about its mission.

We originally heard about an opportunity to volunteer at a camp for foster kids through our church and decided to participate for the weekend. How bad can one weekend be? We thought we could do our “serve day” duty and move on with our lives. We didn’t expect to be changed forever. 

My husband and I were paired with two brothers and their sister who all looked older than their stated ages. They looked a little mean and had already isolated themselves in the corner of the game room—my husband and I remember thinking that it would be a long weekend. At first they were timid and did not want to interact much; but as the day went on, it was obvious we were going to have a memorable weekend.

By the second day, they shared their stories with us, stories from being in foster care, their fears and frustrations, and, by the last day, they had broken down almost all their walls. My heart melted, and I saw God’s plan unravel before my very eyes.

We have been their mentors ever since. We have watched them grow from troubled teens to amazing adults—we have been there through their high school graduations, go to college, to becoming working adults; one brother is a team leader in the military, and the other two siblings have recently become great parents who provide unconditional love to their own children.

We just had our annual “Fancy Christmas Dinner” where we use real, porcelain plates and serve-ware, and eat some of their favorite foods—Korean BBQ and Hawaiian Katsu Chicken. The house was full of our kids, their kids, and rings of laughter. 

We thought we could do our “serve day” duty and move on with our lives. We didn’t expect to be changed forever.

God called us to serve with TLF because, though we have volunteered and donated to many causes over the years, we saw the direct affect TLF had on our foster teen community. God has shown us that every child can be saved, and that every child deserves to feel God’s love and kindness.  In my experience, some of these teens were experiencing that love and kindness for the first time at Teen Leadership Camp. 

Many of the teens in the foster care community are highly prone to homelessness, teen pregnancy, drug addiction, the list goes on. But having a stable adult in their life to assist them and mentor them can literally change their path.

We have watched them grow from troubled teens to amazing adults—we have been there through their high school graduations, go to college, to becoming working adults…

We have seen TLF go from a few camps each summer to being an influence to the child welfare system across the nation. We have seen Lisa lead and dream big for God’s kingdom…and 10 years later, Lisa is speaking to pastors and community leaders about the difference we can make in foster and emancipating teens’ lives. Teen Leadership Foundation is providing mentorship, housing, jobs, scholarships, and all sorts of resources to the foster teen community, but what they have provided to thousands of teens in the past 10 years is far more important: God’s love.

TLF has changed our lives. We know that it can change yours. 

What TLF Taught Me About The Long Haul of Ministry

Over ten years ago, I was invited to a meeting with a prominent Orange County judge in the foster care system.  This judge was looking for mentors in the community to help make a difference in the lives of foster children. Concerned individuals from the community were brought together to network and brainstorm on ways to support these children, teens, and foster parents being affected by the system.  It was at this meeting that I met Lisa Castetter.

Since 2001, First Evangelical Free Church of Fullerton has hosted a Royal Family Kids Camp. As the director of this camp, one of the hardest moments was when an 11-year-old foster child looks at you with tears in his eyes, pleading to let him come back to camp for one more year. So I began asking myself, how could we expand our ministry to include teens? So when Lisa approached me with her vision to provide at-risk, abused and neglected teens an effective and all inclusive camp just for them, I was all in.

That was the beginning of an incredible journey and friendship with Lisa. How privileged we were to be on the ground floor of Teen Leadership Camp.  At our first camp we had 30 campers and 28 volunteers.  I will never forget the reaction of one sixteen-year-old boy as he got off the bus and read the sign: Alpine Christian Conference Center. He was furious and shouted belligerently, “nobody told me this was a Christian Camp—if I had known that I would not have come!” The challenge had begun. Fast forward to the following year when he came back as a camp leader, sharing his dreams for college, and his relationship with Christ.

Another one of our first campers who seemed to be heading in the wrong direction. He spoke with foul language and told inappropriate stories; he was the  “tough” guy trying to fit in. Lisa’s goal that camp included a leadership component to help empower the campers to step into more involved roles. My husband noticed he was interested in the sound booth, so, when he graduated from TLC at eighteen, we invited him back as a leader to help with our soundboard during worship and when our speakers were up front. He shined with this responsibility. He was expected to come to training and when he was recognized at our appreciation dinner after camp, he was so proud of himself. It was life changing for him. 

…I began asking myself, how could we expand our ministry to include teens? So when Lisa approached me with her vision to provide at-risk, abused and neglected teens an effective and all inclusive camp just for them, I was all in.

From the beginning, it was very obvious that the three days of camp each summer was not enough for foster teens in our county. Lisa’s goal was to connect teens and mentors together after camp who would continue to play a supporting role in their lives.  Teen Leadership Camp quickly expanded to Teen Leadership Foundation to empower foster teens, giving them tools to become leaders in their community. Beyond that, TLF helps churches provide mentoring, leadership camps, youth groups, independent living skills and housing, so that they can continue to empower and impact more and more youth for many years to come. 

Three years ago, following TLF’s guidance and vision, our church started launched The Knot – a safe space for foster teens to find community and group mentoring. 

From there, I watched The Launch Pad develop as TLF saw the need for transitional living and independent living skills needed for teens who suddenly find themselves at eighteen, out of the foster care system with nowhere to go. 

Teen Leadership Foundation continues to grow and expand as more and more churches understand the need to empower teens in the foster care system. I feel very humbled and appreciative that 10 years ago I met Lisa at a meeting in Orange…not realizing at the
time that knowing her would change my life and my priorities forever. She is one of my heroes, as she personally models mentoring and continues to make a difference for foster youth not only in Orange County but throughout the United States. Our ministry wouldn’t be where it is today without the resources, support and training provided by TLF.

Congratulations on 10 amazing years TLF. I’m looking forward to the impact you will have in the next 10 years in our community and beyond.

If you would like to give to Teen Leadership Foundation’s Ten Year Campaign, click here!

HOW THE LAUNCH PAD HAS TRANSFORMED ME

 

“TLF’s team has made all the difference for me. [A TLF staffer] and I acknowledged how far I’ve come in the two months I have lived here, and she asked me what the difference has been with me before TLF vs. now. The difference is TLF has surrounded me with a support system that I did not have before. Whether it’s the behind the scenes support team in the office, or my flight crew (i.e. mentor, driving instructor, on-site care coordinators, etc. ) who I interact with more often, this support system has been encouraging, kind, positive, empathetic, patient and so up-lifting. I am constantly in my head, doubting myself and battling anxiety and depression daily. Every single person in my support system has been instrumental in lifting me, encouraging me, reaffirming me, instilling confidence in me, helping me fight my battles and accomplish my goals throughout my time here.

Every single person in my support system has been instrumental in lifting me, encouraging me, reaffirming me, instilling confidence in me, helping me fight my battles and accomplish my goals throughout my time here.

I think one of the most important components about this support system is the patience everyone has had with me. In taking the time to understand where I’m coming from and the obstacles I face, acknowledging the significance of myself approaching each task and goal with baby steps, and reaffirming that I AM capable and that it is okay to progress at the pace that is best for me; it doesn’t matter that my pace may be a bit slower than others. That component is huge because it has essentially prevented me from reverting back to an unhealthy mentality that would ultimately fuel my anxiety and depression and make my time here much more difficult. TLF has created an environment that I feel comfortable enough to grow and push myself in, and the result has been surprising, especially for me. I would have thought it impossible to have come this far just couple months ago. I have this support system and TLF to thank.”

Interested in becoming a flight crew member, and taking a front seat in stories like these? Check out our calendar for our upcoming mentor training this month.

HEALING THROUGH VOLUNTEERING


My name is Audrey and I am a member of Free Chapel, Orange County. I have been involved with Teen Leadership Foundation since the summer of 2014 and have served as a mentor and budget coach for the residents of
The Launch Pad. In August, I stepped into a bigger role, aiding with events for The Knot and The Network. 

I first heard about Teen Leadership Foundation when one of the campus pastors had stated that if only 3,000 households in Orange County were to take in one child in foster care, none would be without a home or a family to love them. That really struck a chord with me, especially because I know what it’s like to feel alone and abandoned.

By the time I was born, my parents were legally separated. I never knew how it felt or what it was like to have both parents under one roof. The earliest memory of my father wasn’t until the age of 5; For those first five years all I knew was my mom, brother, and maternal grandfather…It never occurred to me that [my father] was missing from my life. Up until his first arrival, I thought my life was pretty normal, and when he eventually showed up, the world I knew and loved started crumbling down.

As I became more involved with TLF, those reasons started to reveal themselves—I had to suffer so I could be of comfort to those that suffer. My life experiences have taught me compassion and humility. I can identify with foster youth— making them aware that they are not alone in their feelings.

Feelings of abandonment, neglect, and being unwanted overcame me. He tried to win me over, but because his presence was inconsistent I did not allow him into my heart. He was verbally abusive, a bully, and an alcoholic.

As a young child, I was sexually abused by my babysitter’s husband. I had blamed my parents, because had they never divorced it could have been avoided. As I grew older, the hostile relationship between my parents was too much to bear and I became suicidal in my teenage years. I suffered terribly throughout my adolescence (and early adulthood), and never understood why God allowed all these things to happen in my life. I thought God did not love or care about me. I felt alone in the world.

As I became more involved with TLF, those reasons started to reveal themselves—I had to suffer so I could be of comfort to those that suffer. My life experiences have taught me compassion and humility. I can identify with foster youth— making them aware that they are not alone in their feelings.

At a very early age I knew I wanted to care for children (other than my own), so that none would ever have to experience what I experienced, and by year’s end, I will be a certified foster parent.

Partnering with TLF has been life changing for me;  I’ve also been able to make sense of the pain and find my life’s purpose: “To comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:3-5).

I am so blessed to be a part of Teen Leadership Foundation. Joining forces with TLF has been one of the best decisions of my life, and I cannot wait to see what God has in store for us individually and collectively. Thank you, TLF, for allowing me to be a part of your journey!

Photo by Chelsea Francis

AN UNFORGETTABLE ADVENTURE

For our first session together, Jorgina and I attended the International Festival at Mariners Church. We learned about the different international ministries and the work they do to help others around the world. We stopped by the Mexico Child sponsorship booth and learned about their Faith Adventures (mission trips) to Mexico. I was interested in sponsoring a child and we were both interested and wanted to go on one of their day trips to Mexico.

At first, the December trip was full and we were on their waitlist. But, miraculously God worked it out and we were both able to attend! Many of my conversations with Jorgina have been focused on volunteering and going outside of our comfort zone. Not letting fear of the unknown hold us back. We both looked forward to going to Mexico to experience a different culture and to meet the local children. This was the first time for Jorgina to travel outside of the United States.

Even though we didn’t speak Spanish and it was challenging to communicate, we experienced so much love, happiness and pure joy. Meeting new people, laughing, singing, hearing their stories and seeing their love for Jesus was inspiring to both of us.

The day started early at 6:30am. We drove to Mexico with about 40 other volunteers to help set up for a local church’s Christmas Party just south of Tijuana. We had a puppet show, sang songs, made Christmas crafts, ate tamales and passed out gifts and books to all the children. Jorgina stepped right in and helped out with the puppet show, learn Spanish songs and made crafts with the children. She loved seeing how happy all the children were throughout the day—and loved the opportunity to be a part of that joy. We were able to meet the little girl I sponsor and her mom and little brother. Even though we didn’t speak Spanish and it was challenging to communicate, we experienced so much love, happiness and pure joy. Meeting new people, laughing, singing, hearing their stories and seeing their love for Jesus was inspiring to both of us.

The local pastor and his wife were so grateful for all of us to be a part of the Christmas Party and there were many happy tears at the end. It was very rewarding to hear how much of a difference our presence made and how much it meant to the children—especially to Jorgina. Both of our hearts were full that day and loved being able to step outside of our comfort zone to be used by God. With open hearts, we personally experienced how we are His hands and feet to love and bless others during the Christmas season.

Going on a service trip with my mentee broke new grounds in her life. It empowered her to be a difference maker, and to know that, no matter what her story or circumstance held, she has a part to play in impacting the world.

For more information on how you can be a mentor, and empower local foster youth to be difference makers, click here. 

Photo by Andrew Neel

MENTOR SNAPSHOT: AMELIA


Amelia is one of our church liaisons in Orange County and one of many committed to Teen Leadership Foundation and its cause.

Amelia has directed our Teen Leadership Camps for the last few years and is instrumental in bringing more consistent community around foster teens after camp in her area with two programs, The Knot -a monthly youth group, and The Network –a series of life-skills class that meets every other month.

Recently, we caught up with Amelia to talk about the new programs that are going to take place at her church and how that has impacted her life.

It takes quite some work to direct a camp and lead a team of volunteers but Amelia seems to always find a way to put her heart into everything she does! It is no surprise her church’s camps are fun and well done; she says the success of their camp is due the awesome ministry action team who works together in every little detail and the generous spirit of their church.  Amelia has a huge heart for these teens and it shows through her giving spirit.

Her life has not always gone the way she had planned. There were some bumps on the road and Amelia grew up under difficult circumstances. But by the grace of God and the support of her church, Amelia has shown that she has a lot to give and much love to be shared. She says that it is almost a full circle of where she was and where she is going.

One of the best things to know about Amelia is that she is the kindest and warmest person we have ever met-But, beyond that, Amelia is a lion-hearted, servant leader.

It is people like Amelia, who use their own story to change the lives of our youth in TLF, that make our programs possible and our impact measurable.

Photo by Andrew Neal 

 

 

MENTORING IS NOT ONE SIDED: WHAT I’VE GAINED FROM MENTORING A TLF YOUTH

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I learned about TLF’s Teen Leadership Camp from other past counselors at my church. I was a little apprehensive at first because I’m not a very outdoorsy/athletic person but I wanted to step outside my comfort zone and not let fear stop me from getting more involved. I really cried out to God for his guidance and help in stepping out of my everyday, and He definitely answered my prayers! While at camp I was paired with Jorgina**, one of the kindest girls I know. I was really impressed with Jorgina because not only was she kind but very open and honest with me from the start, which is not common. We had a wonderful experience at camp – meeting new people, taking part in team building exercises, high ropes and zip lining. The theme was Never Give Up, with an emphasis on the truth that God never gives up on us and loves us no matter what. The messages and worship during Chapel time were uplifting and in just a matter of one day, the campers were so much more open to hear God’s word and sing along with the worship band. Camp gave all the youth time to get away from their everyday, which can be stressful and not like their peers’, and allowed them to just be kids and have fun, laugh, play and be encouraged all the counselors.

Camp gave all the youth time to get away from their everyday, which can be stressful and not like their peers’, and allowed them to just be kids and have fun, laugh, play and be encouraged all the counselors.

I’ve been wanting to be a mentor for years but have been putting it off. I knew after camp it was time to step up and be open to being used by God in a youth’s life. Jorgina was open to having me mentor her, which has been so special and rewarding.

I look forward to spending time together, learning new skills and serving our community together. I hope to be a positive role model for her and give her an outlet to have fun, see the world in a new way and become closer to God. In return, she has already blessed me with her kind and open spirit and has encouraged me to stay strong, keep moving forward and never give up no matter what life has deals us. I have just as much to learn from her as she does from me. It’s a team effort.

I’ve been wanting to be a mentor for years but have been putting it off. I knew after camp it was time to step up and be open to being used by God in a youth’s life.

**Names changed for privacy purposes

There are lots of stories like these, where mentors are making an impact as they walk through life alongside their youth. If you’re interested in becoming a mentor, or supporting the efforts of Teen Leadership Foundation, click here. 

HOW I USE MY PARENTING EXPERIENCE TO IMPACT GENERATIONS TO COME

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Sarah is a woman with a huge heart. She has a daughter, full time job, and is going to school part-time. She has a lot on her plate, but manages it with great care and intention. And I have the privilege of being her mentor.

As her mentor, I have the opportunity to watch her grow and progress. I admire her stamina and hard work, and her willingness to help. Her smile brings me so much joy, and I am honored to be a part of her life.

I don’t have all the answers and it is awesome to see that the more I depend on God, the more He is able to supply me with what I need to be a better mentor and friend. It’s amazing to me how I came into this wanting to serve and give, but I have been blessed and learned more in return.

I absolutely love spending time with her. I mostly help with parenting questions and concerns over coffee and the conversation usually leads to talking about other areas of life. I bring in certain parenting strategies with tools to help her as she grows in parenting (it’s a tough job for all moms!). I also guide her with the next steps she will be taking for school and her her find helpful resources to use for that.

It is such a privileged to be a flight crew member. I don’t have all the answers and it is awesome to see that the more I depend on God, the more He is able to supply me with what I need to be a better mentor and friend. It’s amazing to me how I came into this wanting to serve and give, but I have been blessed and learned more in return. I am humbled by how God continually provides His tangible love for us.

There are lots of stories like these, where mentors are making an impact as they walk through life alongside their youth. If you’re interested in becoming a mentor, or supporting the efforts of Teen Leadership Foundation, click here. 

WHAT IT FEELS LIKE TO LEAVE THE LAUNCH PAD

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I have been living at the Launch Pad for two years now. I am both sad and excited, because I am stepping out to my next phase of life.

I will be taking all I’ve learned at the Launch Pad and living on my own…I cannot name how many things Teen Leadership Foundation has done for me. They have helped me in getting my license, finishing school, set and order my priorities, and they have helped me reach my goals. They have encouraged me and my roommates in showing us how to respect those we live with. It goes a long way to think of relationships to create warmth in a home setting! Something I’ve never experienced before.

I now know God loves me and because of His work through Teen Leadership Foundation, I now carry that with me to my next season of life.

My mentor has been a HUGE help to me in these goals. She simply started off by driving me to my appointments. She then became so much more to me. I know she really cares for me by listening and knowing me. I also have a budget coach. She truly cares about me and has helped so much-we talk about so much more than money. Her advice has impacted my life forever. Another mentor stepping in to help me get over my anxieties about driving and eventually get my license-something I never thought possible.

My mentor has been a HUGE help to me in these goals. She simply started off by driving me to my appointments. She then became so much more to me. I know she really cares for me by taking time to listen to me and know me.

It has been a deep and lifelong blessing to be a part of Teen Leadership Foundation and living at The Launch Pad. I cannot wait to grow further and use the skills I have learned. I now know God loves me and because of His work through Teen Leadership Foundation, I now carry that with me to my next season of life.

See how you can play a part in the change happening at the Launch Pad by clicking here. 

WHAT MENTORING THROUGH TLF HAS TAUGHT ME ABOUT REAL LOVE

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One of the biggest blessings in my life has become mentoring my youth at TLF. My heart cries joyful tears in getting to know such a special person. I have been mentoring her for over three years now, and she has added a lot of fun and joy in my life. I could have never asked for or imagined what this journey would hold, and it far exceeded my expectations.

I have seen my mentee grow in self-confidence and knowing who she is as God made her.

I didn’t expect to grow as much as I have. The biggest change through this relationship has been my capacity to love. This is not about changing someone, but meeting them where they are at. I entered into this relationship thinking I was coming in as an agent of change-that I was going to teach her, rescue her, show her “the way.”

Instead, I have learned to be a true agent of change, it’s simply about loving and being there for my mentee. I say “simple” because it is doing the obvious things that may not seem like huge impactors, but they are-like listening, remembering what she’s shared and asking good questions. It doesn’t take a lot.

I entered into this relationship thinking I was coming in as an agent of change-that I was going to teach her, rescue her, show her “the way.” Instead, I have learned to be a true agent of change, it’s simply about loving and being there for my mentee.

We do all kinds of things together: bowling, hiking, watching movies, playing Monopoly, eating out and talking. We enjoy outdoor concerts with picnics and attending plays. We have attended several independent living workshops together and go to church every Sunday together.

Our latest favorite thing to do is to go walking and talking at the beach. We also work on a lot of practical life goals. She has become a part of my family. She’s included in family dinners, we pray for her, she spends Holidays with us. Our family feels honored to have her.

Children in foster care have a million people telling them what to do-they go years without a voice as to who they live with, even what they wish to wear or when they would like to visit a friend-small freedoms we take advantage of when we are young are often taken from these kids, even though they have done nothing wrong. What they truly need is not someone telling them what to do, but someone who is on their side. This looks like listening, caring, advocating, and having fun with them. Sometimes I find I am even advocating for my mentee against herself. I have learned so much about the practicalities of love through her and the heart God has given me for her.

Children in foster care have a million people telling them what to do-they go years without a voice as to who they live with, even what they wish to wear or when they would like to visit a friend-small freedoms we take advantage of when we are young are often taken from these kids, even though they have done nothing wrong. What they truly need is not someone telling them what to do, but someone who is on their side.

The biggest revelation I have had is seeing how God cares about kids who don’t have parents involved in their lives. God continually amazes me to experience His provision every time I want to do something for my mentee and her sister. I have been changed and impacted by how God wants to bless these youth. Most of all, I see the need for how He is looking for willing vessels who will partner with Him. I cannot put enough words to how moved my heart is in experiencing the growth of my mentee and privilege of our relationship.

**This is just one of many stories showing the fruit of our mentor program. Check out how you can get involved, or support our ongoing mentorship program, here. 

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