A REFUGEE, AND PREGNANT: HOW TLF HELPED ONE FOSTER YOUTH TOWARDS A BRIGHTER FUTURE

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I came to the US as a refugee when I was 12 years old. Needless to say, life in America is very different from the Congo.

Not only was this a culture shock to me, but my first placement in the States was in Las Vegas…Bright. Loud. Different…The only thing I knew to do was survive.

I began learning English and went to a continuation school in Vegas.

By the time I was 15, I moved to California. This was when the fighting with my mom became physical. I was placed into a foster home by the time I was 16, and quickly after, I found out that I was pregnant.

Disagreement began with my foster family and I moved in with a friend. It felt safer.

I turned 17 and became a mother.

This is when my social worker told me about Teen Leadership Foundation.

I moved into the Launch Pad and started the program there. I cannot express the gratitude I feel in my heart for this opportunity. For the first time in a long time I feel like trust is a possibility. Not only that, but I have hope for the future of my daughter. I started a beauty school program, and have the support and guidance to graduate, something I never thought was a possibility. A few years ago, it simply wasn’t.

Thank you for the support and opportunity to develop the skills I need to open my daughter’s future and my own.

There are many stories like this, both heartbreaking and full of hope, happening at Teen Leadership Foundation. Your support and efforts through both time and financial contribution have created opportunities for stories like these to have a hopeful ending. For more information on giving, and learning how you can invest in a youth’s future, click here. 

This is camp… by Shelly; TLC volunteer

I am home from camp and there are a million things I want to say and share, but none are really enough. I wish you could really know and understand, but unless you were there, unless you took it all in, unless you were walking it and breathing it all in, it’s virtually impossible to even begin to explain it. You see for me, each of these teens have a name, and a face, and a story uniquely their own. But even in a weekend you cannot possibly KNOW them. And really, the goal of camp is not to hear their stories, but rather to give them a place to just BE – to live OUTSIDE their stories even if only for a brief moment. So many of them have lived in circumstances that are incomprehensible. They are stronger than they should have to be. They have known a side of life that is heartbreaking and brutally unkind. Some are more like parents than kids. Some live in a constant state of chaos and fear. Some have watched the most unspeakable things unfold before them. Many do not know the seemingly ordinary of simple things like sleeping in their own bed, or healthy meals three times a day, or a new pair of shoes at the beginning of the school year. And I would venture to say that most if not all do not enjoy what we might remember as highlights of childhood like slumber parties and having friends over to play.

So when people ask me what the highlight was from camp this year, it isn’t a deep or significant moment. For me, it was a teen eating an entire pizza Lunchable in one bite and the room erupting in cheers. it is a water balloon game that didn’t work in the slightest – it was utter and complete chaos. But as I stood in the middle of the game, and saw the smiles spread over their faces and listened to the deep and resounding laughter, it was like I was experiencing a small taste of heaven. In those moments, the teens were safe, and loved, and free. They were surrounded by the family of Christ and embraced EXACTLY as they are. They are the same kind of different with the same kind of hard. I wish I could push play on that sound – it was pure joy – perhaps the most beautiful thing I have ever heard.

ThI hope that moment will forever be buried deep in my heart and that from there hope and love may spring forth and Praise Him for being a GOOD Father and choosing me to love these amazing teens and writing me into a tiny part of their stories. I know I can never do enough. I cannot write a new story for them, but I pray with all my heart that I can speak truth into their lives and remind them that there is hope for a great future because of the love of Christ and His all surpassing power. I pray I can give them a side hug on a hard day and remind them they are seen and heard and covered in prayer. I pray in a dark moment there is some small piece of their hearts that holds tight and clings to the memories of laughter and remembers that there are people that care because OH MY GOODNESS there are people that care and carry them close regardless of how far away they feel today.

Fostering Faith

Sarah, our newest resident at The Launch Pad, excels in academics despite tremendous obstacles. But she never considered herself “college material,” which sadly is the mindset shared by many foster youth. Fortunately, Sarah has been paired with Michelle for several years through the TLF mentor program. Michelle saw Sarah’s drive and aptitude and became her cheerleader, pushing Sarah to go beyond her self-limiting beliefs. Sarah had a dream of attending a local private college, but doubt crept in – how could she possibly be worthy of such a school? Secretly she prepared for another path, imagining her first choice would not work out.

Determined to help Sarah see that her dream was possible, Michelle championed Sarah through the university’s scholarship and financial award process. Together they found creative options, including a few academic scholarships. Sarah was accepted, and she is thrilled. She will be the first Launch Pad resident to attend a four-year Christian college. We are so excited for her and cannot wait to watch her take off into a promising future!

Michelle, you are the church in action! Thanks for fueling hope for Sarah!

Beyond Simple Tutoring

I am a recent tutor for a resident at the Launch Pad. I volunteered with this position seeing a very practical way I can come alongside God’s work with TLF at the Launch Pad. It combined my love of the medical field and training as a nurse with my faith of seeing what God could do with my experience and knowledge. It was interesting to see how He uses this relationship to even break the borders of expectations I had in the most basic ways.

I had been tutoring a resident at The Launch Pad for a couple months and noticed the resident having a hard time focusing. This was done rightly so with her toddler running around and being so active. The solution was very simple to me, I didn’t even think twice. The toddler just needed to be entertained, so I purchased a toddler toy car to do this. This has impacted our work together tremendously! My mentee has been able to focus and making studying so much more effective for her, even in our time not spent together.

I am humbled to see how God used such a simple task. I didn’t realize the impact of something I didn’t necessarily see as a huge blessing, but as a practical step to entertain a toddler. My goal was to help in educating my mentee. This is still my goal and the way God is using me as a vessel. He, however has plans I cannot foresee and in the most simplest of avenues. The Church in Action is the vessel God uses to help a mom studying with a distracted toddler. So simple, but the biggest and personal sign of love and care for this resident.

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MENTORING IMPACTS MORE THAN JUST THE YOUTH…

I am a caregiver of two precious siblings.

“Jackie” is 11, and her brother, “Steve”, is 16. My “caregiver confession” is that I, alone, cannot meet all the needs of these children.

But, I’ve learned, that I don’t have to. It is very hard to find quality time for myself on a consistent basis between homework, practices, projects, household chores, health challenges, etc. I cannot put into words how much having mentors for each of the kids has helped. Having such a positive role model in their lives to spend one-on-one time with them is tremendous. They gain positive experiences and do things they probably wouldn’t have an opportunity to do otherwise. Both children have gained direction in their futures and have grown in self-esteem and trust.

In the past six months that Jackie has had a mentor, she has become more responsible, thoughtful, and considerate of others. She and her mentor have gone to see plays, they go to church, go out to eat, and the mentor attends all of her volleyball games! Jackie’s favorite thing to do is go to the beach, and they do that a lot. It is so encouraging to me to see them do the very simple things I wish I had time to do with her myself.

Steve and his mentor first met 18 months ago. They go out to eat and talk about future goals and college. His mentor helps him discover interests, and they have created a book club with a list of classics to read together. Having someone to share his love of reading reminds him that he is not alone. Through time with his mentor, he’s matured and he has a greater sense of direction. He is more responsible, going to school early and staying later to talk with the teachers, and now has his mind set on college. He is already figuring out which one to go to and is looking for a job. He is currently working on improving his grades with his mentor and plans to start driving soon!

I am so grateful for TLF and the ways they’ve impacted not just my youth’s life, but my life as well. They have impacted our entire family for the better.

**Names have been changed for privacy purposes. 

To learn more about how you can support the efforts of Teen Leadership Foundation, click here. 

 

 

Gaining a Teen Mom’s Trust

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Teen Leadership Foundation was a light for me when a Church leader mentioned the work they were doing with foster teens and those who have emancipated out of the system. Immediately, I was moved by the work they were doing and felt heavy hearted like I needed to reach out.

God woke me out of my routine and reminded me of how much He’s brought me through in my own life. I understood what it was like to be alone as a single mom and to feel unloved. My hardships and tears made me into a person who could relate to people in difficult situations.

So I followed my hunch and signed up for training with TLF in hopes of becoming a mentor. The training was eye opening to say the least. What struck me most was hearing that some youth pull away from you when they are afraid to lose you. This truth broke my heart and meant I would need to love unconditionally. I was to go all in and not turn back. I believed I could do that so I signed up.

The day came when I got to meet Anna. At first it was awkward. I got that skeptical, mistrusting up and down glance and thought, yikes, this might be harder than I thought. Who was I any ways? But little by little, and visit after visit, she let me into her world. It was such a privilege she trusted me enough to share her struggles and woes. She also was a single mom, so I knew God placed me with the right person.

Anna became so easy to love. I saw through to her big heart so hurt by past memories. Any doubts I may have had of myself to be enough, to impact and help someone else in this way, soon passed away. Her trusting spirit and determination was a gift for me. And her love for her son gave me such joy to witness.

Challenges come and go like seasons and she continues to blossom. It’s beautiful I get to be a part of such an amazing young woman’s life and her precious son. She’s helped me to see when I step out in faith into the unknown, get my feet wet, and then my whole body, true life begins.

Miracles come when you walk out of your comfort zone. Anne has given me a new stride and an everlasting gift that will out run and out live this life. She’s taught me to trust where God is leading me and to see His wonder as He makes us whole again each time we step out.

 

A Story Of A Mentor

Greg has been Juan’s mentor since 2009, and the two have spent hundreds of hours together.  Greg has remained in Juan’s life as he navigated through foster care, providing guidance and consistency. This year Juan turns 18 and will emancipate from the Child Welfare System. Defying the odds against teens leaving the foster care system, Juan is about to graduate from high school and has already been accepted into a four-year college. Juan contributes this to his mentor who has been his role model. But the impact goes both ways, with Greg noting that his relationship with Juan has helped him grow and has made him more compassionate for God’s heart for the disenfranchised. When they were first matched six years ago, Juan asked Greg how long he planned to be around. Greg’s reply was simple: “This is for life. I am not going anywhere.”

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Words From a Counselor…

“I wonder if the disciples were as speechless as I am??  How do I put into words what amazing miracles my God did, how it shook me to the core, filled me with joy, and wrecked me at the same time?

God was highlighted throughout the camp in an undeniable way. Two of the campers and myself came together and wrote a worship song called “Breakdown Into Your Arms”. There were late night breakthroughs during small groups with my boys, Scott, Ben, Andrew, Brandon and Sean, that really brought the barriers down in the other guys, if only for a minute. Late night UNO games led to building relationships with campers like Chris and Toby. One of the most inspiring moments was watching the tenacity in Tracy, she continued to bring hope to her fellow campers.

Then there was the Domino’s skit where the love of Jesus was displayed through the art of theater. In the skit the boys would be picked up by Jesus to form a cross, time and time again Satan would swoop in to knock one of them over, creating a domino effect that left no man standing. Jesus was always there to pick up his children, restore them and put them back where they belonged. It was incredibly touching and beautiful.What a blessing to partner with Jesus to love on His kids!!”

-TLF Camp Counselor

The List

“Two weeks ago I participated in Teen Leadership Camp and saw first hand how tangible and easy it was to help youth in foster care. When I first met my camper, Juan, he was wearing a red Anaheim Angel’s hat and sweatshirt. He seemed like a pretty normal kid. On the bus ride up to camp he shared  with me the very unfortunate story of his father’s public murder. After his father’s death, at the age of 12, Juan was placed into foster care where he had been for about a year. He explained that his brothers were now back with his biological mother, and that he did not want to go back with her for a variety of reasons. Although he cares for his foster parents deeply, they also thought it was best for him to live with his biological family. They asked him to come back from camp with a list of reasons why he felt staying with the foster family would be best. That list became our special project and we continued to work on it all weekend. I asked him questions and helped him articulate eight reasons why it was better for him to stay with his foster family. These reasons ranged from school stability to physical abuse , verbal abuse, mental abuse and everything in between. As simple as this task was, my prayer is that our work at camp will help him stay in a loving and supportive family. These kids need to feel Christ’s love through our words, time, talents, and resources.”

…TLC Camp Counselor

Camp Miracles

Told from the eyes of a camp counselor…

“All, I have wonderful news and want to shout it from the rooftops so I apologize for the overly wide distribution.

What an amazing experience I had this past weekend with 30 other counselors at the Teen Leadership Foundation Camp (TLF) that the Grove Community Church of Riverside held for the Foster kids in their community.

Our weekend was packed full of awesome events and opportunities to bless all the kids with affirmation, kindness and life skills.

I was paired with my camper from Friday morning until we left Sunday afternoon.  We went very deep into his story and current challenges. This event allowed me to share some wisdom from The Bible about love, 1 Corinthians 13, and identify some positive steps he could make in building a healthy foundation in his life.

Initially I was worried about spending too much time with him and burning out, but we were grouped with 3 other pairs of one-on-one campers to counselors. There were 8 total in our small group where we ate together, did team building activities, high ropes (30-100 feet in the air), skits, songs, group discussions, made s ‘mores and played fun games. At the end of the camp today, my camper made the decision along with 8 other teens to commit their lives to Christ!! It was truly an amazing experience and the Grove leadership (Stacey Syrocki) did a wonderful job picking out two powerful speakers who spoke to the camp about grace in their own lives. The environment at the Alpine Camp in Lake Arrowhead had a perfect mix of events, staff, and food to fill our weekend with great memories. It was awesome to experience.”

-Josh Gladness

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