Creating Systematic & Sustainable Change

Teen Leadership Foundation continues to be a powerful force linking the faith community to local governments. By supporting our partnering organizations with assistance, awareness and organizational training we are able to promote systemic and sustainable change in the lives of emancipating youth.  TLF continues to be recognized as a growing nation-wide organization that is continually creating a voice that would not normally be heard. Recently TLF was asked to write an article in Fostering Families Today on how we work to provide better outcomes for youth in care. TLF’s founder, Lisa Castetter, decided to write the article from her own personal journey in mentoring, the path through it and the outcomes from it. 

The article is titled: Closing the Chasm of the Team

As we approach the summer months and prepare for our multiple leadership camps around Southern California and the Pacific Northwest contact your local church partner for more information on how you can become a long term life changing mentor to a youth in foster care.

-Teen Leadership Foundation

Lisa will be speaking at Summit 9 in Nashville, Tennessee May 2-3.

 

 

High-Fives

In 2008 I began my journey with Teen Leadership Foundation feeling scared and not really sure what I had signed up for. I met a girl who flinched when I went to high five her. Each summer I return to teen leadership camp as a counselor and each year when I see her I am witness to her growth and trust in all of us. This past year when I saw her at camp registration I yelled out her name across the room. She saw me; ran and gave me a GIANT HUG! We are passed the awkward “slow high five stage!” We are past that season when I had to warn her, ” here comes a high five”; so she would not flinch and be in fear. We have entered into friendship with “camp” a common thread each summer for both of us. I know she is excited to see me each summer and I am excited to see her. I think about her all year round.

– Bethany, camp counselor

Hats

On the way up to the weekend for teen leadership camp I was thinking – I am over 6 decades older than John… will I make a difference?  John had not participated in anything and the afternoon was almost over. There he lay, on the edge of the grass with his baseball cap covering his face. I went over, knelt beside him and had my face inches from his.

It did not take long for him to realize someone was there.

I asked, “Are you OK?

“Yes”

“Is anything wrong?”

“No”

“I like the color of your hair, a mixture of brown and black.”

We sat side by side facing each other and I discovered he composed poetry. I told him I was impressed by his ability and I encouraged him to write a couple of poems while at camp this weekend.  He went on to let me know his ball cap was special because his mother gave it to him.   He last saw his mother 2 months ago.

I sat….pondering how to reach him.

Because he said he liked intellectual things I decided to give him 2 questions to think about over the weekend.

#1 what am I going to do with the rest of my life?

#2 what makes for a successful life? NOT “what makes for success in life?’

Saturday morning I gave him another thought.

#3 the way you play the game in camp is exactly the way you play the game of life. He agreed and said he isolates and finds peace in marijuana.

We found ourselves together on the field where he asked, “Where is God?” “I pray and see no answer.” We sat on the stone wall for about 20-30 minutes discussing this.

How do you answer this question of a 15 year old boy who has been bounced around and smokes marijuana?  As we talked we also admired the beauty of creation, especially the bright stars scattered across expanse of the sky.  Sunday morning we had to clear out of the cabins. I was the last to leave and found a piece of paper on the floor with a poem

Thy light that shines throughout the starry night – That gives us hope and shines our doubts away

That shines like a beacon and tells the world it’ll be OK

Never at peace ;full of uncertainty –  Wanting to hope; in the Almighty

A response

He’s been searching for me; all this time – And I never realized it

He’s here – He’s there- He’s where I need Him- He’s when I need Him

It’s my choice; My choice to join Him; To become a follower; not just a fan; For this I was created

To praise His Holy name;  To praise Him;  Just like the stars in the sky

As the bus was ready to leave, I gave him my baseball cap to add to his collection. To my surprise he took off the cap he had been wearing all weekend, the one given to him by his mother, and put on my beat up old cap.  He said the camp was much better than he had expected and he looks forward to returning next year.

Lisa Castetter | Founder, Executive Director

Love Wins

As the end of 2011 is approaching, it is a great time for reflection – the holidays bring all sorts of emotions this time of the year. I look back on my life and the opportunities I have been given and I am truly grateful. There was a time in my life when I believed myself to be a charity case. That the only reason I could see anyone helping me out during my life, was to satisfy their own needs to help the “needy”. I then learned that there was so much more to my interpretation of the story.

A mentor once told me  that you cannot be angry and grateful at the same time.

That statement really stuck with me. At the time, I was so angry at the world, I felt as an outcast, taken advantage of and truly in despair. It is from this place that my gifts were born, where God showed me that I am responsible for the way I chose to interpret my life.

As I began to take hold of my narrative, I saw a multitude of stories. In one, I was the charity case, another the Selfish Taker, the survivor, a constantly cared for foster youth who was always at the mercy of those who provided for her, so that when they no longer saw my “need,” I would no longer be of importance. On the flip side, I could decide that I was not entitled to anything, that I was part of God’s plan and my purpose required a diverse upbringing that made me relatable to so many more people because of my experiences. This may seem a cliché twist to see the good in the suffering, but by this I stand.

I believe transformation took place in my life when I quit looking at it through the lens of scarcity. As a foster youth many of us are born into the mentality of having our worlds defined for us. Consequently, when given the opportunity to choose our own, it is a scary place. A place where we feel ill-equipped and at times at a standstill to even accomplish the ability to give love. When I looked around however, I saw this “illness” abundant in other people as well, people from completely different situations or circumstances than mine. It was then I decided that I was going to allow Love to win. Each family that said “yes” to provide for me became a winner in my story, a champion of my cause, an opportunity for me to practice demonstrating love. The result? I am now a healthy 24-year-oldc ollege graduate, who is living independently, seeks to have a family, and hopes to be a foster parent myself someday.

At 24, I see a bright future ahead for my brothers and sisters in foster care and it is organizations such as Teen Leadership Foundation who continue to improve the statistics by improving the ability for foster youth to truly connect through relationships. It is this mission to not just raise funds but to maintain a clear action plan that inspires me to want to support this community in any way possible . As the 2012 year approaches it is my prayer that Teen Leadership Foundation receives abundant supply so that lives of foster youth are changed and that the next generation will look back unlike the generations before and say, LOVE WINS!

Please Donate Now. Every little bit helps!

– Annette Jordan, Foster Youth Alumni, Entrepreneur and  Speaker

“I will not leave you orphaned”- Jesus Christ

Hope + Rescue

Teens who for various reasons, are not able to live with their biological parents, and find themselves Dependents of the Court System, are often labeled by various terms: at-risk youth, group home kids, troubled teens, juvenile delinquents.  In many ways, Proverbs 13:12 best describes most foster youth:  “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but desire fulfilled is a tree of life.”  The common experience of the vast majority of these kids is that of deep heartbreak due to disappointment, and therefore lost hope.  The very people that God intended to love them unconditionally; have let them down, and it’s made their hearts sick and in deep pain.  What they need more than anything is a glimmer of hope!

James 1:27 reminds us of the simplicity of true ministry: “to visit the orphan… in their distress… and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”  Kids who are today a part of the state foster system, are the modern day orphan.  Some are truly without parents or family.  Others are from homes where they’re experience physical and/or sexual abuse or neglect.  Others have parents who have chosen drug use over good parenting, and/or one or more parents are in prison. According to James 1, these kids need people who are willing to spend significant time with them.  Short of actually becoming a foster parent, spending time with hurting kids at camp is the quickest and most effective way to let them know that there is hope… that someone cares… that even if they don’t know or trust God,  that someone who does trust God, cares about them in a meaningful way!

As a Chaplain for Olive Crest Homes for Children for the past 26 years, and having attended several Teen Leadership Foundation Camps, I can highly recommend this ministry of hope and rescue.  Their philosophy of love, acceptance, safety and community provides an amazingly unique environment that even the most resistant teen usually ends us thoroughly enjoying their weekend at camp!

We at Olive Crest have had the blessing of having dozens of our youth attend TLF camps for the past several years, and God willing, will do so for years to come!

When a young man or woman emancipates, many remain either close or distant member of our Olive Crest family.  As the Chaplain, I have the great blessing of hearing from some our former youth, sometimes years after they have moved on.  As we reminisce, they will seldom mention a Super Bowl Party or an Outreach Event, but almost without fail, the memories of camp will surface.  Like most of us, the specifics of the “normal” days of their teen years will blend together, but something that stands out clearly, is a weekend away from the normal day-to-day world, in a beautiful setting, surrounded by people who seem nicer than humanly possible… which is exactly right!  Because it is God in them, listening, playing, loving and treating them like they desperately need to be treated!

I can not think of a better camping experience to invest in the lives of hurting kids… their earthly future, as well as their eternal destiny!

Everyone can do something: the existence of Teen Leadership Foundation is a Godsend!  To join with this effort is to join with God, loving the fatherless! Start today:DONATE NOW! 

Most sincerely,  Frank Fried, Olive Crest Chaplain

WHAT CRYSTAL TAUGHT ME

Crystal was exposed to so much in her childhood. Sex, drugs, alcohol…it was all a part of her painful story.

When Crystal was fifteen, her mom dropped her off at school and never came back to pick her, or her three younger siblings, up. Crystal had taken on the role of the caregiver to her younger siblings, like many of the oldest in abusive home settings.

 After a few years in foster care, she got the opportunity to attend Teen Leadership Camp. She told the camp director “I really don’t like leaving my house or my siblings; but for me, TLC is the most calming, caring, accepting place I have ever gone to.”

In her own words:I love the first day of camp because it’s clear that people actually care about us and want to help. It’s a weekend full of love and kindness that is impossible to forget. On Friday night the speaker told us we are precious to God and we have value and purpose. Saturday morning we do high ropes, it is a time to help us conquer our fears. I love how everyone cheers each other on. We all want to succeed.  I learned that God reveals His purpose and plan for us and we just need to have faith. Life is not always the way we want it to be, but we can still trust God and believe.

 

THAT FIRST SUMMER

That summer, we launched two camps with two different churches; roughly 60 kids were given the opportunity to experience camp for the very first time…

Reflecting now on that summer I see how much we, as an organization, have grown and how much we have learned, but yet some core values still remain like:

planting seeds of hope

creating a safe environment for learning and growing

being one consistent thing in a foster youth’s often unpredictable life.

 
The Lord took what was once small, my five loaves and fish, and created something sustainable, lasting, and forever impacting these lives. I came faithful with a small hope to impact the youth’s I met at camp, and the Lord has been faithful to impact more and more and more youths as the years go on and Teen Leadership Foundation continues to grow. Ten years later, that three-day weekend is still a safe place for teens in foster-care to be given seeds of hope that they can carry with them for the rest of their lives. Today, hundreds of kids gather through churches to spend a weekend feeling valued, loved, safe and respected. 

ACCEPTING THE GIFTS

I had just left a lucrative career with just a year’s salary in the bank. Surprisingly I did not feel anxiety or a hint of worry. I was completely assured I was in God’s will and completely surrendered.

There I sat paying bills one night  – It was getting close to 9:00 at night—and I felt God’s gentle voice nudge me, “Lisa, go tithe.”  I remember going online to do so—and the prompting felt stronger: GO tithe.

I lived 20 minutes away from my home church—but I got in the car and drove to drop off a check that night in the offering box in the main sanctuary. The doors were still open and there was an event happening.

That marked the beginning of a diligent response to the gifts God brought to TLF over the years.

THE FIRST FEW MONTHS…

There I sat, four months after resigning from a career path that I had set goals and aspirations towards, at my desk in my home office…I remember praying out loud, “God…I can tell people all the ends and outs of the apparel industry, but this? You’re going to show me how to do this, right?”

This…this….thing; this mission, this call that I just could not walk away from.

All I knew was that God had given me a vision of bringing the local church into an awareness of the crisis of foster care in our country.  I didn’t think I was suppose to be on the front lines—I had a plan for someone else to be in the messy parts.  

I sat on the phone with a friend who was telling me about a foster parent she knew; I met with him a few days later and he introduced me to churches, donors, people I needed to know to make this “this” happen…He mentored me, coached me and was a champion for this new mission. Quickly, things started falling in line: 

Churches were saying, without hesitation, “we are in”  and started taking part in summer leadership camps.

The Department of Children and Family Services began giving referral agreements to send foster teens in their system to our camps. 

A family used their foundation to commit to sustain Teen Leadership Foundation the first five years of growth and development. 
Friends and family were praying and there was no denying that God was on the move.

MY LAST TRIP TO VEGAS

In February of 2007 , I found myself driving to Vegas for a trade show. God was continuing to do more and more in me-speaking to me about my passions, my career choice, my next steps…I put in a CD mix a friend had made to listen to as I drove the 4 hour trek. Then these words came on:
I have followed the ways of the world – forgive me of my transgressions – Lord have mercy on me! 
A defining moment – I cried as I pushed “replay” on the same song for the entire four hours. I arrived to Vegas with red swollen eyes as I looked for the team of people I was meeting. We discussed strategy of the show and game-planned for the next morning, but I could not shake the feeling that something needed to change.
I sat quietly with my team and spoke:
I have something to tell you. I am resigning… 
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