THE NEXT STEP: FROM LEARNER TO LEADER

While still in my career in the apparel and textile industry I began a journey of volunteer leading and creating ministries for foster youth over the course of the next seven years within my home church. I lead camp weekends, Christmas parties, mentor outings, and continued to mentor youth I’d met at camp, as well as strategically helped design new ways to reach kids in need.
I remember one year in particular leading a Christmas party of around 600 kids and caregivers and 300 volunteers. Someone from my team let me know a caregiver was looking for me…me? I thought to myself what is she going to complain about? What did I miss?!
As I went to greet her – she and her soon to be 18 year old foster child youth thanked me…He said this was his last year coming to this event, as he was aging out of the system. He went on to tell me that he had been with this particular foster family for the past five years and the one thing he remembers as a constant every year was this holiday party.
With tears in our eyes I gave him a hug…I have tears in my eyes typing almost a decade later.
This is the start of the journey towards TLF. You see, TLF is really a tapestry, a weaving, of small, but significant stories. Each thread matters. Each play an important role in the coming together of the big picture God had in mind as he brought small…but significant…events, relationships, and circumstances my way.

THE AFTERMATH OF CAMP

As camp ended I knew God was telling me I had to do more.
There were 2 girls that stood out to me that I wanted to mentor. Although my home church at the time had a mentoring program – we had very little training and understanding of how trauma impacts these youths and how we relate to them, as well as systematic issues that exist around the child welfare department.
I reached out to the group home these one of these girls resided – she had gone AWOL. So, I let the home know I was available and waiting for her return. Over the course of 3 weeks I would call the house everyday…and, finally, she did come back. I remember vividly walking into the charming old Santa Ana home and this girl saying to me “why would you want to mentor me? And why would you call for 3 weeks waiting on me to come back?”
And that began our relationship.
The second girl had transferred homes within the first week of retuning from camp. I remember at camp learning she had already been in four other homes that year. Not having an understanding of the system we were unable to locate her…This is a painful reality that comes with not being properly educated all that comes with advocating for foster youth.
Today, years later, I still have her name in a journal and pray for her regularly.

IT ALL STARTED AT CAMP…

In the summer of 2000 I went to a 3 day retreat for teens in foster care. 

This was the first time I had heard any of the statistics I am now overly familiar with:
Increased chance of young pregnancy.
40% incarcerated in 2-4 years after emancipation
As little as 1% graduating college
56% graduating high school… 
Not only did I memorize these statistics, but they became increasingly real as I met youth after youth who had been abandoned, neglected, abused…all by the ones who were meant to protect and nurture and love them.
It was that weekend God broke my heart for what breaks His-I finally understood what the Scriptures talked about when God calls his people to care for the orphan.
One camper particularly stood out to me. He embraced his time in the mountains with a sense of joy and confidence that belied the scars covering most of his body. On the last night of camp, this young man took his turn on the microphone to address what he felt was an obvious question: his appearance. He explained that the scars were the result of years of abuse by his father, who regularly burned him with cigarettes – until the time the embers ignited their home, killing everyone but this young man, who was severely burned.

He thanked everyone there for accepting him as just a regular kid. For the first time since the fire, he didn’t feel like he was scrutinized for how he looked or what he’d faced in his childhood. Camp was a safe place where he could be himself.

That kids faced such horrors – and that something as simple as a weekend at camp could be so freeing – was a defining moment for me that would change the trajectory of my life forever.

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