How The Launch Pad Prepared Merveille

Merveille spent four years in a Congolese refugee camp before fleeing her war-torn homeland for the U.S. with her mother at the age of 11. With her relationship with her mother deteriorating, Merveille found herself in foster care two years later. Now 20, she has been at the Launch Pad for a year and a half and has made great strides thanks to her perseverance and the support of her “flight crew” team of volunteers. (i.e. parent coach, mentor, tutor and budget coach)

Merveille enrolled in cosmetology school and obtained her license in June 2017, and now has a full-time job at the salon where she’s been working part time as an apprentice. Her daughter, Faith, is enrolled in pre-school, and Merveille is better equipped as a parent thanks to the tools she gained from her parenting coach. Also, with the help of her driving and budgeting coaches, Merveille obtained her driver license and purchased her first car. She has also grown spiritually through her involvement in a community study held at the Launch Pad and led by a former Launch Pad resident along with a long-time volunteer leader.

Merveille has begun her final stages at The Launch Pad where she has been saving for housing, insurance, establish credit and preparing herself to “launch” this month. She is a beautiful reminder of what Launch Pad residents are capable of achieving with intentional support and mentoring.

THE FAITH JOURNEY FOR FOSTER YOUTH

Our residents experience faith and spirituality on an individual basis. It is a deeply personal, ever-growing part of their experience and journey towards independence. We do not force anything upon them, but invite them to investigate, to learn, and be open to something bigger than themselves, and a hope that has proved transformational powers in various peoples’ lives.

There is a resident who was sure she did not want much to do with God. In her eyes, God seemed mean and controlling—someone she had no interest in believing in. Her own painful past is enough to impact this side of belief—why would she believe in a good God if her parents have never treated her well or wanted her? How could she trust in a higher power when all the authorities placed over her have treated her as a project, been paid to care for her basic needs, or watched her struggle her way through life? Something has shifted since she moved to The Launch Pad. There have been many instances that have happened in her life in the past six months that make her think and question her beliefs, good things…She has seen how things have fallen into place over and over again and cannot make sense of it outside of something bigger than herself, working on her behalf.

 

ASK and it will be given to you; SEEK and you will find; KNOCK and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and the one who knocks will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-12 

TLF SUMMER UPDATE

The Launch Pad: 

For various reasons, one of the Launch Pad residents was having a hard time connecting with her new roommates. She was questioning whether or not she could relate to any of them because she felt like they were further along in their ability to be independent than she was. 

Overtime, she has connected with her roommates and learned they have more in common than she thought. They have shown her support and care when situations arose, and showed her a very different community and care than she had ever experienced by her peers in group homes she was placed in before joining the Launch Pad. 

This was a huge victory. This resident is now realizing that she is more than capable of moving forward and achieving goals she thought might not have been for her.

For more information on the Launch Pad program, click here. 

Mentoring: 

A mentor recently began encouraging her mentee to write things that she is grateful for in a journal. The mentor got her a journal just for this purpose, and wants her to learn to focus on the positives in life, rather than just the negatives. For youths with various traumas and stories, it can be difficult to walk through life and see the beautiful things that most people take advantage of. With triggers and memories, past hurts and pains, it’s easy to be caught up in the memories of negative experiences. This is a great way to teach anyone— foster youth, teenagers, and adults alike—that gratitude can change perspective and experience. 

For more information on becoming a TLF mentor, click here.

The Network: 

Anxiety and trauma are normal occurrences for foster youth. One teen recently shared her experience as being so debilitating that she can’t work, go to school, or make friends. She was facing large and real fears.

In situations like this, The Network is a game-changer. This youth was able to do practice interviews with a local hiring professional. She was able to practice her ability to converse and relate to someone in a position of professional authority, and receive positive feedback. In her own words, I didn’t believe it, but I was told I did an amazing job at my mock interview. The woman who held the interview said she’d hire me! Which is craaaazzzy to me!”

“I didn’t believe it, but I was told I did an amazing job at my mock interview. The woman who held the interview said she’d hire me! Which is craaaazzzy to me!”

The Network connects youth with employment skills. Teens transitioning though foster care are now able able to walk into a real interview with confidence and strengths.

For more information on the Network, click here. 

CHURCH PARTNERSHIP UPDATE

If you have been following along with TLF, you know the value of church partnership. Without our local churches, we would not be able to reach youth throughout Southern California with specific resources, needs, and communities. We recently developed two new partnerships with churches central to the foster community, filling a gap that has existed in North Orange County.

Cornerstone Church recently began hosting a TLF youth group (The Knot).  Cornerstone’s location is really important because they are located near a pocket of foster and kinship families that do not have cars, preventing them from attending other youth groups and Network Classes. 

St. Johns in Orange has officially announced that foster care and TLF is becoming a main ministry for their community. They appointed a new TLF camp director a little over a year ago. Since then, she has cultivated a solid Teen Leadership Camp team, recruited other volunteers to become mentors and worked with the church’s pastoral team to carve out resources to begin a Knot Youth Group at the church. She is even volunteering as a budget coach for one our new residents at The Launch Pad.

This is the heart of Teen Leadership Foundation: to educate, equip and empower churches to build community and support systems around teenagers in foster care.

SPRING AND SUMMER AT THE LAUNCH PAD

Beautification Day

March 18th we had an annual serve event we call Beautification Day, where volunteers from all different walks, churches, and organizations go to the Launch Pad to repair, paint, garden, organize, and “beautify” the campus for the residents. It was amazing to see over 100 volunteers come together to work hard for a couple of hours and give back to TLF and their community. There were children, teenagers, mothers and fathers, people from all different generations and walks of life, coming together to help however they could. We had a toddler helping paint, teenagers bonding, and 80 year-old men praying for the campus. Everyone had a part to play, and everyone walked away with a new friendship and experience. 

The residents were touched by the amount of people that showed up and loved on their home. One resident said, “It was so amazing to see all of these people come to serve, volunteer their time to make this campus beautiful. It was awesome!” Another said, “I have never seen so many people serve before, the campus looks so GOOD!”

The residents were touched by the amount of people that showed up and loved on their home. One resident said, “It was so amazing to see all of these people come to serve, volunteer their time to make this campus beautiful. It was awesome!” Another said, “I have never seen so many people serve before, the campus looks so GOOD!”

Workout Bonding

One of the residents at the Launch Pad recently asked someone on our staff if they could work out together (The Launch Pad has a gym on campus). They started working out then asked the Launch Pad Resident Directors to join, as well. Shortly after that, the Director of TLF said she wanted to workout too, so by the end of the evening we had two more residents join us! For some, it was the first time they had ever worked out. Everyone worked out together; they laughed and pushed themselves!

That was one of our residents’ favorite evenings at the Launch Pad; they all bonded and really got to encourage one another. It was not about the workout or fitness as much as it was about team building and doing something together!

We have all decided that working out together was going to become a thing to weave into our summer plans at the Launch Pad for our residents and team to experience!

THE GIFT OF BEING KNOWN

Our mentorship program takes an intentional look at both our volunteers and residents to find a fit that works for both parties. We know it takes time to build a trusting relationship with someone—so we take the time to learn about both the volunteer mentor and the mentee to know what needs each have before connecting the two.  The first meeting is merely a time to introduce the mentee to the mentor.

You never know how an introduction is going to go; if the youth is going to be shy or uninterested…but when our team introduced Kim to her mentee (we’ll call her “A”), it was clear from the beginning they were a perfect match. The look on A.’s face was priceless. She was so excited to meet her mentor; you could see the joy. When I asked her what she liked to do for fun, she generously listed a lot of things and you could just see how excited she was to have someone want to spend time just with her. The whole meeting was full of laughter. Kim and A. connected right away and it was apparent.

A teenager’s life has been touched-and all it took was for someone to say, “I want to spend time with you.”

Everyone, no matter where you are from, or what your story is, wants to feel seen and known. We all desire to feel understood and sought after. Our mentors are given the rare opportunity to do just that for a special population of youth in our county that has never felt that way before. To give someone the gift of feeling known is priceless.

Are you interested in making a difference in a foster youth’s life? Check out our calendar for ways you can be involved this year with Teen Leadership Foundation. 

TWO STORIES OF TEEN LEADERSHIP FOUNDATION’S IMPACT


We can’t imagine a better way to share the impact of Teen Leadership Camp than having campers share their own experiences. Here are two stories from recent graduates who have stayed involved in different areas of Teen Leadership Foundation after their season at camp ended: 

There are so many reasons why I love TLF. One of the main reasons is, at the age of 28, I can sit here in the comfort of my own living room and tell you that I have a support network grown through camps, The Knot and the other activities developed for me. When I needed a family, they are always there. I have made lifelong friendships from camp. During my time at camp I learned to trust people. Being in foster care as a teen teaches you to guard yourself; it’s hard to trust people, because we don’t know who will stay. But TLF has always had my back. Those 3 days at camp were a refuge in my teen years. Thank you, TLF.  This is my last year of nursing school, and I am coming to camp as a leader this year.

Those 3 days at camp were a refuge in my teen years. Thank you, TLF.


It would be impossible for me to fully express the appreciation and love I have for the people involved with TLF. What started as a “here goes nothing” 3-day camping trip has become one of the greatest blessings in my life. When I first got involved with TLF, I was a shy, afraid, and angry child who felt like the whole world was against her; but TLF has guided me to the understanding that I don’t have to be paralyzed by my past. I’m 21 years old now, and I can honestly say that TLF has contributed to my wellbeing through their continual support, unconditional love, and the relationships I’ve formed. One of the most beautiful things they showed me was that I’m deserving of love, and that I don’t have to jump through hoops to earn it.

When I first got involved with TLF, I was a shy, afraid, and angry child who felt like the whole world was against her; but TLF has guided me to the understanding that I don’t have to be paralyzed by my past.

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.

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