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

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“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.

A WRAPAROUND STORY

There’s no better way to show you how TLF’s model of wrapping around youth is working for local foster youth than to share a story of its impact. This is a small part of Annie and Junior’s story.  

“There are many [ways] camp helped me grow in my youth years…one big [way] was through the counselors; I actually felt wanted and loved by each of them individually. I was comfortable enough to open up to them right away because of the warm welcome they had shown me. Another reason was the group of kids/teenagers I was surrounded by. I didn’t feel like I was the “only one” in my situation, and there were many more just like me battling through the same things in life. I didn’t feel alone for once…
After camp, I continued to go to The Knot and had a mentor through TLF in myteen years. When I was 19 I moved into The Launch Pad.

TLF has supported me in so many amazing and different ways. My volunteer parenting coach taught me a lot about becoming a better mother to my son. TLF helped me obtained a scholarship through a local trade college to get my dialysis program certificate. I was able to save and buy my first car through the help of my budget coach. The on-site care coordinators always are there for me, and take time to listen to me when I get overwhelmed by life.

[I recently completed] my hemodialysis program; completing the program as a single mother is one of my major achievements and I definitely wouldn’t have been able to do it without the love and support of my TLF family. Thank you TLF! -Annie

For more information on how you can become a flight crew member attend a mentor training. Dates are on our calendar. 

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 

 

 

FROM BYSTANDER, TO CAMP COUNSELOR, TO MENTOR

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My name is Myrine and I have been attending Mariners Church in Irvine for over 2 years. One Holiday, my church announced the Foster Family Christmas Party and I knew immediately that I wanted to be a part of it. It was a great experience to help out families in our community during the Christmas season with a fun afternoon of food, crafts, games and gift-giving.

I have friends that have been camp counselors with TLF, and have always been interested, but apprehensive because I’m not a very “outdoorsy” or athletic person.

I wanted to step outside my comfort zone and not let fear stop me from getting more involved.

I prayed God would use me and pair me with a sweet, nice girl that I would be able to relate to and encourage. He definitely answered my prayers because I was paired with one of the sweetest, kindest girls I know. I was really impressed with my mentee because not only was she kind but also very open and honest with me from the start. 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 and we learned that God Never Gives Up on us and loves us no matter what. The messages and worship was so uplifting and encouraging. In just a matter of one day, the kids were so much more open to hear God’s word and sing and praise Him.

Camp gave all the youth time to getaway from their normal and allowed them to just be kids and have fun…to laugh, play and be loved on by 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 be used by God to help and encourage a youth. I was happy to hear the same girl I connected with at camp was interested in a mentorship too! I’m excited to see what God has in store for us in our new mentor/mentee relationship. I look forward to spending time together, learning new skills and serving our community. 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 taught me to stay strong, keep moving forward and never give up no matter what life has deals us.

Interested in being a mentor or going to camp? Click here for more information!

HOW ONE COFFEE DATE CHANGED MY LIFE

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I have been a flight crew member for about 6 months, primarily helping my mentee with parenting questions and concerns. We usually meet for coffee and discuss how things are going with her daughter, which that usually leads to discussing other areas of life. If we talk about a parenting strategy that involves the use of certain items, I try to bring them to our meeting or provide them after the meeting to help make the implementation easier for her. I am also helping her to gather the necessary information about her next steps in school and what assistance is available to her.

My mentee is a beautiful young woman with a huge heart. She has a daughter that she is raising and is going to school part time while also working. She is a woman with so much on her plate but manages it with great care and intention. She has the kindest smile and helps others whenever she can. I am excited to be a part of her life and watch her progress. I admire her very much!

My last coffee date with my mentee left me in tears. It is a great feeling to know that I am part of something bigger than myself. I don’t have all the answers, but I’ve learned 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 to her. He empowers me to empower her to be the best mom, student, and person she can be.

For more information on how you can become a mentor, click here.

 

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. 

TAKING THE LEAP, IN HIGH ROPES AND LIFE

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This past weekend at camp we watched one of our campers overcome a HUGE fear of heights.

It was the encouragement of her friends and the volunteer counselors cheering her on that empowered her to get back on the ropes course, and hop across logs that swung on ropes in mid-air. Tears were brought to her eyes as she looked back and saw what she just conquered.

Tears were brought to her eyes as she looked back and saw what she just conquered.

It was a moving moment to experience; throughout the rest of camp I watched this camper do more and more bold things. She eventually was the first to speak in group discussions and even prayed out loud-something that took great courage for her in particular.

It is hard to describe the amount of growth seen in the campers in such a short amount of time. In fact, it seems near impossible. God works in miraculous ways that time does not stand against.

I watched these unfold right before my eyes and still can’t fathom it! Even the small accomplishments made huge impacts. One camper only made it to the harness-he couldn’t jump or go on the high ropes course-he wasn’t ready. But for him to take the step to at least attempt, was a HUGE decision for him. His counselors’ affirmations for how brave that was forever impacted his life.

I am beyond moved by these kids. It was such a privilege to be a part of witnessing how God is moving and using Teen Leadership Camp to give them something to bring home into their daily lives to see they can do it. To learn from their ability and bravery to accomplish and never give up, even among fear, impacted me deeply, and challenged me to see how I can be braver in my daily life and step into what God is asking of me, even if it seems scary. It was such a privilege to be a witness and even a part of this process.

Teen Leadership Camp is impacting more and more youths’ lives every year-see how you can play a part in making a difference here.  

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