HOW ONE COFFEE DATE CHANGED MY LIFE

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

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.

Music Lessons

Before we left the church on Friday, I’d been talking with Amber, who mentioned she’d wanted to learn to play guitar. I told her I was leading the music this weekend and would love to set aside a few minutes to teach her a couple of chords. After our Friday night movie, I was praying and asking the Lord to guide my thoughts and words for the next day, when I remembered our conversation. Knowing how many of the kids had grown up with broken promises, I wanted to be certain I had integrity with them and not be another promise breaker.

When I saw her and her counselor the next morning and made arrangements for the lesson time. Amber’s face glowed, like she felt she had value and was important. She learned her two chords well and even picked up a strum as she changed back and forth between chords. I gave her my favorite guitar pick: bright pink with the word “Pick Jesus” on it, as a token to remember that time.

-Deborah, TLC Counselor 

From Stranger to World’s Best Mentor

Kathy P & Journey FFCP 2015

I learned about Teen Leadership Foundation’s mentoring program when I went to Teen Leadership Camp last summer.  I was asking the Lord to lead me in the direction of a new challenge and adventure. A 3-day camp weekend with a group of teens was where He led.

Journey was on the younger side of the youth TLF serves – but incredibly bright and full of life!  After camp;  I was soon matched and we had our first outing. It  was awkward,  like meeting a new friend, wanting to ask 100 questions, but too shy to ask.

I’ve since been on several outings with Journey and each time, I am grateful to how the Lord had His hand in pairing us up. It turns out we have a ton of things in common. She is a super special kiddo, very spunky, observant, smart and full of questions and a desire to learn.

She is changing my life. She makes me look at my world differently. Every time we are driving back to her house, she asks, “so what are we going to next time? When are you coming again?”  It’s great to hear that she’s just as excited about spending time together than I am.

She was so excited to give me her Christmas present.  When I opened the gift and saw what she got me, I wanted to cry. A coffee mug that said “World’s Greatest Mentor”.  It is a gift I will treasure the rest of my life!

Ask and He will answer!  I am certain I am on the path the Lord has paved for me. I look forward to the adventures He has planned for us. Who are you mentoring?

 

 

Wheel of Change

In sharing some of Teen Leadership Foundation’s new and expanding programs in this newsletter, I realized it might be helpful to give you an overview of the progression of TLF’s programs. Our intent is to provide foster teens with a pathway to a better future through eternal relationships and educational experiences. Looking at the wheel of change below, you’ll see that starts with Teen Leadership Camp, which brings foster teens together for a 3-day mountaintop experience. Then there’s mentoring, which solidifies those personal relationships made with volunteers from camp. The Knot is a monthly youth group designed to bring continued community with positive, caring adults. The Network our independent living skill workshops, prepare teens for life beyond foster care. And for emancipated youth, there’s The Launch Pad, our transitional living housing program. The progression of our programs is intentional, and as a volunteer or other community partner, your involvement is intentional, too. Through your commitment and care, these teens will transition into adulthood prepared and backed by a community that loves them that will forever change the trajectory of there lives.

wheel without key

Inspite of the rain

This weekend was a gift of God’s goodness in so many ways. The weekend was one of the most peaceful, simple family feeling camp weekends I’ve ever been a part of.

Saturday afternoon rain lead us to a time of tug-of-war and playing in the mud pit which was a perfect anaology to talk about “exploring the messy stuff’ in our lives. We brought up a couple who live in one of our neighborhoods and have been a part of our mentoring team for the past couple of years. The couple shared of past grief and addictions and the healing they have received. There was honesty and vulnerability as we sat in a circle and listened to each other share stories of pain and hurt and talked about how much God loves us to not only enter in that pain with us, but to give us each other to walk through it together. That unexpected Saturday afternoon was the most precious to me from that conversation we gave opportunity for campers to respond with a counselor to pray, and they all lined up.  Later on, one of those boys, Erik, came to me and asked, “Meg how come when you pray for someone else it makes you cry and feel God’s love more than when you pray for yourself?” He also articulated that he feels like the “tables have changed and that he feels older as a leader for others now.” Wow.. for us, the reality of these boys having older guys to look up to who aren’t in the gang is a HUGE answer to prayer to the gang reality that dominates our neighborhood. TLF certainly understands that there is a different fruit that comes in invested time. It was fun to see that through this weekend.

Another praise that came from this weekend came in the posted pictures on social media after when one of our students tagged “Maple + Garnet = Family.” with a camp picture. This is significant because we work in 2 rival gang neighborhoods. Typically at camp we’re intervening in the neighborhood repping and trying to keep fights from breaking out, but this weekend just felt like a family vacation.

Teen Leadership Camps, the curriculum, the intentionality, the reach – it’s obviously blessed and being used mightily by God. Your generosity has been such a huge blessing to our teens at Solidarity, and your tenacity and compassionate heart has been a personal example and inspiration. We use the  brilliant TLF mentoring training curriculum every semester and it’s greatly enriched our team and volunteer mentors. Thank you so so much for allowing us to be a part of what God is doing through TLF.

Thank you from the bottom of our heart’s.

“The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take delight in you, he will comfort you with his love. He will rejoice over you with singing.” Zeph. 3:17

 

Sacrifice

Jeanette was put in foster care due to truancy and her Grandmother’s inability to respond to the education laws. She became an active participant in Teen Leadership Foundation.  Since age 11, Jeanette was a part of TLF, she went on to serve as a Jr. Counselor, graduated from high school as a varsity basketball player, and a 4.0 student. With the help of a scholarship from TLF and ROCKHARBOR’S First Fruits ministry  Jeanette’s, is thriving in her first year at Biola University. This is Jeanette’s story.

When I was 11, I was invited  to a Teen Leadership Camp. I was a depressed, lonely kid. It was the first time I was exposed to the Word of God. I remember listening to the speaker and wondering, ‘Who is God? I want to know more.’ After camp, I experienced hope. After the 2nd and 3rd camp, I experienced Jesus.

Jeanette always had Biola in mind for college. During high school she’d visited the campus for events with her bible study group. Even then, she knew she wanted to go to a Christian university for the relationships. Biola is the only school I applied to. I prayed and didn’t stress about acceptance. I knew God was in it.

Jeanette’s TLF Mentor speaks fondly of the College Freshmen. There’s something soft about Jeanette. She can walk into a room of people that she doesn’t know and she’ll make friends. She seeks those on the outside. With those who avoid eye contact, she finds them. She’s like the frosting on top of cinnamon rolls. Even in Jeanette’s family and generation, she is unique. In a culture where most young people are constantly on their phone, her gut instinct is to survey the room and see how people are.

Jeanette speaks candidly about her first semester at Biola.

 One thing that stands out are the people that God has placed around me. It’s hard to be away from home. When I ‘d break down, God would surround me with people. I’m especially blessed with my roommates. They remind me that God is in control. The three of us see Him working in our lives.

Jeanette recalls a specific conversation with her floor-mates. One night we were sitting outside, stressed about finances, when we paused, and asked ourselves, “What are we doing? We are here.” This helped us stop and reverse our mentality to be thankful to be at this college for now. It made us thankful for what we had.

Being at a Christian university, where I get to take bible classes, has helped me learn more about Him and His Word through experiences and being out of my comfort zone. Going through transition is crazy, but especially while trying to grow spiritually. It’s made me closer to Him, even in the difficult times. It’s taught me a lot about not trying to take control and praying instead. It’s taught me to think biblically and how to love God with all my mind, all the time.

I recognize I’m not here for myself, but for the people that helped me get here.

When considering how college life has surprised her, she responds, The level of independence, and that I have to hold myself accountable. No one is going to do it for me. I appreciate that.

In regard to how she is a different person because of the people at Teen Leadership Foundation, she says this about her experience: It’s made me stronger. They have shown me the immensity of God’s love. Where before I was completely lost, I realized that I’m not alone. There’s something to look forward to. I have purpose now.

Jeanette says if she could freeze her thoughts about God now and go back and tell her younger self about who He is, she would say,

No matter what you are going through at the time, God is love and He is there for you. He is watching over you and working in your life, even if you may not see it. Even when you are stuck, He is working. 

Jeanette reflects on when she felt most stuck in the group home. I remember feeling numb and lost. I was depressed and tried harming myself. There was a Teen Leadership Foundation staff member who talked with me about God and gave me a Bible. I didn’t see it then, but God gave me a person.

As she continues her freshmen year at Biola, Jeanette asks for prayer. To continue talking with people and mentoring others. She hopes to one day be a therapist for foster youth. But for now, she is content needing Jesus.

story written by: bekahp ( a RH community blog)

 

 

The Human Heart

Interesting thing about the human heart… it’s an organ essential for “life” but it’s also an organ essential for life. One can go an entire “life” with a heart only used for pumping blood or one can allow the Holy Spirit to work and open the heart to allow life.   The difference being simply getting by with a pulse or allowing the soul to open, thus being a conduit of the Holy Spirit in the world.

A word of caution though; allowing life allows a heart to be broken, crushed and yet allows the possibility of being tenderly massaged, stretched and grown at the same time.  A paradox only God can properly navigate within each one of us.

I have been a counselor at Teen Leadership Camp for several years.   This past year I spent several hours in prayer sessions prior to camp asking for protection for campers and counselors, prepped hearts, willingness to hear/grow and (here’s the dangerous part) connection with campers.  Holy Schnikies did I get more than I bargained for…

I’m not sure if it was what Christ was/is doing in me, doing in the kids, prayer over the camp or some other divine circumstance (sneaking suspicion it’s a combination of all the above and more…) but last year’s camp wrecked me in a beautiful way.  I have never had more kids hug me or have the desire to hug more of them.  From thirteen to seventeen it was magnificently clear these kids are starving for care and affection from safe people and my little heart is overwhelmed at the opportunity to provide a sliver of hope in that arena.

I went into the weekend open to the idea of mentorship “or something”.  With the weekend over, I’m in awe of the need and in desperate need of prayer for which way to go.  Group help, monthly gatherings, one-on-one-mentorship… There is so much need…  And we serve a God that wants to bless us by being engaged in their lives.

I’m reminded of the story on a poster in a friends bathroom which read something along the lines of; “There were millions of starfish washed up upon the shore.  A little boy was saving starfish by picking them up one at a time and throwing them back into the ocean.  A “grown-up” asked the little boy what he was doing; to which he replied in a boyishly firm declaration, “I’m saving the starfish!”  The man said, “Boy, look at all these starfish, you can’t possibly make a difference.”  To which the little boy responded by picking up another starfish and throwing it into the ocean and said, “I made a difference to that one.”

William Wallace said, “Every man dies.  Not every man really lives.”  I’m saying this as much to myself as anyone reading.  Are you willing to make a difference even in a single younger person’s life?  Will you allow the Holy Spirit to pour His blessings through you?  Will you choose life?

 

…TLC Camp Counselor

Mentoring in a group home

I signed up to volunteer with TLF, unsure of what I was really getting myself into. I had a bit of previous experience with foster youth, but the prospect of working with teenagers brought about a whole collection of fears and insecurities. However, from the moment I met Emily at camp, God reminded me what I was there for–to show her that despite anything she has ever been told before, she is precious and loved. Seeing Emily and all the other campers preparing for a weekend of fun away from home first made me see them as just a group of teenagers, but in that moment God reminded me what it was that set them apart from other kids their age. That quiet thought helped me focus on pouring love/kindness into the campers and give them positive and happy memories.

From that point on, I was blessed to see the work God was doing in Emily’s heart and mine through our growing friendship and through the camp as a whole. I was amazed by the little victories and planting of seeds that occurred throughout the weekend. After chapel service the first night, Emily told me, “I don’t know why but those songs were making me cry. I couldn’t help it.” In this moment God opened such an awesome opportunity for me to share with her the ways He touches our hearts, and even though she didn’t make a life decision to follow Christ at that moment, I know the tears at service and the time I got to share with her right then was something God is going to use to continue working in her heart.

I saw Emily opening up and beginning to trust me over the weekend in a way that I never expected. It started on the bus ride to camp after we had some time to chat and get more comfortable with one another. We were getting along really well and there was a lull in the conversation in which Emily interjected, “So I have this boyfriend and I think I want to break up with him; what should I do?” I couldn’t help but laugh as I told her that I had broken up with my boyfriend the day before. It was so amazing to see the way God brought us together at such similar times in our lives and then use that as an opportunity to give her advice gain her trust and respect as we drove to camp. I think God presented this opportunity to show me that beyond all of the things she had faced, Emily was just a teenage girl who on top of everything else, was dealing with all the things I felt to be mini-tragedies when I was her age. The conversation about our boy problems allowed Emily to see that I was not afraid to be honest with her and treat her like the young adult she is (within reason of course!) by telling her the situation I had just gone through and the way it affected my life. This bit of opening up led to Emily sharing about her abuse and later letting me hold her as she cried for all of the things she has had to face in her young life. Seeing her confidence grow as she overcame fear as well as her joy and pride in her abilities brought tears to my eyes on more than one occasion, because this is what camp is all about. It’s not about the huge victories; it’s about all the little ones that slowly chip away at the painful and scarring pasts of the campers.

After camp I could not just walk away from what I had been a part of there and join my old life. Hearing the stories of all these teenagers who had been broken and abused by the people closest to them was hard enough, but knowing that all of this was going on in my community, by my church and my house really struck a chord. There’s always that weird feeling after a mission trip where you see such devastation and poverty that makes you realize all that you have, but it’s so easy to forget once you get on the plane and go back to your comfortable life. This camp showed me the emotional devastation that resulted from the horrible abuse these teenagers have faced, and there was no flying away from it. I knew that when I drove home after camp I would pass by areas where certain girls from camp lived, and when I went any number of places I would be so nearby these kids who so desperately need God and need to feel loved. God stated it so plainly in my heart during and after camp that this isn’t finished, so I started the process to begin visiting the group home where Emily lives.

Even in the everyday conversations about life while I visit the group home, I can see the evidence of Emily healing simply in her ability to trust and confide in me. I got all the updates on friends, school, books, boys, and life at the house while we took goofy pictures and painted picture frames. It was such simple fun, but it was obvious that Emily and the other youth loved the chance to hang-out with each other and adults who only want to love them and invest in them.

~ TLF mentor

 

A glimpse into the Community of TLF

As I arrived at camp Saturday prior to our evening chapel time I was greeted by long term volunteers. We don’t go into “Hello, How are you?”  or the typical “What is new?”  Instead the conversation goes straight into matters of the heart.

Jeremy begins the evening with letting me know how the group home his life group does a Bible study with are all at camp and are having some great conversation. He lets me know that Debra “one of the youth in the homes” with childlike love has a simple ask; “will you adopt me?”  As Jeremy and I stand unpacking the youth pile out for a quick game of Frisbee.

I see a longtime advocate and friend Gina; she goes into a larger conversation of our nation’s values and how we need to take hold as a faith community and make moves on value correcting. We dive into this as she shares some of the youth’s story she has been sharing the weekend with.

We are told its time to head to chapel; the worship and speaking team is ready. As we arrive I run into a board member who attends camp every year. Our engagement entry point is about how a few youth and a group of men spend 2 hours that day talking about purgatory.

I glance over and see that part of the worship team is a man that I volunteered almost 10 years ago with. Our eyes connect and we have an easy greeting;   “I have missed this camp; what powerful stories have unfolded in my own life from these weekends”

I take a place near the back of the amphitheater and gaze to the huge sky sparkled with sporadic stars. I drift off to creation and begin a journey of my own until I am startled by the sound that is around me all singing:

He is jealous for me..loves like a hurricane I am a tree…

I feel a whisper in my spirit and become settled from all the conversations that took place prior being reminded we are drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes.

The transition to the speaker eventually happens…

The message on our identity and being adopted into Christ as His own child was a great transition from the night prior around Grace and the meaning of.

It was a short message as Joanna; a former foster youth was invited to come share her story with the youth. She talks about seeing her mom being murdered and she herself dropped off on a street corner by a strange man; the spending ages of 8-15 in foster care and being adopted by a sexually abusive family. She tells of how he used to tell her she was not worth anything. She lets the youth know of her powerful new life in Jesus, her masters in Psych and her life now. But then….

She calls the youth down to the stage… I watch as they all take the journey down the huge sandy steps of the amphitheater with curiosity. They form a circle and as they do she tells them. “We sang one of my favorite songs tonight and she asks them to join her in the chorus.”

There they stand holding hands singing “Oh how he loves me” Oh how he loves me so”

I am moved flooded with tears. But then I am interrupted by the heaving crying behind me. I look and a volunteer is in the arms of a friend. I see a Sr. volunteer headed over so I engage back to the circle of youth now all streaming with tears as well.   She was a new volunteer being impacted by this nations crisis of youth in foster care. Her heart is forever changed.

Joanna sends them off with a circle of love and as they head back to their seats I hear shouts “more worship”  “more worship” coming from sounds of campers.

The guitar starts up and I see movement of volunteers and youth headed down to the fire pit and begin gathering around in a circle all hugging and singing.….

Oh how He loves US … Oh how He loves Us

Grateful for this journey,

Lisa Castetter; Founder TLF