Change a life.. yours

It has been 6 years now since we heard about Teen Leadership Foundation’s summer camp program, Teen Leadership Camp “TLC”. I thought it would be a fun experience. My husband, on the other hand, was extremely hesitant to say the least. He was worried he wouldn’t know what to say to a foster kid or at-risk teen, let alone counsel them for a whole weekend. With some prayer… and a lot of nudging, however, we were off to camp! Little did we know that it would become more than just a weekend, it would be the beginning of a journey that would change us forever!

We were touched by the amount of deep relationships we began to form in just three days. We grew to understand the heartbeat of a teen in the foster care system, a kid just like any other kid, simply wanting to live a normal, happy life. The impact the volunteers had on these teens was affirmed by the joy expressed on their faces during the team building activities, ropes courses, and outdoor activities.

Shortly after camp we became mentors to two brothers and their sister (all campers at camp) who have been in the foster care system for the majority of their lives. Their stories, filled with unfathomable pain, broke our hearts. Almost five years later this young family remains in our life. It’s been so fulfilling to journey alongside them every step of the way. Every summer they ask about camp and look forward to their time away from the realities of their everyday life. They are truly like family to us now.

That’s our story. Let us leave you with this challenge: Once you see that you CAN make a change in a foster teen’s life, it really changes YOUR life forever.

– John & Rosalind, TLF Board Members

A Weekend Full of Love

Before I get into my experience at camp, let me tell you a bit about me. My name is Crystal (at camp they call me Chris). I was born and raised surrounded by alcohol, drugs, and sex by the time I was 5 years old and was basically the mother of my 3 younger siblings (so I felt).

One day my mom abandoned me at school. My teacher took me home, and after a few days called child protective services. I was sent to foster care. That was 9 years ago!

After some time being in foster care I got the opportunity to attend Teen Leadership Camp. I really don’t like leaving my house, but for me, TLC is the most calming, caring, accepting place I have ever gone to.

At TLC you can be who you are and everyone accepts you the way you are. On the first day of camp I was excited. My camp counselor was the same one as last year. Her name was Jan.

Jan was kind to me and made me feel safe.

We started with low ropes. It’s a great way to get to know everyone at camp. It’s a time to build trust and develop relationships with counselors, too. We learn that whatever task we are given, our counselors are there to help us.

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.

Saturday afternoon we have pool time where everyone laughs and enjoys themselves. Then there’s the zip-line…words cannot express the thrill and excitement of the zip-line!

Saturday night at chapel the lesson continued. 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 but we can still trust God and believe.

I learned that even though I do have doubt, God still loves me. I am going to remember camp TLC as long as I live!!


– Crystal, TLC Camper


Be There

This past year I was given a 17-year-old camper to lead for  Teen Leadership Camp “TLC”  weekend. We’ll call her Sherrie.

Sherrie was a particularly complicated girl. At times she was so mature, but could suddenly switch over to reveal the broken heart of a very needy child. She told me how much she hated the team building exercises at camp because she never likes being touched without her permission. As Sherrie talked more about this, she revealed her years of sexual abuse to me and how difficult it is for her to be touched by anyone.

Sherrie told me she considered herself to be a Christian, but she didn’t believe God existed. I told her it wasn’t possible to have it both ways… that being a Christian required faith in God. Then she explained that she didn’t believe He existed because He never answered her when she called for help during those years of abuse.

I momentarily wondered if I should have somehow better prepared myself to answer this deep theological conundrum. You see, before camp, I found myself worrying I wasn’t spiritually “fit” or “adequate” enough to lead these teens.

I took a breath and told Sherrie that I don’t understand why God doesn’t always rescue us when we ask, but I did know that He had a plan to make something beautiful out of her life if she would let Him. Sherrie became extremely angry at that moment and began to shut me out. I told her I would be praying that God would reveal Himself to her and that she would experience the great peace He has to offer. She responded, “Whatever floats your boat,” and walked away.

Our next activity was chapel. I found Sherrie sitting alone so I sat by her, making sure to give her plenty of space. As chapel went on, she slid a little closer and a closer to me until she was right next to me. Then she held my hand.

Then she leaned.

Then her head was on my shoulder.

Finally, her other hand found its way into the front pocket of my sweatshirt where she clutched tighter and tighter onto the fabric to the point where I’m certain her knuckles were white. I wrapped my arms around her in a big bear hug, rocked her, and told her I loved her.

Sherrie and I stayed in the chapel and I never let go. I hugged and cried. That was my job. That’s what God put me there for at that very moment. I told her I was so sorry for all the pain she had gone through. She never pulled away once. It reminded me of holding my own girls when they were toddlers.

Later after all the campers had gone home, one of the other counselors told me that Sherrie had shared with her about our time in the chapel where we had held each other so tightly. Sherrie told her that it had meant more to her than I would ever know because she’s never felt that safe around someone, someone who could hold her, listen to her, and love her in her most honest and vulnerable state. That truly was my job that weekend. Not to be a spiritual encyclopedia, but to be the hands and feet of Christ. To love with Christ’s love. To be available.

– Cheryl, TLC Counselor

A mentee’s perspective

My first time going to camp I was in tears begging my aunt to let me stay home, when I arrived everyone was so nice and so caring that I automatically felt better about going to camp.  My first experience was so amazing because there were no judgements about where you came from and it was a safe zone with all of the counselors.  And three days later I was tears again, but this time because I didnt want to leave.  This past summer was my fifth time going to camp; the reason I keep going is because even though I already know the schedule and the activities planned I never get enough of just being able to open up and share my story with other campers. Going from having a counselor at camp only to having a mentor outside has really benefited me. I can count on my mentor Tina to give me advise, guide me, and help me grow in so many areas. When Tina and I hang out, outside of camp we have alot of laughs and meaningful conversation. I can talk to her about anything and feel I am not being judged just loved.  I can honestl say I have grown so much by having Tina in my life.

– Sydney; TLC camper and mentee

A mentors perspective

My first summer going to camp was “interesting.”  I didn’t want to go originally, but a friend kept bugging me over and over again to go.  Eventually I caved in and signed up.  I met Sydney and immediately noticed how outgoing she was…which was REALLY good because I was nervous.  Throughout the entire camp she led a small group of people (campers and counselors) around the low ropes course.  I didn’t have to think hardly at all because she just did it all.  I remember the first camp FLEW BY WAAAY TOO FAST and I was really bummed to say bye to Sydney.  I had so much fun completing challenges with her, rushing to breakfast together, getting beat in card games, and hearing pieces of her story.  As I drove home I was already thinking about the second year and hoping she would show up.  I wanted to beat her at cards, learn more about her, and scream louder as she tackled the high ropes and zip line.  When she showed up the second year I got a HUGE hug and it was hard for me to not to think about how quickly camp would end.  By the third year we kind of just expected to see each other and running jump-hugs ensued.  Our third camp was held at a different location so we were able to “explore” the activities “for the first time” again.  I started thinking about mentoring Sydney outside of camp after our third camp ended. .  The last two years at camp has been very different for us.  Other counselors are meeting their campers for the first time, and mine already knows I need coffee ASAP when I wake up.  Other counselors don’t know what to say to their camper, we have inside jokes…from three years ago.  Over the last five years, I have met many kids through Teen Leadership Camp, but Sydney will always be my munchkin.  Since our first camp I have watched her heart grow so much.  When she was twelve she struggled trying to find explanations for her situation, now at sixteen she isn’t consumed by those reasons.  She focuses, instead, on her future goals and college plans.  When she was twelve she got along with everybody because of her bouncy personality, now she gets along with everyone because she listens to their stories and shares in their pain.  Sydney stands out from other kids in many ways.  She is very self motivated and thoughtful.  She always helps to take care of her little sister and at camp she looks out for other rookie campers.  She isn’t swayed by peer pressure and she isn’t intimidated to stand up for what’s right.  She has found an obvious inner peace with GOD and that brings SO MUCH beauty to her face and joy to her voice.

– Tina; TLC counselor and mentor