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

High-Fives

In 2008 I began my journey with Teen Leadership Foundation feeling scared and not really sure what I had signed up for. I met a girl who flinched when I went to high five her. Each summer I return to teen leadership camp as a counselor and each year when I see her I am witness to her growth and trust in all of us. This past year when I saw her at camp registration I yelled out her name across the room. She saw me; ran and gave me a GIANT HUG! We are passed the awkward “slow high five stage!” We are past that season when I had to warn her, ” here comes a high five”; so she would not flinch and be in fear. We have entered into friendship with “camp” a common thread each summer for both of us. I know she is excited to see me each summer and I am excited to see her. I think about her all year round.

– Bethany, camp counselor

Love Wins

As the end of 2011 is approaching, it is a great time for reflection – the holidays bring all sorts of emotions this time of the year. I look back on my life and the opportunities I have been given and I am truly grateful. There was a time in my life when I believed myself to be a charity case. That the only reason I could see anyone helping me out during my life, was to satisfy their own needs to help the “needy”. I then learned that there was so much more to my interpretation of the story.

A mentor once told me  that you cannot be angry and grateful at the same time.

That statement really stuck with me. At the time, I was so angry at the world, I felt as an outcast, taken advantage of and truly in despair. It is from this place that my gifts were born, where God showed me that I am responsible for the way I chose to interpret my life.

As I began to take hold of my narrative, I saw a multitude of stories. In one, I was the charity case, another the Selfish Taker, the survivor, a constantly cared for foster youth who was always at the mercy of those who provided for her, so that when they no longer saw my “need,” I would no longer be of importance. On the flip side, I could decide that I was not entitled to anything, that I was part of God’s plan and my purpose required a diverse upbringing that made me relatable to so many more people because of my experiences. This may seem a cliché twist to see the good in the suffering, but by this I stand.

I believe transformation took place in my life when I quit looking at it through the lens of scarcity. As a foster youth many of us are born into the mentality of having our worlds defined for us. Consequently, when given the opportunity to choose our own, it is a scary place. A place where we feel ill-equipped and at times at a standstill to even accomplish the ability to give love. When I looked around however, I saw this “illness” abundant in other people as well, people from completely different situations or circumstances than mine. It was then I decided that I was going to allow Love to win. Each family that said “yes” to provide for me became a winner in my story, a champion of my cause, an opportunity for me to practice demonstrating love. The result? I am now a healthy 24-year-oldc ollege graduate, who is living independently, seeks to have a family, and hopes to be a foster parent myself someday.

At 24, I see a bright future ahead for my brothers and sisters in foster care and it is organizations such as Teen Leadership Foundation who continue to improve the statistics by improving the ability for foster youth to truly connect through relationships. It is this mission to not just raise funds but to maintain a clear action plan that inspires me to want to support this community in any way possible . As the 2012 year approaches it is my prayer that Teen Leadership Foundation receives abundant supply so that lives of foster youth are changed and that the next generation will look back unlike the generations before and say, LOVE WINS!

Please Donate Now. Every little bit helps!

– Annette Jordan, Foster Youth Alumni, Entrepreneur and  Speaker

“I will not leave you orphaned”- Jesus Christ

Hope + Rescue

Teens who for various reasons, are not able to live with their biological parents, and find themselves Dependents of the Court System, are often labeled by various terms: at-risk youth, group home kids, troubled teens, juvenile delinquents.  In many ways, Proverbs 13:12 best describes most foster youth:  “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but desire fulfilled is a tree of life.”  The common experience of the vast majority of these kids is that of deep heartbreak due to disappointment, and therefore lost hope.  The very people that God intended to love them unconditionally; have let them down, and it’s made their hearts sick and in deep pain.  What they need more than anything is a glimmer of hope!

James 1:27 reminds us of the simplicity of true ministry: “to visit the orphan… in their distress… and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”  Kids who are today a part of the state foster system, are the modern day orphan.  Some are truly without parents or family.  Others are from homes where they’re experience physical and/or sexual abuse or neglect.  Others have parents who have chosen drug use over good parenting, and/or one or more parents are in prison. According to James 1, these kids need people who are willing to spend significant time with them.  Short of actually becoming a foster parent, spending time with hurting kids at camp is the quickest and most effective way to let them know that there is hope… that someone cares… that even if they don’t know or trust God,  that someone who does trust God, cares about them in a meaningful way!

As a Chaplain for Olive Crest Homes for Children for the past 26 years, and having attended several Teen Leadership Foundation Camps, I can highly recommend this ministry of hope and rescue.  Their philosophy of love, acceptance, safety and community provides an amazingly unique environment that even the most resistant teen usually ends us thoroughly enjoying their weekend at camp!

We at Olive Crest have had the blessing of having dozens of our youth attend TLF camps for the past several years, and God willing, will do so for years to come!

When a young man or woman emancipates, many remain either close or distant member of our Olive Crest family.  As the Chaplain, I have the great blessing of hearing from some our former youth, sometimes years after they have moved on.  As we reminisce, they will seldom mention a Super Bowl Party or an Outreach Event, but almost without fail, the memories of camp will surface.  Like most of us, the specifics of the “normal” days of their teen years will blend together, but something that stands out clearly, is a weekend away from the normal day-to-day world, in a beautiful setting, surrounded by people who seem nicer than humanly possible… which is exactly right!  Because it is God in them, listening, playing, loving and treating them like they desperately need to be treated!

I can not think of a better camping experience to invest in the lives of hurting kids… their earthly future, as well as their eternal destiny!

Everyone can do something: the existence of Teen Leadership Foundation is a Godsend!  To join with this effort is to join with God, loving the fatherless! Start today:DONATE NOW! 

Most sincerely,  Frank Fried, Olive Crest Chaplain