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


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