Voices In the Lives of Youth

youth

Try to keep up. Youth move so fast it is like a blur, but their hearts and minds are worth chasing.

Tonight I watched a basketball game. No, it wasn’t the NBA. It was better. It was a level 3 freshman scrimmage. I whistled and cheered like no NBA game I’ve ever attended. In fact, frankly, it was better than any NBA game I’ve ever watched. Why? Because I was there to cheer for someone special. Not my daughter, or cousin, or niece, but another youth whom I adore. And might I say she was awesome! She is just one of the youth I have the privilege of leading every Sunday night.

Each of our lives take us on a journey. That journey often leads us on a mission.  If you’ve been touched by cancer, you might be dedicating your life toward support for finding a cure. If you’ve been suffering from a mental illness or an eating disorder, you might turn your extra time toward helping others in recovery. For me, I’ve come to understand it has always been about youth.

For 15+ years I’ve spent time investing in youth as a leader in scouts, or as a room mom, or as a volunteer teaching kids.  My children struggled in school for a variety of reasons and my volunteering, at first, was a necessity to help them survive and, I hoped, to thrive. I soon came to understand that it was a lot more. I was a voice–an important voice–a voice that made a big difference in every youth I encountered. I had a tremendous power to lift up and inspire with the simplest of kind words or encouragement. Not the fake kind. The kind that is based in real truth. Something that no parent can do. My kids always used to say, “Of course you think I’m great, you’re my mom. You have to love me.”  That is hard to hear as a parent, but I understood what they were saying. There is truth in it. I do love them unconditionally and they know it. Even when I speak the truth about how valued they are, it is masked by parent-child fandom. They needed other voices–adult voices they could believe.

Today, I can picture and remember every child I’ve ever worked with and helped and cared about. It causes my call to burn in me ever stronger. These days I’ve dedicated my weekends as a youth leader at my church. And, I haven’t looked back.

I’ve always liked the Search Institute’s concept of assets. There are 40 assets they have identified as key to helping a child grow up healthy, caring, and responsible.  Nine of those assets are at the core of what I focus on today. Primarily, the first one–Other Adult Relationships. I’ve seen first hand how the lack of these adult relationships or, even worse, negative adult relationships, have really hurt. I’ve dedicated my time to be a positive voice in the lives of youth because I believe so strongly in how those voices can make a difference.

Nine (of 40) Important Assets for Youth

Other Adult Relationships: Receives support from three or more nonparent adults.

Caring Neighborhood: Experiences caring neighbors.

Community Values Youth: Perceives that adults in the community value youth.

Youth as Resources: Given useful roles in the community.

Service to Others: Serves in the community one hour or more per week.

Neighborhood Boundaries: Neighbors take responsibility for monitoring young people’s behavior.

Adult Role Models: Adults model positive, responsible behavior.

High Expectations: Adults encourage the young person to do well.

Religious Community: Spends one hour or more per week in activities in a religious institution.

So, as for basketball, I can’t wait for more games…and volleyball, band, track, musicals, geology museum visits, piano recitals, science projects, and whatever else I get the privilege to attend and add my voice. Youth are amazing and they are the future. I love their energy and their questions and their honest evaluation of what life is dishing out.

The truth is that their voice speaks to me as much as I hope mine speaks to them.

Are You Thirsty Yet?

Seattle

My journey took me here…but really someplace else altogether.

There is nothing like business travel to make you soul search…especially when you travel by yourself for several weeks in a row. This time I was in Seattle. After work I watched a fist fight ensue out the window of my downtown government per diem hotel, but I decided I needed to suck it up and get outside. My challenge – find the Space Needle then the fish market then loop around the aquarium and locate my hotel again all while avoiding the fist fighters.  My walk started out quite successfully. I made it all the way to the Space Needle. Then I found the monorail and decided to be a tourist and hop aboard. While standing in line, a man shouted sarcastically, “What’s so great about this?” The crowd averted their eyes. After an extremely short ride we all disembarked. The man continued making snide remarks as we marched down the stairs. He was walking right in front of me and we traveled the same direction toward the fish market. He started harassing a woman talking on her cell phone in front of him. He repeated words from her conversation, “Yes, tell me how that relationship is going? We ALL want to hear!” His boldness was painful. I don’t remember how, but we all scattered to get away. It made me wonder…was he mentally ill? Was he angry? Why didn’t anyone tell him to stop? Why didn’t I?

The next leg of my journey led me through the fish market and down the steps to the water. I passed by a man who looked like he could have been Bob Marley’s long lost brother. He was selling bottles of water for $1 out of a cooler to the sweaty tourists. ARE YOU THIRSTY YET? That’s what his sign said. I stopped and told him I wasn’t thirsty yet, but I was planning on being thirsty eventually. He smiled and I continued on.

As I made my way toward the aquarium I walked past a young woman holding a piece of cardboard that said “Need help with rent, diapers, and food. Two kids.” Next to her, a stroller. Inside, a baby. I watched as all eyes avoided her and conversations between friends, parents, and children picked up nervously when they noticed her, as to mean, “we are talking so we can’t see you.”  As I power walked by her, we made eye contact, and my heart broke.  I looked down and was struck hard by the message written boldly on my favorite workout shirt — “Live Generously.” I couldn’t get her out of my head. I had $11 in my pocket and I knew what I needed to do. The crazy, mean guy from the train taught me a lesson. If he can be bold enough to harass people, then I can be bold enough to bless them.

I did my lap around the aquarium and started back the way I came. I found the woman and stopped. I introduced myself and asked her about her life. What brought her to this point? How was she seeking help? What worried her most? She introduced me to her baby, Jude (she called him Judicans Cuticans). She tried not to smile, though it was hard for her not to when looking at her adorable sleeping baby. Her teeth were yellow and she was missing a front tooth from a vitamin deficiency during pregnancy. Her teeth made her feel self-conscious and she shared with me how this problem made her nervous during job interviews. Affording dental work was not a possibility. After about an hour of chatting, I reached in my pocket and gave her my $10 bill and asked if there was any other way I could help. She shook her head. I hugged her, told her she would be in my prayers, and continued on. I had $1 left and I knew just where I was going next. I was thirsty.