Loving Strangers: Providing Help to Families in Crisis

The Need is Real

A momma goes to the ER with her four children. She has no one else to watch them, but she needs medical care. The doctors agree, and she is admitted to the hospital; the children roam the halls and nap the first night, but by the second day when it is clear that momma needs more care, the children need someone to watch them as well. She pleads with the hospital staff that there is no one to watch the children. The hospital social workers are at an impasse: the county is called; the children need to be turned over to their custody.

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Better Together

Recently I stood above a dance floor to take a photo and was taken back by the scene.

I spent a brief moment there, allowing myself to soak it all in. The song, “Shout!”, by the Isley Brothers was playing loudly. It was a crowd favorite, and it showed!

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Back to School: Advocating for Your Child with Special Needs

Summer is winding down, and kids across America are gearing up for the return to school.  This can bring some challenges and anxiety for both the kids and the parents, and these feelings can be magnified if your child has needs that are not typical.  Parents of children with sensory, learning, and attention exceptionalities often have to navigate a new school year with new teachers, different physical spaces, and most likely a new mix of classmates within a classroom.  Many children who come from places of trauma and loss need their parents (biological, adoptive, and/or foster parents) to help them with this transition and continue to advocate for them as the school year progresses. Here are some proactive and reactive steps parents can take to support your child.

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The Magic of School-Based Mentoring

“I knew it. I just knew you were going to be here today!”

I couldn’t help but smile as the fourth grader who I had been mentoring for several months exclaimed those words when I showed up at his classroom to pick him up. He was so excited to see me. I admittedly had been having a busy day, and I wasn’t as excited about the prospects of carving out a couple hours in a local elementary school. But, I committed to showing up every week as a mentor no matter what. So, that’s what I did. I just showed up.

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Supporting Foster Families: Act Instead of Ask

Questions, questions, and more questions.

When you step into the world of foster care, you’re stepping into the great unknown. You don’t know when the phone will ring asking you to take a placement. You don’t know how much time you’ll have to prepare for that placement. You don’t know the child, the case, the issues, or the outcome. You just don’t know.  And for those of us who have said yes to being foster parents, we’ve learned this is a part of our journey.

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Building Bridges in Foster Care

I walked into Family Court with my two week old foster baby.

I’m immediately struck by the crushing sadness and anger that is around me. People in Family Court are immersed in brokenness. There are parents there who are angry that their children have been taken away. There are spouses there who are fearful that they might have to face an abusive partner. There are foster parents there who are feeling overwhelmed in their role for the day. There is just so much hurt and sadness. Continue reading “Building Bridges in Foster Care”

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The Magic of Mentoring

My heart filled up with pride when the name of my 18 year old mentee was called and he slowly strutted across the platform at his high school graduation.

Memories of the eight years that we had spent together came rushing to mind, including all of the deep valleys and soaring mountaintop experiences that marked our relationship. There were plenty of times when I didn’t think that he was going to make it. And, yet, here he was, an official high school graduate.

To many people, graduating from high school might not seem like that big of a deal. It’s just high school, right? But it is a big deal to graduate high school from a large urban school district where some studies show that as many as 50% of African-American males drop out before graduation.

My friend had overcome tremendous barriers in his life to make it this far.

Many of the young men growing up in his marginalized urban neighborhood had already been incarcerated, injured, or even killed by gun violence by the time that my mentee reached his eighteenth birthday. Many more young people had experienced the pains of abuse, homelessness, and addiction throughout the course of their childhood.

So, how did my young friend manage to make it? How did he persevere against all odds?

You could say that he got lucky, but that wouldn’t be true. You could say that he is just an exceptional person. Well, I guess that is true. He is an exceptional person. But he is an exceptional person who overcame tremendous challenges to graduate from high school. When I first met him in fifth grade, he was already forming and leading a gang that was essentially taking over the entire fifth grade… and not in a good way. The group that he was leading was disrupting classes, causing fights, bullying, stealing, and wreaking havoc wherever they could. And, they were influencing others to participate.

Some school staff members recommended this child-with so many misguided leadership qualities-to join a youth mentoring program that I was involved in starting at his school. I recruited volunteer mentors from my church and matched them up in long-term mentoring relationships with kids at the school. At first the young man was resistant to the idea of joining the mentoring program. He didn’t know who these adults were. He also knew that there were other kids from his school in the mentoring program that he was supposed to hate.

Generational violence and rivalries from the streets of his neighborhood had already made an impression. He thought that he couldn’t be in a mentoring program with kids that he was supposed to be in conflict with.

Things did not start well. Initially, he would not show up for his mentoring times. When he did show up, he would constantly be in conflict with the other kids that were there. His aggressive behavior and poor academic performance at school got worse before it got better. The mentors had to take turns dropping him off after the mentoring program because it would usually take at least an hour to find a place where he actually lived with an adult that would agree to let him in the house. We found out that he was basically homeless, bouncing around between relatives and friends.

During that first year, though, something pretty amazing happened. The more he pushed against the mentors, the more unconditional love and patience the mentors showed toward him. He started to really enjoy spending time with his mentors, and the mentors kept showing up consistently and investing in him. He even started to develop friendships with the other kids in the mentoring program, though he had previously been at odds with them. These new friendships were starting to turn the tide of the culture of the fifth grade at the school. And this young man was leading the way.

Instead of causing trouble, he started to redirect his leadership toward uniting his peers and being more respectful toward school staff members, who welcomed the changes that they were seeing.

Year after year the mentors continued to invest deeply in the life of this mentee.  And year after year he continued to demonstrate resilience and courage in the face of the obstacles that he faced in growing up. He faced so many barriers…homelessness, abuse, crime, gang recruitment, gun violence, drugs, and more. Still, the more that life threw at him, the more he became determined to overcome obstacles. If he saw other kids who were struggling, he would reach out to them and encourage them. He was on a mission. He was going to make it.

He made his share of mistakes, which led to some of the difficult valleys that we went through. But, he made plenty of good choices leading to some of the mountaintop experiences that we shared together. His march toward high school graduation was nothing short of heroic.

He became an unstoppable force for good, and he focused his energy on becoming a leader at his school and in his neighborhood.

Mentoring clearly had made a difference in his life, but what was it about the mentoring relationships that made such an impact on him? What is it about long-term youth mentoring relationships that yield so many positive outcomes? Well, that is hard to quantify. Some researchers and experts who study mentoring programs in the United States call it the magic of mentoring. We can see the demonstrable positive outcomes of mentoring, but it’s hard to track down just why the excellent results are occurring.

Simply put, long-term, authentic mentoring relationships have the power to build up assets in vulnerable children.

Over time, these assets lead young people to be able to overcome the many storms of life, and even thrive in many cases. Sometimes all it takes is some adults to intentionally invest in their lives. Over the course of time the magic of mentoring takes root. Mentors don’t fix kids, or try to solve their problems.

Through relationships, mentors build up the assets that are already present in the lives of young people.

Mentors are dream builders and vision casters. Mentors are committed to stick with the kids through thick and thin. Mentors are asset builders and encouragers. Mentors are there when there may be nobody else. The best mentors know that they are called to continue to show up, over and over again, and they know that they are there to serve.

The magic of mentoring is not in the mentors, though. It’s in the kids. The kids already have what it takes. Sometimes they just need a little support to realize their full potential.

Interested in learning more about building into the lives of vulnerable youth?  Register now for the Imagine Conference and find out how you can live out your calling to love as a mentor.


Dr. Bryan McCabe, Pastor of Transformational Urban Leadership, North Way Christian Community

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Royal Family Kids: Summer Camp for Kids in Foster Care

The Need In My Backyard

I first learned about Royal Family Kids Camps from Glenn Garvin, the 2015 keynote speaker at the Imagine Conference (formerly known as The Expo).

He brought to light the need for a normalized summer camp experience for hurting children in foster care. Glenn said he relates to the lives of children of abuse, abandonment, and neglect and this prompted him to get involved in RFK. He wanted to help break the cycle of abuse in today’s broken families.

In America, 3.6 million children are reported as being abused, neglected or abandoned.

The primary purpose of Royal Family KIDS Camp is to give foster children ages 6-12 a week of positive memories and royal treatment in a Christian Camp environment. Since 1985 RFK has been encouraging children to take one step towards a brighter tomorrow. RFK is the nation’s leading network of camps, clubs and mentors for children of abuse, neglect and abandonment.

After his keynote, I joined Glenn at his breakout session, and I asked him where the closest camp was to Wexford, PA. He replied, “New Castle, PA”. Well, right there, I knew it was a God thing! New Castle is my hometown (and is 30 miles from Wexford). From that moment, God planted a seed in my heart, “You need to get involved. You need to give back to your hometown community!” So I sought out the leaders, interviewed to be a relief counselor, and joined the purple family!

My Camping Experienced

On August 13th I departed for Royal Family KIDS Camp and on August 18th I returned from a fabulous, fun-filled week with 26 children from Lawrence County’s Child and Youth Services. It was an experience I will never forget! Keep in mind I have never camped as a kid or young adult. It was my first experience in a sleepover camp in a cabin with bunkbeds. I was a buddy relief counselor and my job was to assist the counselors who had children assigned to them. I shared a cabin wing with 3 other adults and 3 girls who were 12 years old. Each of the girls would be graduating from the camp at the end of the week in a graduation ceremony.

From arrival of the charter bus with the 26 excited campers, until the time the bus departed camp to head back to the church for families to welcome the kids home, our schedule was full of exciting activities. Each day included breakfast club, praise and worship songs/dances, swimming, archery, adventure land, arts and crafts, riding bikes, kickball, and 9-square (4-square game on steroids). Each day ended with devotional time with the campers reading from their new Bibles.

The very special day in the middle of the week included a birthday party for the children. RFK believes each child should have an opportunity in life to celebrate their birthday. Each child received a very large personalized gift box of items selected especially for them (clothing, shoes, socks, backpack, school supplies, and toys). Each child was given the opportunity to open their gifts and play with their toys as we all joined in to celebrate with them. Of course, there was birthday cake, decorations, and a catered meal to celebrate the campers! This was the highlight of the week.

On the last day of camp, the 12-year old campers graduated from RFK with a celebration including a purple cap and gown provided from the home office. Also, each graduate received a beautiful framed portrait of themselves by a professional photographer to take home to their family. Along with the framed portrait, the graduate also received a personal photo album of action shots of themselves participating in camp activities.

Camp Ends

When the campers and counselors arrived back at Assembly of God Church in New Castle, the families joined us. There were video highlights of the kids from the week projected on the big screen and Coach Kim called for the kids to join her on stage. She led the campers in one final rendition of their favorite praise and worship song, “Your Love is Deep!” There wasn’t a dry eye in the place. The kids cried. The counselors cried. The staff cried. And even some of the family members were crying. What a proud moment for all!

The kids stood proudly on stage and acted out the motions while singing their hearts out to God!

Your love is deep.
Your love is high.
Your love is long.
Your love is wide.
Your love is deeper than my view of grace,
higher than this worldly place,
longer than this road I’ve traveled,
wider than the gap You’ve filled.

I could cry all over again thinking about it. Their sweet voices and their tears will be forever engrained in my memory and on my heart.

Lasting Impressions

I cannot imagine being removed from my family due to an unsafe environment and being placed in foster care. Though it is sometimes necessary, it turns a child’s world upside down. It was a gift to love these children and provide them a normal, fun childhood experience in the midst of their chaos.

Over the last ten years of attending the Imagine Conference I have learned to be the church . . . not just to go to church. When Scripture tells us to care for the fatherless, it doesn’t mean we all have to adopt.

Being a counselor for one week during the summer at Royal Family Kids Camp is one way anyone can live out Christ’s love.

RFK Camp was an experience of a lifetime. I highly recommend you volunteer next year and join the purple family. You won’t be disappointed! Kudos to the New Castle Camp Director, Lacey Koprivnak and her excellent staff members and the two churches, Assembly of God and Castlewood Alliance, who were involved in fundraising, training, programming, and all camp activities and supplies. Everyone was amazing! This new, first-time camper/counselor will be back for more fun and friendships next year.

About Royal Family Kids

In Pennsylvania there are approximately 4,437 children, ages 6-12 in the foster care system. There are five RFK camp locations in Pennsylvania (Chambersburg, Erie, Greencastle, Meadville, New Castle) serving these children with the help of wonderful volunteers who have dedicated thousands of hours to reach America’s abused, neglected, and abandoned children. For more about Royal Family Kids, visit http://royalfamilykids.org/ and be sure to visit with the exhibitors at the Imagine Conference to learn how you support kids and families in foster care.


Lori Kobayashi is a long-time member of the OrphanCare Ministry at North Way Christian Community. She has a heart to live out Christ’s calling to love kids from hard places. Over the years Lori has done this through child sponsorship, seven years of short-term missions trips to Honduras, providing consistent respite care to give foster and adoptive families a break from their day-to-day challenges, and most recently as a camp counselor for Royal Family Kids Camp.

 

 

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