…empowering youth to create their own resources,

…reaching beyond their circumstances to be leaders of society

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When Scott and Lori Conley visited the Cape Cod home two streets from their little church, they realized that looks are indeed deceiving. The small “starter” home that had seen better days was the address of a young child and his Dad who had just visited their church. Lori jumped at the chance to visit the little boy with a balloon and plate of cookies. As Scott and Lori approached the door of the house, it appeared that this home had been divided into 5 apartments and the young man’s family name was not on the door. After knocking for a bit, Scott and Lori turned to leave only to be startled by an older gentlemen coming from the side of building. He asked them who they were looking for and after they spoke the name, the man pointed to the cellar saying the single parent family had just moved in there. The cellar door was plywood, there was a padlock on the outside (which meant they weren’t home), and Lori’s heart dropped. Things changed immediately for Lori and Scott. She had her “why” and “now, what” questions answered. This began a heart song for the children of Bethel in poverty and quickly spread to neighboring towns. Within just 3 years of coming to Bethel, Scott and Lori began Empower Youth as a community based initiative to invite the community in to the life of the children who desperately needed them.

Donate your time, talent, and finances.

Empower Youth serves students in 5 school districts using the time, talent, and finances of the communities around them. We answer the needs of each school in a variety of ways leaving much room for volunteers to find a “niche” to facilitate lasting change in the life of a child.

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“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say “It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.” Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.”

-Mr. Rogers

Today, I witnessed many folks saying, “Yes, you are my child. Yes you are my community. This is my world and I will own this problem.” I must admit, I am in a good seat. There were so many heroes today. But not just today…

This morning, the day started with a packing team from Live Oaks School out of Milford, OH. This group of young adults is under the direction of two of the most amazing women I have ever known. The teacher Alicia Dorsey and newly promoted student teacher Moneau Bialon love their students with the love of a good parent, a good friend, a good teacher. Sure there are rules to hugs– they pretty much can’t give them. But I have watched these teachers hug through words and circumstances where each child is empowered to be their best version of themselves. Today, I watched a young man dance to Rockabilly around our packing table, bopping his head and shuffling his feet. And when I looked at the faces of the teachers who have been with him all year, you saw tears betraying how much they truly love this student. I think you would have to wrestle these teachers like alligators if you ever came against their students. Alicia and Moneau are heroes.

Mid-morning I left the packing team to go to the grand opening of the Community Savings Bank branch that is now located in Bethel-Tate High School in Bethel, OH. John Essen is a great bank president who understands finances but even more so understands his community. He knows that if we want to empower adults you have to start when they are still students. You can’t wait until their credit score has tanked. You have to start young and teach stewardship and paying yourself first. Most importantly, John has an eye for talent. He has built a team around him through incredible staff and board members that are constantly doing what he is doing– looking beyond the bank balance to see how can I be a better neighbor. Denae Jones is part of his team and she has made this new endeavor her baby. It’s amazing how much she loves her neighbors’ children. I saw students given hope, education, and a future today.  There was another key hero today at this grand opening–the principal George Sturgeon. It’s hard to be a neighbor to a neighbor who doesn’t want a neighbor. George loves his neighbors. The collaboration that took place today goes beyond a bank and a school. George too is surrounded by an incredible team and that shows with Mike Thomas his finance instructor. Sure there are benefits for the school and the bank. But today, George, John, Denae, and Mike showed something that we often overlook in friendships– trust. They all trusted each other to do something amazing in our community. They are heroes.

Grant Career Center in Bethel OH has been an incredible friend to us. Today, I picked up 300 pillowcases that they tie-dyed for our Dream Big project. This project sponsored by our Norwood neighbors Multi-Color Corporation allows us to give every Kindergarten student in the schools we serve a pillow, awesome pillowcase, and a stuffed animal. Janelle Baudendistal a teacher from Grant heads this project every year… and what a beautiful experience for all! Janelle is our hero. We’ve included some pictures below of the pillows being put together by our Live Oaks team today!

Around noon today, the chimney on the house at our ranch came down… on purpose. Gary from Jonah Construction has become our neighbor. He saw a need. He saw our vision. He made sacrifice after sacrifice for us. He and his son have been taking down the house on our property so that we can do more. They are doing this as a gift to Empower Youth. They will probably never lay eyes on the youth and families that we serve. But still they see the needs of their community. Jonah Construction is our hero.

Tonight around 8pm, a small group of volunteers who band together for Bible Study will be stepping out the pages of the Good Book. They will be packing 200 bags for our students. They are doing something for students they do not know. They pack late because they all work and have made this a priority after a very long day. They are our heroes.

Who is your neighbor? Who are their children? Will you share the responsibility for your community?

We can help network you to so many groups that are doing amazing things. Scott and I are members of an incredible group called SafetyNet. This group is an organization all about networking groups who do good things. Brandon Little became our neighbor and brought us into the fold of this group of encouraging folks. You know being a new upstart can be intimidating but we quickly found out that there are folks who said there are enough finances, enough need, and enough love for everyone to be neighborly and change the community. There is no competition here. There is just too much to do.

It doesn’t have to be for Empower Youth to benefit the youth of our community. When one child is given hope, we all win.

I’ve included some pictures of our amazing Tuesday… I mean really who would’ve thought an ordinary Tuesday could bring so much community?

Won’t you be my neighbor?



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