A note from our Executive Director:
I was fine with doing this little picnic in the park until I held that baby. Tiny…so very tiny… Her Momma already overwhelmed with children and life. This little baby is so docile, barely able to stay awake, while chaos whirls around her.
I was fine with doing this little picnic until I realized how hard it would be to watch the little boy stuff his pants pockets with extra food for later. He’s got bright eyes and even though I think he’s overdoing it on the chips, he can pretty much take as much as he wants while I’m working the table.
I was fine with doing this little picnic until a woman whose mouth usually pours out venom and disgust began to soften and start speaking of hope and kindness. I really liked not liking her… now I know how she lives. I see her struggles and I realize the venom is not there to strike at me but she spews it to protect herself.
I’m fine with the doing this little picnic in the park thing, I am making friends with new folks every week. Empower Youth was started to provide financial resources and willing volunteers to reach in to the lives of those children and young families in Bethel who need a hand up. It was started to encourage children to keep setting the bar higher in school and in their relationships until they become adults who make a difference in our community.
What I didn’t know when I started Empower Youth was the beautiful by-product of seeing Dads play with their children in a non-threatening, non-internet, plugged in environment. What I didn’t know when I started Empower Youth was that Moms would begin calling and texting new friends asking for advice. I just didn’t see that coming!
Empower Youth has now finished the month of June and we still have 7 picnics left—what can happen in these next 7 picnics??? Who will come? Who will partner with us in resources?
As the Empower Youth team takes on this next month of picnics and begins to plan for tutoring programs and special family events in the Fall, the future is bright. We are dreaming big dreams for our children and teens. The Empower Youth leadership team is stepping out of our comfort zones every day trying to raise funds for our community. We personally are leveraging our own resources until other organizations join us in fighting for the youth and young families of Bethel. Are we excited? Yes! Are we nerve-wracked? Yes! Is it worth it? Yes!
The little village of Bethel, a town so easily overlooked, is worth every last ounce of effort. The youth and families of Bethel can be more than a poverty or drug statistic in Clermont County. Empower Youth wants to invest in our greatest resource– our Youth! We want to change the stats to reflect independent young men and women who have set their mind to do even greater things than they ever thought possible.
See you in the park!
Not If, When…
3 words. I hate them. Not if, when. Those are the words I spoke to a young boy last night who once again was not where he was supposed to be. If Empower Youth can’t get involved in this life and his parent’s life in a meaningful way then it’s not a matter of if he will spend time in “juvy” for pocketing something that doesn’t belong to him… it’s when. It won’t be a matter of if Children’s Protective Services will visit because they caught him after curfew… it’s when.
3 words. I hate them. Not if, when. Those are the words running through my mind as I look at a little girl who was dropped off at friend’s house with a head full of lice and a bottle of alcohol by her drugged up parents. This is the second time she has been dropped off like this. She tells me that she wasn’t allowed to tell her teachers at school that they had no electricity and no water. It’s not a matter of if but when will she be used by her parents to lie about other things. It’s not a matter of if but when she will be used to help her parents gain access to drugs unless Empower Youth and others who care step up.
3 words. I hate them. Not if, when. As I drove through the town of Bethel, I watch a very tall beautiful 6th grade girl acting overly mature with a group of 7th and 8th grade boys. She’s surrounded by them and she’s talking all cute and flirty. Having experienced a life “Daddy’s” in and out of her home, she hungers for attention. It’s not a matter of if…it’s when.
3 words. I hate them. Not if, when. The children were already taken away from their mother twice. In fact, the last time ended in a police escort. I saw them walking with their mother a couple of days ago. The little boy said Dad had to go out of town but Mom was better now so they could stay with her. On Mother’s Day, the children had been removed because of drugs. Less than a month later, the children are back with her. My heart aches…hurts really. It’s not a matter of if…it’s when.
3 words. I hate them. But we could change it. We could start in Bethel and then extend to other communities and begin to pour in to each of these children and help them find a voice. We could Empower Youth by casting away the lies they have been told about the police. We could Empower Youth by teaching them that the teachers, police, and preachers that their parents are telling them to keep secrets from are actually there to help them become better. We could start by getting to know parents. And letting parents know that we are an advocate for them and their children. We could build a bridge with a simple meal and then become a partner with a family. We could build a bridge by offering homework support and then help propel a student in to a world beyond a drug addiction or an early pregnancy and into a career that will sustain them and give them a life worth living. It’s not a matter of if, but when the work we do will bear fruit and lives will be changed. So maybe… I don’t hate those words now. It’s not a matter of if, but when the little runaway boy sees that there is something he’s good at and he fights hard to be a success that his father never was. It’s not a matter of if but when the little girl is able to find a home that will love her and show her a life where feelings aren’t drenched with a needle and folks walk through life with their eyes open. It’s not a matter of if but when the two children are able to go to Summer camp and actually experience time away from babysitting their mother that they understand that nobody deserves to live this way. It’s not a matter of if, but when… and I can’t wait to be a part of seeing lives changed and youth finding their bright future.
It was an amazing night, but it wasn’t about the food. It wasn’t about the snow cones. It was an amazing night, but it wasn’t about the watermelon or the free hot dog.
It was an amazing night but it wasn’t about parachute games. It wasn’t about the crafts.
It was an amazing night because people shared a conversation. The meal was the simple prop. The craft was the tension reliever. The snow cone broke the ice.
It was an amazing night because neighbors came together. Want to empower youth? Get to know your neighbor. Come for next week’s picnic. Make no mistake there is free food for all…there’s no need to show your I.d., your proof of residence, or your Kroger card… This is a community. This is neighbors hanging out with neighbors. It’s going to be another great Wednesday! Bring your tums cause it’s walking tacos!!!
A house destroyed… Pictures ripped off walls, TVs thrown off their stands and cracked, a broken kitchen table… It looks like a home invasion crime scene. The three youngest are shaking. The oldest is angry and protective. Standing in the middle is a frightened Mom try to reason with her very ill unmedicated husband.
The police are called. It’s not their first visit to the home. The harsh words of our legal system roll out the officer’s mouth without any hint of sympathy he says, “Mam, your husband is on the lease. He’s the father of your children. His name is on the van. You are welcome to file an order of protection on Tuesday. But for now, he can do this to his property.” And, with that, the Mom realizes that she is property too. No offer is made of protection. The unmedicated angry husband puts his 3 youngest in the van and drives away. The Mom, the only one working in the house, calls her boss to explain why she’s late again for work. The boss says her son can come with her. Then she calls her friend for a ride to take her to work. It’s Saturday. Tuesday is a long way away.
She is a beautiful woman inside and out. She loves her husband. She loves her children. She is in a place financially where after years of struggle they are finally making it. They are making it all on her. Her husband is unable to hold a job for more than a month. He struggles when confronted with even the smallest obstacle like running out of milk. He is demanding and angry.
Sunday morning, he drives to her work place and waits for her. She goes home with him calmly. Tuesday is a long way from here.
Sunday afternoon, a window of opportunity opens and she is able to get out of the house with all her children.
She is strong today. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time they’ve gotten away.
How does this become a life? This angry raging father was brought up in a home of rage and abuse until one day, his mother couldn’t handle life anymore so she took drugs to ease her pain. Eventually she was so numb, her children were taken and placed in the foster care system. This boy of the system became a grown man. He found his way into the heart of a woman who thought she could love him enough to change him. She never thought their life together would mean counting down the hours til Tuesday.
Children learn what they live. What are these children learning? Is there a chance the history of the Father may grow to be reality in the son? Will the three youngest grow up respecting men?
It’s only Sunday. This family lives in Bethel. These children attend school with our children. This is reality for more than one family in Bethel. But you don’t know, unless you make an effort to know your neighbor.
Officer, will my Mom be ok?
This last weekend those words dropped from the mouth of a little eleven year old boy. His sister was beside him. Both of them praying that Momma would wake up. The officer tried to comfort the children giving them words of courage as Momma was checked out by paramedics. Momma had overdosed.
In a matter of minutes, the children’s concern turned to horror and regret. Mom was going to jail. The handcuffs were placed on her and the children wept hysterically. The children were picked up by their Dad (who doesn’t live with them) and the home, new playground, and new friends were left behind.
Heartache. Imagine the thoughts running through their mind. They thought they were being responsible by telling the police officer that Mom was “bad” sick and passed out. They thought she might even die without their help. They thought getting help was the right thing to do. Now the right thing has had some very wrong results.
This story is not made up. This story is very real and just happened this weekend. This young man was to be a recipient of an Empower Youth scholarship for camp. We gave him the camp form two weeks ago and stayed on him daily to have his Mom fill it out. He made excuses every day for Mom, always affirming “please save a spot for me at camp”.
Why didn’t I see this coming? Now, looking back, all the signs were there! He was very independent for an eleven year old. He came and went as he pleased in our Neon Kids creative arts program. He was very good at taking care of himself. He could hang with the high school boys playing street ball as well as kids his own age. He was a scrapper. He took good care of his sister. He was overly helpful and at the next moment incredibly sneaky as he walked around with a can of pop that he “found” while “helping”. His dark brown eyes favored a puppy dog and his openness about finally having friends was a deadly combination. I asked to meet his Mom but he would make excuses saying she was not feeling well or not home.
I just assumed the forms weren’t filled out because he was so busy and not giving them to her. I never even thought that maybe mom couldn’t fill them out. I never thought that his independence was born out of necessity. I knew Dad wasn’t in the picture so I never even got information on his Dad.
Now, this brother and sister are gone. We’ve no address to contact Dad. So we wait to see if there’s any life coming from the apartment he lived in until Saturday.
While I wait, a future defining question picks up force within me like a growing ulcer. Did a young boy and girl just learn that getting momma help was good or did they just learn that there are some things that should be kept secret? When momma gets sick next time, should they find help?
And then the follow through on those questions become more serious… Those things Momma does in secret, if she doesn’t stop, will those things become familiar and routine? That’s the fear that is propelling this Empower Youth.
If a child sees drugs all their life will they learn to hate them or will they look at them as a means of rescue? When I was younger, I remember visiting a friend whose parents smoked. Every day my friend would say she hated the smoke. Her brother felt the same way. There was great disdain for the smell and how hard it was to breathe. Before the children hit junior high school, my friend who had always loathed smoking had begun to sneak cigarettes. By the time she graduated, her momma was buying them. Does that happen in a drug culture as well? Thus is what I wrestle with tonight.
How do we empower youth? We start asking more questions. We break through the wall of apathy and discomfort and visit the new family that just moved in next door. And we start reversing the lessons learned: keeping secrets will not make momma well, children taking care of parents is not the societal norm, and finally trust outside authority to help you be better.
I will be leaving a note for this little boy tomorrow. I will be hoping his Dad comes by to gather things. If not, we may have really lost an opportunity. And those of us who love this little boy will most assuredly lose more sleep thinking of what we could’ve done differently.
PART 2… Just added at 7:47pm May 12.
Today I received a call from a dear friend who had read the blog. She said, “Miss Lori, I know that little boy and I know where you can find him.” My heart caught in my throat as she talked of all the boy’s father had just told a similar tale at her child’s soccer game on Sunday. The little girl played on the team of my friend’s little girl. She invited me to come to their practice tonight.
I did just that! I saw my big brown eyed boy. I saw his little sister playing. I met their Dad. And…I signed them up for camp. Tears of joy and so very thankful we have a second chance to make an impact in the lives of these two children. I loved the little boy’s reaction when he saw me– utter disbelief! “Miss Lori why are you here?” “I’m here cause I missed you.” “OK, can I still go to camp?”
…sigh It has been a very good day.
Life’s not fair.
This past week, Empower Youth along with Community Christian Church, was able to take over 50 students to Chuck E Cheese. Not a big deal. Right? Actually, it was a big deal. There were many obstacles to avoid. We first had to look at the cost. With most of our students on free or reduced lunch and from large sibling groups, we wanted to make sure this was a free adventure. Chuck E Cheese helped make that a reality with a great rate. The second obstacle was transportation. While some of our students could be dropped off at Chuck E Cheese. Many of our students had no transportation which meant that a caravan of vans was needed. Perhaps the hardest obstacle was communicating that we could only take elementary K-5th grade students.
For sibling groups, this was very difficult. After all, it’s not fair that their little brother would need to stay home. Some of our students even came to the door of our community representatives demanding we take older students. I received a few ugly face book messages myself. Unfortunately, we needed to say no. We had to say no. In poverty, money is fleeting. In poverty, shelter is temporary. In poverty, relationships are gold. In poverty, family is first. So for our program to set up guidelines was very hard for some of our families.
So why make this kind of distinction? Why couldn’t we just take all the children? Was it a money issue? Not really. Was it a transportation issue? Yes, at first, but by the time we rolled out we would’ve had plenty of room. Was it something else? Yes. What happens when preschool children come to an elementary event? The elementary sibling takes on the role parent and the kid factor is lost. What happens when the older student comes to an elementary event? Unfortunately they are bored and cause chaos. Again, the elementary student loses out.
In order to break through generational poverty, it’s also important to give kids a chance to be…kids! The slogan for Chuck E Cheese is “Where a kid can be a kid!” Part of our goal with Empower Youth is to bring independence to our children. Every child individually has promise. Every child individually is important to us and can do something great in our community. Still there is a greater lesson here for all students. While identifying as family groups is a beautiful thing, there is much value in allowing a student to be free to experience things on their own.
What impact does this have on sibling groups? First, it means that each child can search out their own path. Empowering youth means that we must look at the family factor. Is there a way to teach students that they each have unique abilities and that the path of an older sibling (particularly if it is destructive) does not have to be their path? As we seek out ways to make a difference in our community, we will be confronted with this issue. In fact with our event to Chuck E Cheese, that factor is so strong that some elementary students were not allowed to come at all because we would not take their older/younger siblings.
In a world where everyone gets a trophy whether they participate or not, boundaries are blurred and life becomes unfair. When individual growth is replaced with group think, we see individualism disappear. Now more than ever, our students need to see that they are unique. They are gifted. They are able to do incredible things. However, if it always becomes an “All Skate” then our students lose their drive to seek the path they are created and gifted for—what a tragedy. Empower Youth is about leading each child to their greatest potential. Want to be a part of this transformation? It starts with relationships. It starts with seeing children for their gifts and talents and making an investment in them. It starts with individual plans unique to each child. Keep tuning in for more information as we put together our plan for fall. In the meantime, join us on Wednesdays this summer starting May 27 for Picnic in the Park at Burke Park from 6-8pm.
Taking a trip through Bethel, you can essentially find everything you need. We have various fast food chains, a sit down home style diner or two, two pizza places, a couple of drug stores, a 5 and Dime, churches on the main drag and some stacked just one street back–we have it all! We have a community park and schools with dedicated teachers. In essence, this little town is probably like most others.
Except when you start really walking the streets and you see the abandoned homes. It may look like most others til you realize that just this morning a young man passed out from overdosing in a parking lot of one of our local restaurants, his needles and drug paraphanelia scattered around him–a needle still stuck in his arm.
Once a year, our Primary school has a talent show. I have to say that place is packed. This year I watched our little Kindergarten class perform their special songs. They were singing monkeys in a tree and all about peanut butter and jelly. Those children were full of energy and the house came alive. In 12 years, these students will be graduating. What will their future be? Who will they become?
We all have a responsibility to our youth. We all can make a difference.
We are a grassroots organization committed to driving the message to our youth that they can indeed break through poverty, drug addiction, and neglect to become empowered to do great things. We believe there is potential in every child–if we get to them in time and show them that there is life beyond the drugs being dealt at the back of the restaurant parking lot. We secured our website domain as empoweryouth.me. Honestly, that’s where its starts. If you won’t take a minute to empower youth then when will they get the courage to step up to bigger challenges. Children can’t achieve what they haven’t been exposed to– many of our students can do so much more– they just need you.
Empower youth begins with me. Empower youth begins with you.
Please join us in this mission– we need volunteers and funds. If you can help please fill out the form below or click on our donate now page to put some traction to your action.