We just wanted to fill in the gaps.
We didn’t seek to become a huge operation. We had one goal. Sneak in the gaps between churches and schools and government organizations and change lives. If it meant putting together a food bag—OK. If we could teach a leadership class—that’s cool. If it means securing hotdogs for an end of the year 5th grade bash- you betcha! But it grew… Empower Youth has become an operation that truly never sleeps. We are working on it… but even now as my husband snores away, I am on night shift because I can’t get over the fact that I have a family that is homeless with kids in one of my schools.
In just a couple of hours when I have finally fallen asleep, my husband will wake up startled, gripped with worry over accomplishing our never ending to do list. At 4 am he wakes. And just as he begins to drift around 6, he will wake me up and then I can start to toss and turn.
I’ve been reading a lot about goal setting, delegation, and running a non profit. I’m subscribed to Joan Garry’s Guide to non-profits, read from Good to Great for Non-profits, we’ve joined the Clermont Chamber of Commerce, attended Leadercast 2017, and I’m a missionary’s daughter, and yet… at almost midnight—I keep thinking of the children who are still up because they are being eaten alive mentally and physically by their environment.
The EY Ranch has been a distraction, an encouragement, and a challenge. It has showed us that we are more than the sum of our weekend food bags. The EY Ranch has tried to break us at every step and yet we keep working through tons of construction delays, work group changes, and brainstorming sessions. We know the packing facility cannot happen fast enough. We know that we cannot get on this property quick enough as more students come every day with heartache and more gaps to fill. In the last month, we have been counselors, probation officers, chaplains, school nurses, and work force advocates. We’ve even prepped teens for scholarship interviews.
But there is still that family in a homeless shelter. I thank God for that Shelter for them. And… at the same time the mission of Empower Youth becomes even more clear—we have to teach students to create resource bases that will keep them out of a shelter and allow them to have a life that is thriving… a life where the worry of food is more about what kind than how much… A life where they truly can do whatever they are gifted in and not be blocked by funding…
We packed our last bags of the school year tonight—the last message bag of hope to a child… to a family. Please think often of our children this Summer. If you see a child in need, find out what you can do to make life better. Some kids are barefoot in the Summer because that’s just what you do… and some kids are barefoot because they have no shoes. But you’ll never know for sure unless you become their friend.
To Clermont County and beyond…
The vision of Empower Youth has always been to fill in the gaps between parents, schools, and churches. Our hearts focus on sometimes those very small but significant cracks in the formation of a child’s emotional, physical, and social needs and patch or fill. Sometimes, it’s for a day. Other times, it is a more formidable patch that takes years. But all in all, we still are just gap-fillers.
Over the last two years, our territory has increased but the mission has remained: fight food insecurity, give all students an opportunity to grow at Summer camp, and provide opportunities for students to become leaders that earn their own way. As we have grown as an organization, there is a very distinct population that has cried out to us and this group has become our territory—the rural poor.
The rural poverty that we have seen in Clermont County is about more than just shopping at a thrift store and being on free or reduced lunch. Rural poverty becomes a very hungry animal that grows as a family’s debts, needs, and hardships grows How do we step in at Empower Youth? By partnering with schools and parents, we come alongside students and give them the tools to stay in school. If a student is hungry, they can’t learn. Once they fall behind, it is more natural to just “eek” by or simply drop out than to stay with the program. Child poverty rates grow where the drop-out rate grows. Our newest partner, Grant Career Center, understands this demographic and goes above and beyond to keep their students in school and progressing towards the goal of beyond graduation. As the city and jobs move away from rural areas, the issue of transportation becomes a major player in poverty. What happens when you live beyond the bus line? You no longer are able to make it to important appointments because your ride fell through. You find yourself moved to the back of the line for much needed help. Of course, there is always one person waiting to give you a ride—the drug dealer. After you take your first or second hit, you don’t remember if you ever arrived to your destination and now there is paranoia that you can never really get help because who wants to help a user?
So, this is our call… this is our mission… give the youth of the rural population a future.
The first step is to fight their food insecurities and move them up in their classes. Every September through May weekend, EY partners with schools to provide weekend meal bags. Here’s some pics of our most recent packing team. They packed 200 bags in 45 minutes. Most of the food came from a local church’s VBS from the Summer. We are always in need of food. We estimate that this church saved us $800. Want to help, please make a monetary donation or start a collection for us in your organization.
We are so pumped to have had our t-shirts sponsored by Community Savings Bank of Bethel. Because of their donation, we are able to sell the shirts and commit the entire profit to help send kids to camp AND we get to promote the goals of Empower Youth in the process!
Empower Youth seeks to:
Encourage the youth and families of our community.
Motivate students to make good decisions for their future.
Provide leadership training and services to all youth.
Overcome obstacles of poverty, neglect, and education to help students dream big!
Welcome everyone of all backgrounds to step up and do something positive.
Educate our community on the needs of our friends and family.
Respect our children for the potential in all of them just waiting to burst!
The shirts are $14 each and they are in adult sizes. Buy a shirt– we are sure it will look great on you! You can purchase shirts at the picnics in the park on Wednesday from 6-8pm or you can contact us and we gladly make arrangements to get you a shirt 🙂
My own case of ADHD—Advocate for the Dreamers, Harbor for the Downcast….
For the last few months, my husband and I along with our board members and many of our volunteers have been seeing that we are outgrowing the beautiful storage and packing space that a local church (Faith Chapel in Bethel) has so willingly allowed us to use. They have been incredible advocates for Empower Youth including giving us a key to their building and to their hearts. We’ve never taken this gift of space as trivial or effortless. They in many ways were the spring board which helped take our efforts from being a closed group to a true community offering. It was indeed the hand up we needed to take our Weekend Backpack program to the next level of volunteer coordination and promotion to the public. Now we find ourselves sitting on the edge of taking on more packs, needing to store more inventory in order to purchase at greater discounts, and bringing in more volunteers. This is getting big.
At the same time that we are space hunting, we are also attempting to send 3 times as many kids to camp as last year. We have been doing price comparisons to get the best bang for the buck while still giving our students the greatest experience possible. Over the next few weeks, we will be producing a list of camp dates that we are sponsoring scholarships for. Parents who would like to send their child to camp pick the date that fits their child’s age and fill out a very simple form. We then will provide a camper concierge service (so to speak) where we make sure every camper that goes to camp through Empower Youth has transportation to and from camp, bedding, special recreation gear, toiletries, and other items needed to have a successful camp experience. This is getting big.
Finally, as our leadership class for 6th grade and up begins to finish for the season, it will be time to make good on all the incentives our teens have been earning—everything from college trips to camp scholarships are in the works. And of course, there is some fun thrown in. Why? Because we want students to have the “feel good” effect from earning their way. We want them to experience the satisfaction of knowing that they have made things happen for themselves and they have earned their way. This is getting big.
On more than one occasion in the last couple of weeks, I’ve been told I have ADD or ADHD, given the bony finger of advice to rest more, and even told I must be on something to keep moving. And to all that, I can say that there is a little truth to it all. I do have ADHD; although, it is not a clinical diagnosis. It’s my own. I am guilty of Advocating for Dreamers and Harboring the Downcast. Does it make me hyperactive? Yes—but not because I have a chemical imbalance. I love people. I love them in masses and I love them by themselves. Most folks who know me would say that I play to the crowds. I am indeed happy there. However, when you start working with the families of Empower Youth, it’s not just about a crowd anymore. It’s about a boy named Sal, a Momma named Dawn, a girl name Aiden, and Dad named Tony. As EY grows, I hope we never forget to learn names and make home visits. I hope we show up at hospitals and funerals as well as cheer on 4-H clubs at the county fair. Empowering youth and young families can’t just happen at a park. It happens during that drive to the hospital with an expectant momma. It happens at school hanging out with the secretary and encouraging the teachers and leaders who are in the trenches. I do have ADHD—I hope I always find time to Advocate for Dreamers and Harbor the Downcast.
Empower Youth is committed to eradicating food insecurities, sending kids to camp, and providing leadership opportunities for children and teens to propel themselves in to a future worth living! We are Advocates for Dreamers and Harbors for the Downcast—and the work is exhausting. However, we will not waver.
How can you help?
We need one time gifts for camp scholarships. We are estimating our costs to be $18,000. We will also need sleeping bags, pillows, swim wear, and other camp items. Sponsor a child, sponsor a bunk, sponsor a group of campers– or hey, write the check for the full amount.
We need a new packing facility. We are looking at property and are even dreaming big dreams of a drive through warehouse. Hey dream big or go home! What would that look like? Money for land? A concrete service to pour a slab for a pole barn to built on site by volunteers? I’m dreaming… but there is a little one acre lot between Williamsburg and Bethel that would be perfect. Perhaps you have an acre to donate?
We need businesses to make Empower Youth their poster child and support us by sending us leaders and connections.
Attend and promote one of our upcoming fundraisers—a March 22 Coupon Class at the Bethel Library, the quarter auction is Tuesday April 19 at the ARF Bingo Hall, and coming in August a HUGE soccer three on three tournament.
We need volunteers to be donation coordinators: make phone calls on our behalf for specific items for our quarter auction as well as find us picnic partners for the summer.
We need churches to jump in and support our camp efforts and feeding program. We will be your camp or VBS missionary. We can come and present our vision to your board, your team, and your congregation.
We need watchdogs in the community to make sure that if there is a gap to be filled in our schools regarding students going home hungry, that Empower Youth is called and able to help fill that gap.
My hope is that I am not alone. My hope is that the dreamers and the downcasts feel the love and encouragement of bigger dreamers and doers!
Email me: Lori Conley at firstname.lastname@example.org for information about sending kids/teens to camp, volunteer job descriptions, and with any other questions. Click here to make that donation that your heart is pulling for or your brain is pushing.
I don’t want to cure my Advocate for Dreamers, Harbor for the Downcast condition—I WANT TO SPREAD IT!
I wanted to take a moment to update you on these families.
From “It’s Only Sunday”, it wasn’t long until the family returned to it’s usual routine. The Mom moved back in with her husband and children. Over the Summer, the father had found work and started attending anger management sessions. While the Mom and her children stayed involved, it was noticeable that she became more and more to herself and eventually, we just didn’t see her much. In the Fall, I received a phone call from her asking for advice. Her son had been in a fight at school. He had started the fight was suspended. She was reeling and so afraid that her son was repeating the cycle he had seen at home. She grounded him and tried to get him help. Eventually, she began to send her children back to our creative arts program and they seemed to thrive. It was obvious that this Momma was doing her best and struggling. While she constantly spoke of her husband’s progress, it was hard not to notice that she wore oversized coats, often had a band-aid on her forehead or an ace bandage on her arm. For Christmas her daughter had a part in the Christmas play. Even though it was almost show time, the daughter made it for all the performances and her Mom and siblings were always in the audience. The Mom’s precious smile and giggle seemed to have returned and I was hopeful for change and healing in this family.
On Christmas Eve, the police were called to her home just before midnight. Her husband had put a chair through another TV and had threatened her life and the life of her children. This time she and her children left in a squad car.
We also wrote in May about a Mom who had been sent to jail after a drug overdose. She was pregnant and had passed out with the needle in her arm. The baby was taken and after she was well enough from having the baby, she and the baby were released to her home. For the last 6 months, she has been at home and her older children were granted visitation. She has been clean for 6 months. Over those 6 months, the children were involved in the arts program of a local church and we kept pretty good tabs on them making sure they had the money needed to go on special outings with the local church and just checking up on them as needed. Both of her older children have been thriving and doing well.
In October, the young Mom’s court date came up. She was being charged for the drug episode in May. The judge found her guilty and sentenced her to 6 months in jail. While she had managed to stay clean from May til October, the judge was not lenient as this was her third time around. Empower Youth stepped in to help the Dad with Christmas. This man was not the man I met in May. In May, I remember he was very strong in Spirit and almost frightening. But in December, he stood with tears in his eyes thanking me for just listening to him. He explained his son was suffering from horrible migraines now and he was truly worried for him. This very strong man was broken. He was worried for his son. He was frustrated with their mother. And, essentially, he had no one to care for his daughter if his son required a hospital stay.
What am I learning as the director of Empower Youth? I’m learning this is not a Hallmark Channel movie where there is a merry Christmas for everyone or where families are blended in to a perfect wonderful life. In fact at times it seems like it’s one of those movies where you are halfway through the popcorn bowl and boom the music plays, the credits roll, and you are left with all these questions!
Why am I sharing this? Because these stories are not unique.
Why do you need to hear this? Because you need to know that it’s easy to put food in a belly for a weekend through our Tiger Packs. You need to know it’s easy to feed kids on Wednesday nights. You need to know that collecting cans of Beanie Weenies while is elusive–still can be accomplished for 79cents at Save A Lot.
You need to hear this because it is going to take more than blowing up food insecurities to give these children hope. The food is the start. The food begins the relationship. Because of the food, we were able to provide Christmas. Because of the Christmas, we were able to have a genuine conversation. Now that the conversations have started, we can start encouraging parents to send their kids to camp and allowing them to make college visits. Because of the Tiger Packs, the boys who said “please stop putting tomato soup in there” will now talk to us about going to college. And, we will get them on a college campus!
Our work is cut out for us. We are in this 8 months deep. You can’t even have a fully developed baby in 8 months– right now this feels like we are birthing an elephant (fyi: it takes 21 months to birth an elephant)!
So what’s happening now:
We now pack our Tiger Packs offsite and deliver them to schools. There is room for volunteers. We also have two more schools looking at our program and asking us to expand. This will call for more volunteers and more food.
We have 100+ children wanting to go to camp this year. They will need scholarships. This is estimated at $15,000.
Empower Youth currently provides the food budget for a local creative arts program every Wednesday. This is a $600 monthly need.
Empower Youth will be having our relationship building picnics every Wednesday this Summer. Last year we served 3000 meals– we are looking for sponsors to say, “I will provide food and funds for one Wednesday meal this Summer”.
How can you help?
- You can volunteer to partner with families.
- You can share this story and the mission of Empower Youth with your company CEOs who want to invest in programs that will better this world.
- You can be a voice for EY in your church, your organization, and your employment. Chances are you know someone right now who can elevate this program financially and provide camp scholarships. You may know someone right now who can elevate this program to receive the attention of the public.
How sure am I that we are on to something big? So sure I’m ready to call the zoo! We are in this for the long haul… and when we are done, not only will we birth this elephant of a mission– but we will see it fly!
“But I’ve been, done, seen about everything
When I see a elephant fly”–Dumbo