Wednesday, October 9, 2013

What's their story? - Advocating for the "trouble" kids

When we went to KJ's patriotic performance in the spring, we could not have been prouder of our adorable child.  Granted it was a mere 20 minutes of singing songs, saying the pledge, and each taking a turn at the mic to tell about all things "American".  Granted, for most of the performance, unless you strained your neck (and camera) just right (which I assure you we did), you couldn't even SEE our tiny guy.  But he is ours.  And we think he's tops.

Later that same month, he raked in the awards to prove it.  I'd like to call them "family awards" because we ALL put in some serious efforts to those after-school-reading and math programs just to earn points just to get a stinkin' trophy, thankyouverymuch.  In the ceremony every kid in every kindergarten class got to prance across the stage, have their name called, and swell with pride at their list of accomplishments- accomplishments of the kind only a kindergartner would consider success.  But they certainly do.  KJ did.  AND we did, too.

But shortly after KJ walked across the stage that day another little 5 or 6-year-old girl walked across the stage and had her "success" defined quite differently.  She simply got "Principals Club", the award every kid gets.  Not "cheetah math gold, silver or bronze".  No "Reading Olympics" medal.   No "mastery of study skills."  Not even "good conduct".  She kind of shuffled across the stage, hugged the teacher, and paused (like all the kids were supposed to) for her picture.  Only no one was there to take it.  And I lost it.

There was a kiddo or two like her in every class that day.  Ones who obviously weren't "dressed" for awards day, who didn't have a cluster of family members welcoming them afterward, who didn't struggle to juggle all of their prizes in their proud little hands.  And my heart broke.  Not because it should be fair.  Not because all kids should "get the same thing".  Not because I thought anyone should get an award they didn't earn.  Nope, I fought back tears because I wondered if anyone knew their story.  Did anyone ask, "why?"

I could relate.  I deeply love a little boy who had anything but "mastery conduct" during his first "big school" year last year.  A little boy who didn't have family members present at any of his special pre-k events at school.  A little boy who sometimes wears clothes that don't fit.  A little boy who sometimes gets labeled for his behavior before anyone takes time to know his story, a rough one.  And that day, I could so easily picture a sweet red-head shuffling across the stage.  I could hear the imaginary voices of other parents saying "That kid couldn't even get it together enough for a conduct certificate".  I could sense his disappointment when he paused for pictures and realized the faces he wanted to see most weren't there.  Again.  

That day, like so many others since then, I prayed that someone would take time to know his story.  I prayed that the little girl in KJ's class, the others like her that day, and the one I love so much, would all find an advocate in school.  A teacher who sees their hidden talents and skills, who knows their obstacles and sets them up to believe they can overcome them.  I prayed for other parents, too.  Ones who let their kids be friends with the less-than-perfect playmate, who speaks blessing into someone else's child right along side their own.  I prayed for advocates.  And I prayed for the strength to be one.  

I'm pretty sure I could get as many different political opinions as I have readers, if I tried.  But I'm fairly certain we will all agree on this:

Each of us is responsible.

Not just in our current political state, not just in our current economic state, not only if we have kids, not only if we work in a profession that provides opportunities-  We all can make a difference.  This isn't some over-idealistic-push toward changing the world.  I'm "just" talking about changing lives, just those lives we each come in contact with.  You can vote and write letters to your senator (maybe you should) and you can eloquently explain your political opinions until you are blue in the face (maybe you shouldn't).  But unless YOU (and I) are willing to actually do something I can guarantee that the kid next door won't ever have his story heard.  He's not waiting for his district's Senator to stop by.  He's waiting for you.

You probably already know who "he" is, don't you?
The kid who kinda smells bad so no one ever wants to sit next to him.
The kid who gets asked to leave youth group events because of the inappropriate things she says.
The kid who no teacher wants to have in class because teachers don't know how to "control him".
The kid who has spent more time at the alternative school than the regular classroom.  Since 6th grade.
The kid who bullies other kids on the internet.
The kid who is pregnant at 14.
The kid who drops out.
The kid who gave up.

Have you ever really asked "Why?"  Have you heard "his" story?  Did you notice that no one cheered for them in the program or took their picture on awards day?  I know I don't always notice.  Too often, I don't stop to actually ask.  

But here's the thing:
 I know about this incredible organization that makes knowing teenagers- really KNOWING them- their mission.  They are out to find "those" kids.  The ones at the alternative school.  The ones drowning in their bad choices.  The ones pregnant.  The ones labeled for their behaviors.  The ones who need to have their stories heard.  

Teen Lifeline KNOWS the power of listening to teenagers, of helping them listen to each other, of providing them a safe place to learn life skills.  The unique thing is, this organization doesn't run away from "troubled" kids, they run toward them.  They have this lofty notion that maybe if they can provide hope, if they can provide an opportunity to overcome obstacles, if they actually DO SOMETHING, they might just maybe make a real difference.  One life at a time.  
And you know what?  It works!

It is time for Teen Lifeline's annual 5K, one of their only huge fundraisers each year to support the work they do.  Its the 5th year for this fundraiser and I can honestly tell you I've never been more excited about the difference I truly believe the dollars collected this year will make.  

My very own, RRL, is the executive director of Teen Lifeline.  He knows about coming from a broken home, having to fight to overcome obstacles, and he certainly appreciates the advocates he had along the way who heard his story.   As a result he didn't become his obstacles, he overcame his obstacles.  He stood on top of his obstacles and took a flying leap forward.  Those advocates gave him a springboard to take his story and use it to open doors for others to be heard. 

RRL is teamed up with an incredible Program Director and a super supportive Board of Directors.  You won't find a group of people with bigger hearts or who are more inclined to work together to help teenagers.

But the reason I use this little blog each October to fund-raise is not because of how much I love the hearts of these people (even though I truly do).  It is because I know their mission can make a real difference.  Stories can be heard.  Lives can be changed.  Cycles can be broken.  And we can ALL help make that happen.

Would you please join us in making a difference?
You can:
1) PRAY.
Take time to get to know what Teen Lifeline is all about by reading the information on the website or visiting with someone who knows more about the organization.  Then, commit to be praying for the vision and future of Teen Lifeline, and for the lives of the teenagers impacted by the efforts.  There is even a place under the "giving" section of the website  to send an email to the prayer coordinator to get more details about how you can be specifically praying.

2) GIVE.
Here is a link to our families' 5K fundraising website (with a cute picture of our adorable blonds, of course!) >> 
Would you please consider making a donation?  Any amount truly does help!
For the next couple of weeks I'm going to ask over and over and over for you to give.  I'm willing to risk annoying you just to let you know how important this is :).  I only do it once a year and I appreciate your patience and participation.  Know that whether you live here or across the country, or around the world, you are making a difference.

Share this message and spread the word.  You can share the link to this blog or share the link to our fundraising page.  Help us spread the word about Teen Lifeline and give others the opportunity to partner with this organization.

Thank you for the amazing way so many of you already support teenagers in your own life, and for the way you support and love our family.  We are so grateful for you!


No comments: