Saturday, July 31, 2010

JAMBO! Welcome to Adventure Mountain

‘For anyone who asks receives, for anyone to seeks fa­-i-a­-i-inds, and the door is opened to anyone who knocks…do you believe? I BELIEVE!!” These are the lyrics to the theme song of Forest Home’s Adventure Mountain, the amazing summer camp that hosts our kids for one week of every summer. With a mission statement “To provide a place away from the distractions of the world, where you can hear the Word of God and encounter Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit,” this incredible camp far exceeded its goal in the lives of the Central City kiddos. Our kids talk about summer camp from the day they leave camp until the day we return the following year…and now I know why!

Thanks to the Lord’s provision, Forest Home scholarshiped 3 students and staff to go to the 3rd-4th grade camp and 6 students and staff to attend the 5th-6th grade camp. With the intention of having one final hoorah with my 5th graders, who have now graduated to the Teen Program at Central City Community Outreach, we set out on Sunday for the San Bernardino Mountains. After a rather eventful drive up which included throw up and my car engine almost overheating (God is good!) we arrived with much excitement at Forest Home. The younger kids stayed at Indian Village and the older crew headed further up the mountain to check in at Adventure Mountian. The staff joyfully welcomed us and because our kids have been coming up for years, they were so pumped to jump on and hug the returning camp counselors. This familiarity and sense of belonging was huge for our kids!

The vision of the camp was to teach the kids to become detectives- to find the hidden mystery of Adventure Mountain which paralleled the aim of making the kids good detectives of the goodness that lies within God’s Word. The camp was incredibly well run with daily bible studies, crazy activities; skate park, rock wall, target sports (archery, fishing and bbguns), arts and crafts, team sports, acting, cooking, adventuring, etc. Our kids had a blast running free in the mountains, learning more about God, spending all their free time in the pool (they were on a first name basis with the lifeguard), yelling about bugs, learning the dance moves at worship every evening, participating in the camp sports competitions- seriously, camp was so fun! Our kids were incredibly well loved by the camp staff and 2 counselors in particular were very intentional with our kids and loving/serving them as they dealt with home sickness, “I’m too cool for this” and the daily dramas of being an 11 year old.

While I could tell stories for days, the highlights for me were that every one of the girls either accepted Christ or prayed that the Lord would grow them closer to Him.

--Ryan did a great job bonding with the kids (always a difficult process)

--During ‘deck connections’ (1-on-1 talks with the girls) one of my very shy girls opened up to me about some serious stuff going on at home- please pray for her and that her family would find a home. Even though she has so many stresses going on at home, it was so beautiful to see her let go and be a kid this week at camp. She told me that this week at camp was the first time she had ever played an organized game.

--The girls and I slept underneath the stars every night “Miss Eugenia, I like falling asleep to the crickets and the breeze under the stars.” Oh my heart!

--Me: “Girls I’m going to read the Bible before I go to sleep but I will turn the lantern off as soon as I’m done”

Yvonne “Miss Eugenia, will you read us a Bible story from your Bible?”

Me: holding back tears “OF COURSE!”...this tradition continued every night

To tie things up, camp was absolutely life changing. Please keep praying for the Lord’s protection over the kids and that they would continue to ask, seek and knock!

Feel free to check out the camp trailer:

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Redistribution, Relocation and Reconciliation- UPLA 2010

Friends and Family,

Wow, it has been a while since I updated this blog and what a year it has been thusfar!! I could spend hours telling you story after story about the children at Central City Community Outreach and the student athlete lives the Lord has been touching through Athletes in Action but I believe telling you all about this past month of June might be the best way to sum it all up!

Urban Project-Los Angeles…

Since 2000 Athletes in Action has hosted the Urban Project- Los Angeles in the heart of LA with the vision to teach, train, and equip college student-athletes to engage with and invest in God’s heart for the poor, culture, diversity and holistic community development. In order to practice what they are learning, the student athletes serve at five ministry sites across the city. As the UPLA ministry site coordinator I had the blessing of supervising these sites and hearing firsthand the praises from the staff at each site. Here is a little break down of where our students served:

-Compton Salvation Army: A beacon of hope in a struggling city, this community center aims to re-establish the basic fundamental principles of fellowship, family and discipleship and encouragement through an after school tutoring program, summer child care, basketball leagues, a weight room and worship services. This summer, our students helped the Compton staff finish a recording studio that will be a huge ministry tool for the youth in the community. Writing and producing music is of huge interest to the kids= great tool of expression and empowerment! One of our AIA student-athletes wrote, “While being at Compton, we have had many opportunities to share the love of God and our faith in Jesus with the children. We have already had four children choose to accept Christ in their hearts.” Please be praying for these children!!

-Ramona Gardens: A new ministry site of the Urban Project Los Angeles, Ramona Gardens is a predominantly Hispanic housing project in east LA that struggles with gang activity and violence. Our students arrived with humble “we will help however we can” attitidues and left more blessed than they could have ever imagined. When I went to Ramona for a site visit, the site staff sang the praises of the students; “they were different from every other group,” and how it was very evident that they had a different Spirit about them- it was beautiful to say the least! Please pray for gang peace in this community and that God would continue to raise up leaders from Ramona Gardens.

-Nickerson Gardens: Nicks is the largest government funded housing project west of the Mississippi River. Considered the most violent, drug infested and crime riddled neighborhood in the country, the children have seen and experienced more than one could ever imagine. Through the common language of sports, however, the differences between the students and kids became invisible and bonds were quickly formed. Our student athletes left with Nickerson forever a part of their hearts. Please keep praying for peace among the gangs and protection over the children.

-Faith in Christ: FIC is not only a church but “a ministry in the heart of the city with a heart for the city,” as their motto reads. It has been my honor to be connected with FIC for the past three years and see the Lord provide for the tireless work of Pastor Joe and Gwen Brown. Challenged with a wide variety of tasks this summer, our students went into FIC with servant hearts. According to the students, the highlight for them was assisting in leading the Vacation Bible School programs! Please keep praying that the Lord would provide for the ministry at FIC and continue to strengthen those who tirelessly serve there.

LAST BUT NOT LEAST… what has been going on at Central City Community Outreach

I won’t break this one down too much because this entire blog is about Central City BUT I did want to share about the impact the student-athletes had after working with our kids for the month of June. Aside from the amazing job the students did with homework help and building relationships with the kids, the AIA group organized and executed a bible study titled “Who in the World is God.” Each day the kids traveled to a different country and learned about a new facet of God’s character…God is your Creator, Savior, Father, etc. Each “topic” was then followed by learning a relevant song and small group breakouts to discuss an applicable bible story and what this meant individually for the kids. Our kids learned SOO much about God that week and are still singing the songs and asking questions like “OK, I get that God loves us but then why did He kill His son.” Please keep praying that the Lord would captivate the hearts of all our kids.

In the end, Jesus is all we really need. Thank you Lord for being more than enough!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

“Even though I look like this, I’m not no car thief"

This is painted on the door of LAMP- a mission the focuses on serving the mentally infirmed on Skid Row

A group of my students came over last Friday night to celebrate thier reading awards- Katana (5th grade)

I parked my car and rummaged to quickly grab my things and prepare for a brisk sprint to work. I grabbed my book bag, phone, bag lunch and a couple random other things, stepped out of my car and slammed the door behind me. Just as I was slamming my door closed, it clicked in my head that I didn’t have my keys in hand…but it was too late. As I spun around to try and catch the door before it locked, I yelled NOOOOOOO…click. I locked my keys in my car…the keys were still in the ignition…my car was still turned on! What was I going to do!? So begins another tale of how the Lord beyond blessed me through car trouble on Skid Row.

After yelling no and having a 2 second panic attack, I looked around and realized the gentleman that had biked past my car 30 seconds ago had stopped at his car that was parked right behind mine. He was looking over a little startled at my Zena-like cry but quickly assessed the situation and ask with a little chuckle, “You lock your keys in your car?” “Yes” I laughed and asked him if he could help me!

Lol…I’m not exactly sure what I thought he was going to be able to do but the words came out and I got a positive response! He jumped right into action, pulled a wire coat hanger and screw driver out of his car (I decided I need to start carrying those in my purse so I can always be prepared) and proceeded to help me break into my car. He managed to wedge the screw driver into the top right corner of the driver door but couldn’t get it open wide enough to squeeze the hanger in, but he kept trying. There was such a beautiful determination to help rescue me that I couldn’t help but be so encouraged. I had no doubt in my mind that Mike was going to get my car open.

Very soon thereafter a gentleman by the name of Carlos popped his head out of his shop to see what we were doing. Mike asked Carlos if he had a flathead screw driver and Carlos came out with TWO flathead screw driver AND a jimmy…which I quickly learned from Mike were illegal. If you don’t know what a jimmy is, it’s what you see in the movies that car robbers use to stick in the window and pull open a lock. Mike was really hesitant to use the Jimmy and understandably let Carlos take control of that technique. The two men then decided to team up- as Mike propped the door open with the two flathead screwdrivers, Carlos maneuvered the jimmy to the lock/unlock switch on the inside of my door and was able to catch the lock...CLICK!! YES!

Mike had the biggest smile on his face as I opened my door (turned off the ignition) and thanked him profusely for taking the time and working with such determination. I asked him if I could give him a hug, which he shyly accepted, and proceeded to say something that broke my heart and showed me such vulnerability, “yea well don’t think that I knew what I was doing, even though I look like this, I’m not no car thief.” Even though he ‘looked like this.’ Mike was well dressed, appeared in perfectly good hygiene and health…dressed like what? It broke my heart because it showed me such a clear picture of how he envisioned himself. I told him he didn’t look any different than a man with a kind heart and that he looked like my hero which he laughed at. I told him that I regretted not having any better way to thank him than my hug and my thank yous but that I would love to be praying for him. “Mike, is there any way I can be praying for you,” I asked. He looked down and responded, “if I said no I would be laying. Will you pray against my laziness. I want to get my life together but I’m getting in my own way.” What an honest and beautiful prayer request that ps. we should all pray on a much more frequent basis!

I prayed that the Lord would give me the right words to respond to Mike’s openness and to encourage him. Praise God for his faithfulness. “Mike, you just showed me the type of man you are by the way you helped out a perfect stranger. You wouldn’t give up until my car was open, you were so creative, and you were successful. You are so capable…you were my hero today. You showed me that you are a man of action…that’s the kind of man you are.” He smiled soo big, “that just gave me a happy feeling inside.’ Glory be to God! I told him that if he ever needed anything or just wanted to catch up that I worked at the church on the corner and to please stop by anytime!

Mike and I parted ways and I don’t know if I’ll ever see him again but sweet Jesus, thank you for the way you touched my life through Mike. If you are reading this blog please take a minute to pray for Mike J God Bless you all!!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Harry Potter saves the day!

Friday Park Day with the ladies :-)

Fifth graders Meonni and Katana received Student of the Month and the Good Citizen Awards

Gustavo Linares received a Reading Award at school!

Hello to all and very belated Happy New Years! Program kicked off again January 18th and although a great deal of our students moved out of the homeless shelter and thereby out of our program, we have several new kids that have quickly captivated my heart J Because we have acquired a new teachers position for Spring 2010, there are now three of us with the elementary school kids- huge blessing! Currently I’m working solely with the 4th and 5th graders. Because my class size is now a bit smaller, I can go deeper with the kids and facilitate more enrichment activities whereas before, getting homework done in the mist of keeping the peace in the classroom was more than overwhelming.

One of the new and exciting projects going on in the 4th- 5th grade class is focused on motivating the kids to read more in the hopes of improving their spelling, writing, reading and comprehension skills. A recent ‘facilities grant’ allowed me to purchase 2 full sets of the Harry Potter collection and in very little time, over half the books were “checked out” of my library. The kids earn a point for every page they read and at the end of the month, the 2 top readers get a pizza and movie night at my apartment. Giving the students incentive to read in conjunction with weekly spelling bees has been VERY well received by my class. They run off the bus everyday (much to the dismay of the bus driver trying to maintain order) and proudly hand me their torn pieces of paper decorated with the tallies of how many pages they read the night before. I do not ask for a parent signature because I trust my students and want to show them I “believe them” although I often I ask for “pop quiz” chapter summaries just to keep them on their toes!

Much to my excitement, the new reading club has proven effective in their test scores at school!! Not only have their vocabulary, writing and reading scores improved, but the kids have become even more motivated because they have seen the fruit of their studies. Like a proud parent with one of those “My Child is an Honor Student” bumper stickers… I have posted all their tests up at the front of the classroom. J

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

"Miss Eugenia, is it true that God lives on that cross?"

Yesterday started a little different than my regular Tuesday. It was the morning after a rainy day in the city which generally results in a beautiful skyline as the smog clears, the streets are cleaned and the foliage is drunk with being over hydrated. My time on campus was incredible as Micheal Sylvester (USC AIA director) and I checked in on the teams working with Athletes in Action on our 1st Annual "Warm Clothing Drive for Skid Row." This initiative was actually begun by the head women's soccer coach after coming out to one of our homeless karaoke nights. He realized what a great need there was for warm clothing and blankets as the temperature begins to drop at night. He presented the clothing drive proposal at a coaches meeting last month and got every men's and women's team to sign on! The Lord works in mysterious ways- I am already taking trunk loads of clothing down to Skid complaints here!

After my morning on campus, I headed downtown to Skid Row. Tuesday is "early-outs" so we pick up the kids at the bus at 1:30 instead of 2:30. I have to admit that picking up the kids every afternoon is defiantly the highlight of my day. As the bus turns onto San Pedro from 5t St. you start seeing the little hands waving through the dark bus windows. Every now and then the rebels manage to stick a hand or face out the window before being reminded to sit down. As the bus pulls to a stop, their little bright faces are smiling SO big and their hands are waving frantically to be acknowledged. Row by row the bus driver lets the students off the bus. They carefully proceed down the stairs and run and jump into my arms. Some run and leap, others do a ran and slam, and some wait their turn to be greeted with a hug and kiss on the head. Each child greats in a way that lines up perfectly with their personality. As the hyper greetings wind down, the kids begin doing their inevitable "Miss, I gotta goooo" bathroom dances so we headed down the block to the big green doors that mark the portal to Central City Community Outreach.
On Tuesdays, the 'event of the evening' is Inner-City Arts. Inner-City Arts is dedicated to bringing the best of creative experiences to the thousands of children who live in the downtown area, and attend public schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Working with LAUSD and community partners, Inner-City Arts offers programs during the instructional school day as well as after school serving over 8,000 children from 55 area elementary, middle and high schools. While Inner City Arts is relatively close to our program, walking the kids would take half an hour. Because of our need for motorized transportation, the volunteers and myself each load up our cars and drive the kids.

On this particular Tuesday, I had the pleasure of driving 5 of the 2nd graders in my little Honda Civic. We skipped, jumped over cracks and played the "guess which car is my car" game all the way to my car-very creative, i know :-) We all loaded in and headed off for our destination! As I pulled up to Inner City Arts, Duriel leaned over and smacked the cross hanging from my rear view mirror asking, "Miss, is it true God Lives on that cross?" What an innocent but beautiful question!

Duriel's question sparked a greatest Q & A I have ever experienced. They asked questions like 'why did God make the devil'- 'why did God send the devil to hell'- 'how is God with us if He is in the sky'...these are 7 and 8 years olds! I felt so blessed by the way the Lord granted me the 2nd grade vocabulary to teach them the Gospel. One of the final questions was 'how do I go to heaven'- and 'where do all the bad people go?' I gave them a 2nd grade variation of "If you declare with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved." (Romans 10:9-10).

After answering their questions (to God be the glory) I asked them if they believed in God and wanted to be able to go to heaven to be with Him forever. I received a resounding YES! So, naturally, I lead them through a prayer to invite the Lord into their hearts, asked the the Lord be with them and grow them the rest of their lived, and to proclaim their faith and desire to rely on the Lord. Not only was this moment beautiful, but it lead to each one of the kids wanting to say a little prayer of their own! Their prayers included:

-thank you God for my family, for the universe, for all the people, for my brother/sister/ mom/dad, for the mission, help all the homeless peoples to find homes, thank you for Say YES (CCCO), thank you for coming into our hearts, God please help the good people go to heaven and the bad people to become good so they can go to heaven too (I kid you not!), we want to be with you forever, we want to be with you in heaven so we can play with you and be happy forever, etc...

Sweet Jesus, thank you thank you for these 10 minutes! I will never forget this moment for as long as I live. The day that 5 of my 2nd graders prayed to accept Christ! Please be praying for them and all of us at central city community outreach!!! GOD BLESS!

PS. The pictures are from today's ice skating trip! SOOOO MUCH FUN!!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Jesus loves the little chilren, all the children of the world

Jesus replied: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself." (Matthew 22:37-39)

Tylor (below) and Brianna & Lyric (above) at Park day- Every Friday the Skid Row LAPD clear out, clean up and stand guard at Gladys Park so that the local kids may have their weekly romp in one of the only grassy areas on Skid Row. Several local groups, along with LA Parks and Rec. bring activities for the kids to do, organize games, lead art projects and 'referee' soccer, bball and football games. I frequently leave the park with sore arms from lifting kids onto the monkey bars and turning the jump rope for 4 hours :-) worth it!

Katana- She taught herself to swim, literally :-)

Desiree and Duriel at the Biola Halloween Event-Biola University (Christian Univ.), does the local community a great service both on a weekly basis as well as on Halloween night! Not only do we have a great deal of consistent mentors from Biola that come work with our kids, but on Halloween night one of the girls dorms decorated itself like Candyland the game board in order to provide a safe place for kids to go trick-or- treating! The mentors that come during the week put on a carnival for our kids then divided up to take our kids through Candyland. Praise God for all our volunteers!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

My favorite night in Los Angeles began with a flat tire!

How would you feel if you got a flat tire on Skid Row? I never actually contemplated this question myself, but as I walk to work every day and watch people lock their doors and roll up their windows on their drive down San Pedro or 6th St, I can imagine most would answer that they would be terrified. Scared of what you might wonder? Scared of that which they do not know. Last night I got the chance to experience firsthand the blessing that it is to have a flat tire on Skid Row…in all seriousness, one of the best nights of my life!

Yesterday, work ended like normal; children running everywhere, balls booming against the wall 2 millimeters behind my head, incredible goodbye hugs and getting permissions slips signed for Saturdays Halloween party. After all the kids that live next door at the Mission were picked up by their parents, I gathered up the 4 kids that I drive home every night. Because they live in the hotels, we offer the service of taking them home after the Say Yes program. I usually park on Towne St. which is 2 blocks from where I work. This is by no means too far but the afternoon returns to my car are always very interesting- why? Because every night there is a food distribution on Towne which means the street is lines with locals waiting for what could possibly be, their first meal of the day.

As I approached my car and began loading the children into my back seat, a couple gentlemen waiting in line pointed out to me that my right front tire was flat…woohoo! Seriously!? I have no skill in changing a tire, safely anyways, and I had to have the kids home in 10 minutes! Have no fear…God provides :-)

Several of the men in line offered their assistance and many others offered words of humor and encouragement. After accepting the help of a couple of the men, I informed them that I needed to make care of the kids first and then would be right back with my co-worker and friend Shaun. I was able to send the children home with another co-worker and Shaun and I headed back to Towne St. After re-soliciting the help of 2 kind men that had previously offered their services, Chaco, Dillon and Shaun set to work.

The tire was off pretty quickly but they couldn’t get the jack to lift the car up high enough. After trading several ideas on how to get the car lifted up, the men decided to lift the car up and hold it long enough to get the other wheel on. Within 30 seconds Chaco and Dillon had solicited the help of others in line and about 5 other men got hands on deck to lift my car…yes, these men quite literally he-man lifted my Honda Civic…what a beautiful picture! What a sense of loyalty there is on Skid Row (this isn’t the first time I’ve seen it)! As one stepped out of line, his buddies would hold his spot- they shouted encouragement and playful remarks to one another and they were all entirely appropriate and helpful with me as I got to spent my time “overseeing” the tire change and getting to know the men and women in line. Let’s just say that the tire change quickly grew into a source of entertainment for all parties involved.

The flat tire was finally pulled off and the spare put on. As Chaco and Dillon loaded the tire back into my trunk, I racked my brain, searching for the words to express the depth of my gratitude. I went to shake their hands and before I could thank them, they thanked me…they thanked me? Do what? They did all the work, I literally did nothing, why were thanking me? They thanked me and said God Bless you to me. I was so confused by their gratitude but attempted to thank them nonetheless. As I said God Bless you to Dillon, he remarked, “God always takes care of me.” I was blown away (again). This man, who was holding all his worldly possessions in a plastic grocery bag by his side, was telling me in complete confidence that the Lord always took care of Him…what a beautiful and inspiring faith! I came to find later that both of my knights in shining armor are strong believers…what a blessed night, my goodness!

As Shaun and I got in the car, our new friends waved goodbye and returned to their saved spots in the food line. Could this night possibly get any better? Of course it could, my spare tire was flat, lol. Oooooookkkk now it was time for Triple A. As Shaun and I walked back to the church where we work so I could wait inside with the remaining kids for the tow truck, he commented that changing my tire had probably been the highlight of the night for those men. This comment made me recall their thanks and I asked Shaun what he meant. Shaun proceeded to explain to me that one of mans greatest fears is to feel useless and out of control/ powerless of their lives and the circumstances they find themselves in, and why this is such a strong issue that homeless and jobless men deal with. Biblically we are shown that men are built inherently with the need to be needed and to provide for their families- this is why poverty 9lack of provision) rocks them to their core. While he neither excused drug dealing, drug and alcohol abuse, nor gang banging, Shaun did explain that the root cause of most of these problems is the crisis of masculinity. WOW! I had never realized this. Those men last night got to be my heroes, they were needed, they put their talents to work and were able to solve my problem. Praise God!

My flat tire experience on Towne St. was seriously an incredibly fun night! I felt so at home among the Central City residents, so loved and cared for, and so protected by these people shunned by society. I could have stayed there all night! AAA finally arrived, my car was towed and the nail in my tire removed, I scared my roommates because my phone was dead and last they heard I was stranded with a flat tire BUT I must say…my favorite night in Los Angeles was the night I got a flat tire on Skid Row!