It’s hard to believe we've made it to the 10 year mark since the first Kids Hope mentor stepped foot on Eagle Rock Elementary’s campus (that was Budd Christopher on January 30th, 2008). Our youngest students from that school year are now in 11th grade. There are now 14 programs in the state of CA (we were the first - in Los Angeles!)
It has been a great privilege to be part of this ministry, I have learned so much and been shaped so profoundly that it would be impossible to capture it all one blog post…so as I’ve been reflecting tonight here are 10 things that come to mind:
1-Relationships, not programs, change lives.
2-Anything worth doing, is worth doing well. (But perfection and excellence are not the same thing, and the difference between the two can be catastrophic.)
3- There is an art to being a creative thinker and problem-solver. It's not about having a perfect plan, but about having a willingness to flex and learn: what works for one kid one week, doesn't work the next week, or doesn’t work for another kid. We are always being challenged to grow and adapt and meet the kids where they are, not where we think they should be (and often not how we think it would best happen). Related: it is better to be kind than to be right.
4- Meaningful lasting change takes commitment and perseverance…a long obedience in the same direction. Many people say that they want to affect this type of change with their lives, but few people are in it for the long haul. The mentors who stay with their child year after year have shown me the transformation that is only possible over time.
5- The work of becoming neighbors means we must “cross the road” for each other: we must spend time with people who do not look like us, speak like us, believe like us. This is uncomfortable and awkward at times. But it is clearer to me now than it has ever been…separation, segregation, stereotypes, these are not bridged with more “information/knowledge” they are traversed through relationships. Trust, especially between those perceived as “different” is built slowly, intentionally, vulnerably, and takes a long time; but it can be done.
6. Our amazing volunteers have taught me that when the world feels dark, there is still some good out there: look for the helpers, recruit them, ask for them, and you will find them.
7. Our amazing kiddos have taught me so much about resilience; that where there is suffering and brokenness and God, there can be joy. Legit, transcendent joy.
8. I’ve witnessed over and over the transformative power of mutuality…that mentors grow and are changed just as significantly as the kids. I’ve learned this myself as the last 10 years have been full of personal grief: big things like the Haiti earthquake, my torn ACL, the death of my mother, the death of Budd (our first mentor)—and smaller disappointments, dashed hopes, and dreams; and yet so often our kids and mentors served me, supported me, and cheered me during those trials. I am better for it. Life is better, albeit messier, together.
9. I’ve learned that the needs are always greater than what we have to offer, and to trust that….to see it as an opportunity to witness how God will provide - these are ultimately his kids, this is ultimately his program. I have my small role to play but the “success” or “failure” of Kids Hope does not ultimately rest on my shoulders.
10. Only love expressing itself through action really matters to those outside the church; and love is less words, more action. “Christian” is primarily a descriptive word that is ascribed to us by others. Before calling myself one, I must humble myself and try as much as possible to be like Jesus. If I think I’m living my faith out well, but those around me don’t experience it that way, then I’ve got some work to do…
I am so indebted and grateful to the hundreds of mentors, kids, families, and volunteers who have believed in this mission to love our neighbors well. This program would not be possible without them.