Youth Programs
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When I Grow Up...

It can be so much fun to ask a child what they want to be when they grow up. You never can be sure what will come out of their mouths.

Recently, I asked a couple of our middle school students what they want to be when they grow up. What I ended up with was two girls in the same grade at the same school with similar but opposite answers. When I asked the first girl she responded quickly. “Doctor. That’s what my mom tells me.” I asked if that’s what she wanted too. “I want to be a teacher.” I asked another girl separately what she wanted to be. “I want to be a doctor but my mom says it will take too much time away from being at church and with my family so maybe I’ll be a nurse.”

With each girl we talked about how when you're in 7th grade you have time to dream and change your mind and consider a lot of possibilities for your future. We talked about working hard in school now to keep lots of possibilities open and that if you change your mind tomorrow about what you want to be that’s okay too!

In a diverse community like Clarkston, you learn a lot about how different cultures work. American culture is very individualistic. You ask a child what they want to be and they will tell you what they want to be. But that’s not how the whole world works. In collective cultures like the ones these girls grew up in, you make decisions together. It’s not about the individual, but the whole.

One of the beautiful things about Youth Programs is that we get to have conversations with our youth about what they want and what their families want to find a place of peace between the two sometimes conflicting worlds the students live in at school and at home. There isn’t always a lot of work done with these kids to find a way to marry their home culture and the American culture they are growing up in now. In YP, we think it’s possible to embrace both cultures as a part of your identity.

Emily HutchinsComment
The Van is a Blessing

To be successful working with youth in Clarkson, having transportation is key. More than giving us the ability to bring students to and from program time, a ride in a van provides the perfect environment for conversation, tradition and community building. In the vans is where we learn that we like the same music and get stuck in traffic with nothing better to do than talk to each other. The van is the perfect place to talk about traffic laws, why you wear a seat belt, and the rules of the road.

The other night, taking some teens home from after school, the driver and teens were so wrapped up in conversation that they forgot to turn on music, which is a pretty big deal around here. The driver returned the keys and commented on how pleasant it was to spend the evening taking them home. The next day, the kids told me how much they enjoyed talking with their driver and that they didn’t even mind that there was no music. To some, this may be dismissed or overlooked as simply a nice van ride. To us, it means the blossoming of friendship, something that we always celebrate.

Our program could never be as successful as it is without our vans, and not just because it takes us where we need to go.

Emily HutchinsComment
Peek into the Future

Recently, there has been a unique opportunity to connect with a couple of individuals who grew up as refugee teenagers in resettlement cities. Sitting down with them and hearing their stories has been such a humbling and encouraging experience. I look at these people, and they are living the dream I have for our youth- to reach their fullest potential, to live a life they love, and to never forget where they came from. They tell me about how hard it was to be a teenager trying to keep up with grades, support the family, and fit in at school. They echo the same challenges and frustrations I see our youth facing. Both people I talked to, with hearts full of compassion, shared their desires to reach back and show the teenagers that they so identify with that it gets better.

I don’t know that I had anything to offer to these conversations, but for me it was affirming. They affirmed that what was most helpful for them as a youth was help keeping up at school, having non-family adults they could count on, and getting a break from all the family and school responsibilities. Both gave me hope that the work we are doing with out youth is worth it and pushing them towards gaining a future that they want for themselves.

After taking a look into the future, I can see just exactly how bright the future is for our students and I am so excited we get to be a part of their story.

Emily HutchinsComment
It Takes a Village Pt 2

We have a high school youth who has been looking to get a job all semester. During after school, we helped him look up and print applications. We looked over the applications before he turned them in. We encouraged him to follow up when he didn’t get a phone call. When he got an interview, we took him to get interview appropriate clothes and drove him to his interview. We’re still waiting to hear back if he got it, but either way we are o proud of how much he has grown in the process. He took advantage of every service we had to offer him and all the people that are connected to him. Our little village had worked together beautifully to help this one reach his potential and master his goal to get a job.

It is truly a blessing and to be a part of a community of people that serve each other and look out for each other as well as the volunteers and students in Youth Programs.

Emily HutchinsComment
"We are less when we don't include everyone."- Stuart Milk

Looking back over the year, there are so many precious memories to revisit, but one stands out special from the others.

We have a camper who has become a fixture at camp. He has some disabilities that make life more challenging for him in some ways. Fellow campers can sometimes get frustrated with him because he doesn't understand the rules of the game or because he can't keep up. It can be even harder because he doesn't understand that his friends are frustrated. I have to give our campers credit though, they have worked really hard to stand up for each other, be patient with each other, and create a culture of inclusion all on their own.

Every year, we have a talent show where no matter what your talent is you will probably get a standing ovation (peel an orange with one hand, recite the pi to 100 places, make yourself disappear, and so on). This year at our talent show, we had an eighth and a ninth grade camper playing emcee. They did such a great job making each camper feel like a star on stage and engaging the audience. When we got to our friend who can be hard to play with, he wanted to do ninja moves. He walked out on the stage and it was hard to tell what he was trying to do at first. The emcees, seeing the confusion got the crowd to chant his name, they let him pretend to knock them out, and gave his moves some really cool names so that the rest of camp could be encouraging and supportive.

This moment of inclusion and celebration makes me so proud. The emcees weren’t given any direction other than to announce upcoming acts. The audience was not told they had to cheer for every kid. Diversity and inclusion are really hard goals to achieve, but our youth are constantly reminding us that it is possible.

Emily HutchinsComment
It Takes a Village

It was a pretty average night at the Youth House. SAT class was in session and middle schoolers were working on homework. We get a very unusual knock on the door and find a group of about 7 kids standing on our front porch. They are all talking at once in Swahili and English. Eventually, we recognize four of them are from the elementary program across the street. They explain that they have brought a neighbor who is in middle school and needs help with her homework. They push her to the front of the group and all begin talking at once again. We thank them for bringing her over and tell them they can leave. As the 6 who escorted her to the house shuffle back out the door and across the street, it’s hard not to appreciate the community we are embedded in.

I’m sure they girl they pushed through our door was nervous. I’m sure that they convinced each other that it was true that they helped middle school students at the house across the street. I’m sure they didn’t really want to leave her by herself there. I’m also sure that they trusted us with their friend to help her and keep her safe while she was there.

In Clarkston, you don’t really have to be blood related to be family. You look out for your neighbors and friends. You share what you have and you try really hard to make sure you pay it forward. It really does take a village to raise a child. We are honored to be a part.

Emily HutchinsComment
Welcoming Hugs

It’s hard to believe that 4 years ago we took our activities with kids after school to the next level. With a small group of precious girls, we had no idea what we were doing. We knew we wanted to create a space for meaning and connection. We knew we wanted to support and empower youth to take direction over their actions and choices. We knew we wanted the youth to know that there were people out there who cared about them and were cheering for them to succeed.

We never imagined that it would be so hard. We didn’t know vans would break down at the worst times, that it would be hard to find filling, healthy snacks, that relationships would take so much time, and that we wouldn’t see a lot of fruit right away.

We were ready to help kids with homework. We weren’t ready to help them find jobs, get their driving permits, help them deal with drama at school or home, or assist with getting into college. But we did it. With a lot of grace and love and welcoming hugs.

Every time one of those girls came through the door, we hugged them. We knew we couldn’t give them everything they needed, but it mattered that they know we loved them. In so many ways, those hugs held us together. We were all going through the ups and downs of how we could be there for each other and as our group grew, welcoming by hugs took longer and longer.

4 years later, our program is so much better equipped to help youth, boys and girls, k-12 with all the areas we weren’t ready for before. We see more youth than ever. We’ve grown so much. We don’t always hug every kid when they walk in the door now, we have a lot of doors and a lot of kids to keep up with, but it still matters that each one is greeted by name with a smile from a familiar face. And those original girls who held on tight with us, some of them are still around and they insist on hugs. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

Emily HutchinsComment
For the Love of Reading

In line with our goal for children to love reading, we have started an incentive program for our elementary students. For every 15 minutes of reading, they get a sticker. For every 10 stickers they get a prize. Since we implemented the system, kids run in asking for books, “Can I please read before my homework?!” It’s a precious and beautiful step towards a culture of literacy in our program.

In a world of screens and cords, there’s nothing quite like a kid excited to read a book.

Emily HutchinsComment
You can find magic wherever you look. Sit back and relax, all you need is a book." Dr. Seuss

In Youth Programs we do all we can to help our students make and achieve goals. As a leadership team, we haven’t always done a great job of leading by example. We hope to change that this year.

Our goal for students involved with us this year is for them to love reading. We have been working hard with volunteers to set up libraries, level books, and find way to make reading a great experience.

We all know reading and literacy are important and helpful skills to have, but many of our students struggle with reading. Learning a new language and having access to books that are both interesting and just the right level of challenging can be difficult. Even finding someone who can sit and read with you can be difficult. We hope that we can not only equip students with the resources they need to become better readers, but we hope that we can instill a culture of a love for books.

Join us in our goal by sharing your favorite books with us, making time to come read with us, or making time to read for yourself. We can all benefit from spending more time with our noses in books.

Emily HutchinsComment
The Importance of Friendship

To us, a friend is more than just someone who isn’t against you. A friend is someone who is there for you all the time. A friend is someone who will share their life with you and stick with you for the long haul. In Youth Programs, we take friendship seriously. We know that friendships take work, time, and appreciation.

For effective mentoring to happen, there must be at least 12 months of uninterrupted relationships. If you do it right, mentorship becomes friendship. We hope that as our volunteers and mentors pour out their lives for the youth that they youth are pouring back into them. We hope that when people come to provide help and assistance that they find belonging and welcome as well. For this to happen, stability and consistency are key. We can’t do any of it without set program hours, a consistent influx of resources, and a stable place to meet.

That’s why we want to take a minute to appreciate some of YP’s best friends- our monthly donors. They help us overcome one of the greatest barriers in youth programming anywhere- consistency. We are so lucky to have a base of people that love us and cheer for us in what we do. They may not be with us every day handing out snacks and helping with homework, but we couldn’t do any of it without them. They are our quiet cheerleaders who often aren’t seen, but are so incredibly crucial to all that we do.

Thank you, monthly donors, for your sustaining friendship and for all the friendships you have supported.

We so appreciate you!

Emily HutchinsComment
Bright Futures

“I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. I want to help people. I want to be that person who stands outside the school and makes it safe for people to cross the street.”

We love to talk to our youth about what they want to do with their lives. Not just careers they are interested in, but who they want to be, how they want to be remembered, how they want the world to know them.

Usually, when we talk with kids about what they think they will be like when they are older they dream of fancy jobs and a lot of wealth. They want to be leaders and influencers in their communities. They want to be known as excellent in their fields, successful, good friends, and able to support their families.

Sometimes we get answers we would never expect, like being a crossing guard, and all we can do is be proud that what one youth sees as one of the most helpful ways to serve her community is something that she could be a part of someday.

That’s beautiful.

Emily HutchinsComment
Growing Up Together

“What was I like as a kid?”

The question came from one of our youth who has been around since the beginning of my time with FOR. She was a little fifth-grade camper when I met her. It was my first year as an intern and the very beginning of my career with Youth Programs. For her, it was the summer before she was headed overseas to stay with family for a few years while her mom sought education and better work in the States. She was one that I clicked with from the beginning. I spent a lot of time that summer with her and her mom talking mostly about life in the US and how going back to the home country would be exciting, scary, challenging, and hopefully ultimately worth it.

The last day of camp that year was her last day in America and to this day I’ve never experienced such an emotional goodbye. I was sure I would never see my sweet little friend again.

over the next couple of years and I moved up in the ranks to full-time staff with Youth Programs and on a totally normal day at after school in walks one of my girls from that sweet group of fifth-graders from my first summer to inform me that our friend is back. She started back at school that morning and my two campers had been seated right next to each other in their first class. The girl who we never thought we’d see again fell right back into our laps and picked up like she never left.

When she asked me what she was like as a kid, it all came flooding back to me. I was honored that I was able to answer her question. I told her how she was an eager helper, shy at times but full of creativity. I told her how she dreamed of being a gardener and how thinking about her last day of camp that first summer still makes me tear up (even though I know she comes back). I told her how when she came back she was bolder, braver, more confident, and that I loved that I knew all of this about her. She told me how much I’ve grown up too, from an intern to the camp director. It was a sweet time to reminisce and see how far we’ve both come.

Our conversation reminded me how important it is for us to offer programs for k-12th grade, that our relationships with the youth matter, that our program is special because we grow up together, and that all the work over the years has been worth it. Our youth are loved and cared for and they know it.

Emily HutchinsComment
Chores are fun?

When our time together in K6 is over and the homework is all done, we stack up the chairs and put away the tables. It doesn’t take long, but it is a chore. Chores usually are something that we don’t look forward to, by design they are not supposed to be fun. Kids in particular are known for their aversion to chores. Kids love fun. They love to play. Chores are usually neither.

But in K6, we enjoy our chores. There are a few students who wait around for everyone else to finish their homework so they can help clean up. They eagerly help pick up trash in the rooms, collect pencils and supplies, and stack chairs and put away tables. The joyful helpers make our chores fun.

If only we could approach all of our obligations with the joy of these children.

Emily HutchinsComment

Sometimes I like to imagine what people think of our little group if they were to pass us all together on the street. Most people would probably assume that in a mixed group of youth and adults that the adults are the teachers and the youth are the learners. When people hear about what we do and how our program works, they assume that the grown-ups are the experts that are leading the students to new exciting experience that will change the lives of the youth forever.  And that's true sometimes. But in youth programs, transformational learning happens both ways.

Yes. The adults who work with and for YP are excellent role models for the students to look up to. They are servant leaders, compassionate, easy to talk to, fun people that anyone would want to be friends with. They encourage our kids to be the bigger person in sticky situations. They help them see a future full of hope and greatness that the student doesn't always see themselves. They challenge the youth to be leaders among their peers and to take care of their families well. Because of the quality of our staff and volunteers students, lives are changed for the better. They are strengthened in their faith, they are reminded of their purpose, and they are loved like family by people who aren't family. All of this helps create relationships between youth and volunteers that have lasting impacts.

But what people seem to miss is that our students have just as much (and really more) to offer to us than we have to offer them. They challenge us to know who we are, to fight for real relationships with people, and to be vulnerable with each other. The expectations we have for them, they also have for us. They push us to be people of good character, to love our families well, to know us through and through. They share their culture and knowledge freely and aren't afraid to ask hard questions. If we expect them to share the hard, not so perfect parts of their life with us, they expect us to share back. They welcome us into their worlds and teach us to look at the world through a different lens.

Volunteers walk into our program hoping to make a difference in a kid's life. What they never expect is how much the youth change them. And that's part of the beauty of YP.

Emily HutchinsComment
Attitude of Gratitude

This November, we took the opportunity to try to publicly thank all the people, organizations, tools, and resources that make it possible for Youth Programs to be all it can be.

Staff. From the entire current team of people that staffs Friends of Refugees all the way back to Ms. Pat herself and everyone in between, we are so appreciative of the literal, blood, sweat, and tears that brought FOR to where it is now. There is not enough that can be said or enough appreciation given to the people who have spent their lives to make Clarkston a flourishing, abundant community.

Volunteers. Duh. Y'all know that we depend on volunteers to help us run camp through the summer, tutor kids at Friends Youth Mentoring, and make sure the soccer team makes it to their games. We depend on volunteers to make every part of our programs happen. We also have a group of volunteers that keep us personally motivated and on track. Volunteers that consistently remind us of our mission and keep us encouraged. Without committed volunteers, we couldn't do any of what we do well.

Supporters. Donations are important when you work for a non-profit. It's much easier to feed, bus, and provide entertainment to youth when you have the means to do it. From big grants and awards to the parents who chip in a little extra when paying for their kid's camp fee, every donation is a blessing. It all goes straight back to the kids, making sure that they know they are loved, important, and cared for. The support we are given allows us to invite more youth into our programs, feed them healthier food, and empower more local leaders. Every donation is celebrated and enjoyed by the whole YP family.

Youth. We love the kids we work with. We love the beauty they bring to the world. We love their ideas, jokes, smiles, and that one day they will be adults who make a difference. We couldn't be more thankful for the group of people that we have been entrusted to serve.

Clarkston. More than anything else, we are thankful for such a special place to serve. There are not many other places where we can have so many different people from so many different places all

Emily HutchinsComment
Highest Praise

"Can I come help at camp tomorrow?"

A high schooler who faithfully served at camp as long as she could texted me the other day to ask if she could come by camp. Even with all the fancy emojis and ways you can add embellishments to a text, there wasn't enough to get the exuberance of my yes across.

This girl is awesome. She now spends her time at Berry College doing great things and being a great person. She has worked at a few other camps but always comes by to visit when she can. She's one of those people who makes you feel good about yourself and is genuinely interested in knowing how you are. She cares about people and she's willing to do whatever is needed to be helpful.

As she walked into camp with her little sister who is still a camper, I knew it would be a great day. I abandoned my post at the breakfast line (they really don't need me there, I just like to feel helpful) to catch up with her.

"I can't believe how much I missed this place. When I got here all the memories flooded in and I never want to leave."

I think I covered it well, but I could have cried in that moment. That's what camp is all about. It's about the people that participate feeling like they are a part of something bigger. It's about feeling like you belong even when you've been away for a while. It's about friendships and tradition and fun. To have the feedback from someone who has seen camp through the years and had the opportunity to compare it to other similar organizations and say that we are where they feel at home is the highest praise we could ask for. As honored as we are to receive grants and awards from outsiders who take the time to discover us and recognize the work we try so hard to accomplish, the work we do is not to please them. It's about our participants.

Emily HutchinsComment
Lunch Time Lessons

Lunch time is a crazy time at camp.

We are busy sorting the donated lunches into three categories: PBJ, Turkey, and other. At the same time, we are trying to allow only 3 to come get food while the rest of the line waits for their turn to come up. It's all hands on deck to make sure that everyone gets a lunch and then we all catch our breath. The rest of the day is pretty easy from there.

As the crazy died down and the volunteers and high schoolers came to get their lunches, I get pulled aside.

"I need to talk to you privately."

I thought for sure I was in some kind of trouble. The one who pulled me aside is a high schooler who has been around camp the last 4 years or so. She looked a little nervous which made me nervous and I waited to hear what she had to say.

"You scare me and I don't want to be scared of you."

I understood immediately. I have a clipboard and a lot of keys. I'm the one who makes the call to go inside when it rains or to change the schedule for a special event. I'm the one who says yes or no to field trip ideas and special events happening at camp. I'm the highest ranking person at camp and everyone knows it.

I'll be honest, I was really proud of her saying that to me. I'm not usually that brave. I asked her to join me for lunch in the garage across the street so we could get to know each other better. I let her ask me any questions she wanted. We covered my camp history. All of camp history. My family. How I met my husband. Everything. I didn't have to ask, she just went ahead and told me about her dreams to be a social worker or work in juvenile justice. It breaks her heart to see people, especially kids, making the wrong choices and she wants to do her part in understanding why poor choices are made and what can be done to prevent it. That's why she chooses to work with Character Education at camp even though it is one of the hardest roles.

Before we both knew it an hour and a half had slipped by and it was time to get ready to go home. I asked her if I was still scary.

"Only a little. You still have a lot of keys."

We plan on continuing our lunch sessions to talk about life and passions and why the world is the way it is. It was such a treat to get to know her better and see how camp is fitting into the big picture of her life. I so admire her bravery in being open and honest with me. I love that camp creates a space for people to become all they were created to be and provides opportunities for everyone involved (staff, high schoolers, volunteers, and campers) to learn and grow.

What a great place to spend the summer.

Emily HutchinsComment
Our Safe Space

I think all of us have some kind of safe place that we retreat to when the world gets to be too much. It's the place you go when you need to work through a problem, untangle emotions, or just rest from a busy life. It's something we all need to be renewed and refreshed in a world that isn't as forgiving and loving as it could be. For some us, it's a place where we hide away on the back porch, on a dock, on a trail, in a book, or with a friend. For some, it's a physical location and for others, it's a state of mind. Either way, it's where you want to be.

In Youth Programs, we strive to create safe spaces. Being a teenager or a kid is really hard. Sure, they don't have to worry about taxes and health care. They aren't concerned with paying bills and insurance. They don't have to worry about taking care of children because they are children...except many of the youth we work with do play a part in these things. They translate for their family, helping fill out forms for taxes, health care, and insurance. When they are old enough to get jobs, it's to help pay the bills and buy groceries. While parents are out working to make sure the family has everything they need, older youth stay home caring for younger siblings. They grow up faster than they need because they put the good of the family before themselves. All the while they are trying to keep up with homework and grades, find jobs, spend time with friends, enjoy their hobbies, and figure out who they are what they want to be. It's a lot for anyone to handle, much less a student. Which is why creating safe spaces is at the top of our priority list.

To us, a safe place is more than just somewhere where you are protected from harm. It's more than not getting hurt, more than being without harm, more than being protected from danger. It's more than anything any physical location can offer.

A safe space is a place where you feel welcomed. A place where you are loved and known. A safe space is where you won't be judged for being yourself. An environment where you can ask questions, be vulnerable, and get to know people for who they are. It's a place conducive to growing. You'll be caught when you fall. You can sort through your stuff. You don't have to be perfect. You look forward to being there. You can be mad, be sad, be happy, be silly, be angry, be curious, be you. It's a place where you can talk about hard things and can confront the feelings and thoughts you've tried to shove away. No matter where you've been, where you're going, you know you will be welcomed with open arms.

It's something that doesn't just happen on its own, but instead when there is a community of people fighting to stick together no matter what. For us, it took becoming a family bound by choice rather than blood to create an atmosphere of love and respect that we were all seeking. Wherever we are together is a safe place. A place free of judgment and fear. Our hope is that anyone who visits us and wherever we go, that we bring an atmosphere of tolerance and inclusion with us.

Wherever we are together is a safe place. A place free of judgment and fear. Our hope is that anyone who visits us and wherever we go, that we bring an atmosphere of tolerance and inclusion with us because the world is full of broken and hurt people and we just want to be a place, to provide a space, where we don't have to pretend we're not broken and hurt.

Emily HutchinsComment
How do you say...

Sometimes when the girls get bored while we wait for an event to start or on a longer ride in the van, they entertain themselves by picking a common word or phrase in English and translate it into all the languages they know.  I love hearing them share their language and then try to teach someone how to say it their way. I also love hearing them laugh together when they can't get an accent right.

These girls bring me such joy in the ways that they fight for common ground with each other across culture, language, and spiritual differences. They have so much to teach me.

Emily HutchinsComment