Youth Programs
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What’s Happening

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.

Annalisa KeipertComment
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.

Annalisa KeipertComment
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.

Annalisa KeipertComment
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!

Annalisa KeipertComment
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.

Annalisa KeipertComment
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.

Annalisa KeipertComment
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.

Annalisa KeipertComment

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.

Annalisa KeipertComment
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

Annalisa KeipertComment
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.

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.

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.

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.

Why Summer Camp?

When you think of Summer Camp what do you think of? Water games, silly songs, bonfires, smores, mosquitos, Chaco tans, skits, and tie-dye?

For us, Summer Camp is all those things as well as loud, busy, and chaotic. The phrase "herding cats" is often used to describe what it's like to work at camp. We have 120 campers, 15 volunteers, 20 junior counselors, and 10 staff to feed, entertain, and keep safe for 35 hot days. We eat, learn, sweat, yell, laugh, and run for 5 hours a day in the hot Georgia sun.

But really Summer Camp is so much more than coordinating people and playing with children.

Summer Camp is a place where you go for a little bit of time to escape from the world. It's a special place where strangers become best friends. Where you try things you never would before. Where peanut butter and jelly sandwiches taste better. Where you don't mind getting dirty. Camp is a place where for some reason you don't miss your phone. A place with a different definition of what it means to be "cool." It's a place that teaches you who you are and who you can become.

The reason we run camp is because embedded in every activity, even the down times, is an opportunity. An opportunity to speak worth to a kid who was picked last for a team. An opportunity to teach a new skill to someone, like how to throw a football. An opportunity to show what grace looks like, to look at the world from another point of view, to listen to someone who needs to be heard. Camp makes a difference in the lives of those who participate. Campers and staff alike leave camp every year with a new understanding about the importance of traditions, family, friends, and their own identity because at camp we don't let any opportunities pass us by.

We are proud to be camp people.

No Mistakes in Art

It's the first day of camp.

Energy and nerves are high.

Reunions are sweet and newcomers to camp are slowly warming up to those that will become their new best friends.

We've spent the last 10 months planning, training, preparing, shopping, and praying for this day the 34 days of camp that will follow. It's a brief season of time, but it's sweet. We build relationships that will last beyond the summer. We will celebrate together, play together, learn together, and grow together as we bear the heat.

The first day of camp is surreal. You sit on the edge of your seat waiting to see if it all works. Is the food plan good enough? Do staff understand their roles? Will the shade tents hold up? Will the kids follow the rules? Will everyone get picked up by the van? Did we think of everything?

While I stood there taking it all in, evaluating how we are doing and trying to anticipate any curve balls, up comes a third-grade camper. It's her third year and she's excited to be back.

"Ms. Emily! Come do chalk with us like you always do!"

Then everything else fades away and I'm reminded that camp is for the campers. We can program and schedule and plan all we want, but none of it matters if the campers don't feel loved, heard, cared for, and safe.

As the two of us start a design, more and more come to join us. Artwork starts to run together as space fills with hearts, flowers, names, and other designs. One complains that someone has messed up her piece.

"'There are no mistakes in art.' That's a quote from a famous artist."

And with that, the little girl goes back to work and I am amazed at the wisdom of our young campers.

Camp is an art. Nothing will ever go as perfectly as we plan. The weather will not always cooperate. We will not always be able to anticipate the curve balls. Bee stings and scraped knees will occasionally happen. This doesn't mean we have failed. In a lot of ways, the unpredictable is what makes camp beautiful and fun.

I'm so thankful to work with people who, however young, constantly teach me and challenge me to grow.

It's going to be a spectacular summer at Summer Spectacular.

You become like the people you spend the most time with

That's why we surround ourselves with a community that enriches us, teaches us, and pushes us to become all that we were created to be.

In just a few days, we will be welcoming our entire summer team for camp to Clarkston for two months of smiles, laughter, and sweat. We will be surrounded by some of the coolest kids who will test our patience, make us laugh, love us, and push us to our limits. Hopefully, we will have a positive impact on them, that's the goal. We hope we push the campers to become people of character, people who love each other well, people who seek peace. And while we will work so hard to achieve our goal, one thing is for sure: the children will teach us more than we could imagine about respect, friendship, peace, gratitude, resilience, patience, and sharing.

I'm so thankful for the people who I spend the most time with and how they impact my life.

How to Roast a Marshmallow

Some of my favorite memories growing up involve friends and families around a campfire. We would tell stories, listen to music, make s'mores, play games, all the good stuff. My family even made up a word for when your s'more gets smeared all over your face as you eat it: "schmetiquette" (the words "s'more" and "etiquette" mashed together).

Living in the city, I don't always get the chance to share this past time with the youth. But when the occasion arises, I love sharing these memories and traditions with the youth.

There's really nothing like experiencing the joy of roasting your first marshmallow no matter how old you are. Whether you are a first grader or a teenager, there's something special about standing around the fire with a weird, puffy, sweet, white blob on the end of a stick. I love teaching the technique for the golden delicious marshmallow, my preferred style, or how to blow out the fire on a burning mallow and peel off the black part to get to the gooey inside.

Watching someone's face light up as they bite into their first s'more is one of the many rewards of the job. Another is creating new campfire memories.

Now, I have memories of standing around a campfire with youth listening to their music as they teach us Ethiopian dances and share stories about their families. I love the moments when we feel safe enough to be vulnerable with those around us. Watching a sunset, looking at the stars, gazing into the fire...these are all special moments that can't be programmed but are powerful all on their own.

In YP we are focused on work readiness skills, making and meeting goals, and becoming people of character. But sometimes, we just need to learn to enjoy the little things like making s'mores and spending time together around a fire.

Dry Sense of Humor

Working with youth from families around the world is a blast. We get to learn about new foods, cultures, and traditions as we share life together. What is more difficult, it explaining American expressions to non-native English speakers. Once those funny phrases are explained, it can open up a whole new world.

For instance, in After-school, we have a middle school girl who is newer to the group. She's artistic, reserved, and inquisitive. Her anime drawings are amazing and the stories she writes to go with them are impressive. When you talk with her one on one, she's full of ideas and stories and questions. In a larger group, she's more likely to pull up her hood,  put her headphones in, and tune out the craziness (I can't blame her, I would too). Some of the other girls weren't too sure how to approach. They were friendly and inviting her to join them in their exuberant, loud, silly ways that often caused my friend to go straight back into her shell.

Being new to the group, some of the other girls weren't too sure how to approach her. They were friendly and inviting her to join them in their exuberant, loud, silly ways that often caused my friend to go straight back into her shell. They thought she was different. She thought they were different.

They thought she was different. She thought they were different.

Until one day it changed.

We break into groups in after-school to focus on particular sets of goals. My friend is in a group that is focused on entrepreneurship. She had so many ideas of things we could make and sell. Finally, we decided on jewelry. She had the ideas. We provided the materials. And we learned together how to make things. Other girls were interested in helping her make products. She went instantly into boss mode and began delegating tasks, approving designs, and cracking jokes. One of the other girls at the table with us commented that she thought my friend didn't like her. Which sparked a discussion. We explored why she felt that way and what the true meaning of my friend's actions. That's when we learned a new phrase together.

Dry sense of humor: when you do or say something funny while still sounding serious

Once the definition was given, they all laughed. "That's exactly what you are!"They had been taking her seriously when she was making a joke. That caused them to feel misunderstood on all side.

Since then, the interactions between the girls has been much more natural.   My friend accepts the loud obnoxious ways of the other girls and the other girls laugh at her quick jokes and sarcastic statements.

I love seeing the youth get to know each other and themselves better. Every day we become more and more of a family.

Join the Story

People are always asking us the best ways they can help YP keep doing great things. To be completely honest, our biggest need is always funds to cover staff, gas, food, supplies, and other expenses that keep the program running.

We have compiled a list of different ways you can join the story by giving to YP:

  1. Host a fundraiser!
    • You are connected to a network of people that we don't access to. You can use your social capital to start a fundraiser to benefit Youth Programs. Whether it's a lemonade stand, garage sale, penny war, or pancake breakfast, you can share about who we are and give them the opportunity to join the story right then and there.
  2. Become a monthly donor!
    • This might sound boring or scary, but monthly donors are the real MVP's of Youth Programs. Their consistent support provides us stability throughout the year between the ups and downs of events that we need to keep moving forward.
  3. Invite your friends to an engagement event!
    • One thing we love to do is share our story. Bring us out to your small group, Sunday School, neighborhood, or office to have us share with your network who we are and what we do. These events can be really fun, especially when youth are available to come with us to do henna, serve ethnic food, or share their personal stories. Email to schedule an event!

The beautiful thing about working for a non-profit is seeing people come together for a cause they believe in to make it happen. There is no way we could do the work we do or have these stories to tell without your help. No donation is too big or too small.

I hope you will find a way that you can be a part of our family and join the story of the youth of Clarkston. 

Thank you for your support!