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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.

Emily HutchinsComment
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.

Emily HutchinsComment
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.

Emily HutchinsComment
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.

Emily HutchinsComment
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!

Emily HutchinsComment
A Simple Act of Kindness

There comes a moment in every relationship when you realize that you've made it past acquaintance to friend.

I was driving a vanload of students from their middle school to after-school. It was the same kids and the same route as a hundred times before.  As we came to the part of the drive where the sun peeks over the hill and into your eyes when the girl in the front seat pulled down her visor then mine to shade us from the rays.

There are few other moments I can think of where I felt so loved by such a simple action.

Own the Hyphen

In YP, we are a family not tied together by blood, but by choice. The youth specifically share the experience of living in two cultures. They are Sudanese-American, Ethiopian-American, Tanzanian-American, Vietnamese-American, Napoli-American, and the list goes on.

At home, many of our kids are completely submerged in the culture of their parents. The food, smells, clothing, and language is all reminiscent of the family's country of origin. When you walk into the home of one of our youth, you find it hard to believe you are still in America, much less right outside Atlanta.

But once the youth leave their homes, they are thrown straight into inner-city American culture. What is considered acceptable or cool, as far as wardrobe, shoes, and language, completely changes.

At home, maybe you wear no shoes and traditional clothing. At school, you better have the best Nikes or Adidas with the right jeans and haircut. You may have friends that speak the same native tongue as you, but you also need to know formal English for school as well as American teen slang for peers.

You can imagine the complexity of jumping back and forth between two worlds more than once a day. It makes my head spin just to think about it. Growing up in the suburbs in a caucasian family, I don't share this experience with the youth. When I think of the times I have experienced culture shock, all I can do is respect the youth of Clarkston who are so gifted at navigating so many different cultures at once.

What is so special about YP is that we are all jumping back and forth between worlds together. If you're Sudanese at home and American at school, you can confidently be Sudanese-American at after-school or summer camp. YP is a place where third-culture kids (kids who grow up in a different culture than their parents creating a mix of their parent and host cultures) can own their hyphen. It's ok to wear your best Nikes and listen to Ethiopian music. It's fun to wear traditional clothes while you eat pizza. It's normal to mix your Arabic and English when you're telling a story.

It's easy to grow up too fast and get lost in the shuffle of an overcrowded school and busy little city. We hope and pray that what YP becomes for the youth is a safe space for kids to be kids. A space to be known and loved for who you are at your core. A space to be with other kids who can help you travel between your worlds. A space to own your hyphen.

Emily HutchinsComment

One of the most important things to know about YP is that we are a family. It's a theme that you will see woven into most every story, quote, and picture that we post. If you've ever visited or volunteered with us, you probably get it. We have big ambitions for our youth and we want to do whatever we can to help them achieve the dreams they have for their lives. That's why we have homework time, mentorship opportunities, and chances to give back embedded into everything we program.

Family: an interdependent group of individuals who have a shared sense of history, experience, some degree of emotional bonding, and devise strategies for meeting the needs of individual members and the group as a whole.

In YP, we are a different kind of mix-matched family. The experiences and relationships we share are different. We are not tied together by genetics, marriage, or adoption. What we are is a group of people who love each other, fight for each other, and create traditions together.

We are family.

Emily HutchinsComment
Be all you were created to be

This is a phrase made common by one of our previous Youth Directors. When one of the kids had made a bad decision or was misbehaving, he would remind them why they were created. He would tell them the story about how even the sparrows who could be sold for just pennies were loved and cared for by God. He would remind them that they were much more valuable than those birds. He would explain that being created in God's image meant that they didn't have to give in to temptation. They were created for more. They have the potential to make good choices and become a great person.

Words are powerful. Not all of our youth grow up in a home where they are told they have worth and potential. I'm thankful that YP is a place where words are used to build people up. It's so hard to reach your potential when you don't know it's there.

Never pass up an opportunity to remind someone to be all they were created to be. You never what it might mean to them.

Emily HutchinsComment
1 Thessalonians 2:8

So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.

At Friends of Refugees, we are blessed by the diversity of the community that we serve. The difference in thought, in language, in culture, in belief, make the world a more beautiful place. In Clarkston, we are honored to have people, in all the ways that they are different and the same, living in our precious little city.

One of the goals of Friends of Refugees is to be a scaffold for the church. We provide the structure and the clients for churches and individuals to come in and serve. While we are not a church, we hope that we provide a pathway for people who love Jesus to minister to those who don't know him yet.

Cross-cultural ministry is very different than ministering to people who are like yourself. And youth ministry is its own beast in general. That's why, in Youth Programs, we use the 1 Thessalonians 2:8 as a model for how we share the Gospel with the youth.

Our ministry starts with a real love for the people we are serving. Just as Jesus took the time to get to know the 12 disciples inside and out, we take our time getting to know the youth well. Jesus shared all of himself with the the 12. They walked together, talked together, and lived together. We do what we can to be a part of the lives of our youth, going to soccer games, eating dinner together, and talking about the important things in life are just a few of the ways we can love the youth well. We share our lives because we love them so much. 

Because we are believers in Jesus, because of how we live our lives as followers of him, when we share our lives, we are sharing the gospel. When we talk with the youth about our own hard experiences and how we get through them, we are teaching them about Jesus. They know who we are and what we believe. They know that because of what we believe we will love them no matter their beliefs. That love and support that we are able to offer because of God's love for us, is what draws people to believe in him.

And while we would love to see every youth following Jesus, we know that no matter what they believe, God created them with beauty and purpose. We also know that they were given into a biological family to watch over and guide them through life. There is a tension between wanting the youth to know Jesus and wanting them to be obedient to their parents. It can be a tricky business. That's why we pray for whole families to come to Christ together.

In YP, we don't proselytize as you might in a church youth group or small group. We don't do altar calls, evangicubes, or lead a prayer for salvation.  When we do teach from the Bible or have prayer times, we make sure the youth know that it is their choice to participate, and many of them do.

We surround youth with people who love them like Jesus does. We show them who our God is by being the people he created us to be.

Our youth know that they are loved. They know they are cared for. They know that the reason we are here to hang out with them in because of the impact of a Savior on us.

And I think that is beautiful.

Emily HutchinsComment

Clarkston is a 1.3 square mile city right outside Atlanta. A small town with all the amenities of the city. There's nothing especially outstanding about our city if you are just driving through. There's a lot of apartment complexes, small businesses, and churches. But that's about it. On a cold day, when people seek the warmth of the indoors, you might not even notice what really makes the city so special- the people. Clarkston is known as "the Ellis Island of the South" and "the most diverse square mile in America." Many people from all over the world end up in Clarkston for the same reason, they are refugees who have been resettled in the United States.

On a warm day, you see the beauty of this place. You pass a few Nepali men in their colorful hats sitting on a corner taking in the day. You may see an African woman wearing beautiful colors and prints, balancing her groceries on her head as she walks home. You'll see a group of kids playing soccer on a dusty field laughing and speaking in their native languages. You'll see 15 passenger vans full of people driving to or from work, often a factory that is willing to employ refugees. Walking through an apartment complex, you'll smell the spices common to the countries of the people who live there. Our city comes alive when it's warm outside.

As spring weather starts to settle in, I love driving through our little city and taking the surroundings. I feel like I've traveled the world with the sights, sounds, and smells I experience just on my way to the local coffee shop.

What a beautiful place to be.


Emily HutchinsComment
Welcome to the YP Family

Youth Programs (YP) empowers students to thrive through opportunities for academic support, social development and work-readiness skills through access to resources and relationships. There are two main activities that Youth Programs provides to the refugee community:

  • Summer Spectacular: We provide a safe space for more than 100 children during the summer and create a summer camp platform for building relationships. Our program includes academic support, recreation, job training, and character development.
  • After-school: Our program empowers nearly 100 Clarkston area students in a holistic way, providing opportunities for tutoring, athletics, and mentoring. What makes this effort unique is a year-round engagement plan connecting to the entire family, helping young people to ‘own they hyphen’ of being from one culture by heritage and in another by geography. We empower them to flourish by leveraging all the intelligence, ability and ambition they have been given to build this community up!

In YP, we have fun. We do life together. We celebrate each other's successes. We walk together through hardship and mistakes. We help each other achieve our goals. We are a family. Youth in Clarkston often navigate between two worlds, one where their families come from and where they are now. Youth determine at an early age who they want to be and what they want to become. Their early autonomy is both a strength and a point of vulnerability.

Emily HutchinsComment
What is a Refugee?

According to the 1951 Geneva Convention, a refugee is a person with a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of their nationality and is unable or unwilling to return to it.

Once someone flees their home country and crosses over a country border, they become a refugee. Most go to refugee camps to live and wait. The average stay in a camp is seventeen years. Some refugees may marry and have children in camps. Many refugees will settle in the country where they have fled. If conflicts are resolved, some will go home. Less than %1 will end up going to a third country to start their lives over. Those who chose to start a new life, far away from their country of origin, await an interview and approval from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). Based on this step, they might have the opportunity to be received by a country that participates in the Refugee resettlement program. For those that may come to the United States, they must also await approval from the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS). Only those with sufficient proof of identity, security clearances, and a well-founded fear of persecution will be allowed to go to a new country. This process usually takes about two years. 

Once approved, refugees must find a sponsor or borrow money to pay for the cost of transportation. Refugees will then fly to America. Before arrival, they will be assigned to a resettlement agency. The agencies help with their resettlement needs for the first ninety days in the United States. Since ninety days isn’t much time to get a household setup, find a job, learn English, etc. resettlement agencies also work to find sponsors to help the refugees long-term. Unfortunately, a majority of refugees are not sponsored.

Following their ninety days in the States, Friends of Refugees continues to provide long-term support and services to refugees. 

More than all of this, though, a refugee is a person with a family and a story and hope for the future. 

Emily HutchinsComment