Closing the gap.

*written by Summer Intern Kaitlyn* 

 

Puzzled looks. This is what I encounter when I tell someone I got sunburnt playing kickball at work.  

“Don’t you work at a place for the homeless?” 

My experience with homeless youth has been vastly different from most other college students. Throughout college I've received many opportunities to connect with the street youth community in unique ways, one of them being this internship. This summer I've been able to build relationships not only in drop in, but on activities and around the office here at SYM. Most of my friends can’t fathom why playing kickball would be beneficial for anyone, especially someone who is homeless. A few years ago, I might have agreed. I might have believed the answer to “curing” homelessness would be food and shelter. Easy. Simple. 

So why haven’t we found this cure? 

Perhaps it is because some of us treat people who live on the streets like we would a run down home. We look at it. We think it needs to be fixed but we don’t actively do anything about it. We don’t take it upon yourself to spruce up the garden or paint the shutters. We just look. It needs to be cared for and yet it’s only looked at. No time invested. No energy. No devotion. No love. Just looks. One difference, however; this is a person. 

A person is more complex than a rundown home. We know that. Yet why do many of us forget it when we see someone in a sleeping bag on the sidewalk? Why are we so quick to dehumanize? We forget about the spiritual and relational needs that help give a person a sense of purpose, belonging and hope. We forget about those times when we fell hiking and laughed so hard with our friends that we cried, the fun of getting our friends together for a birthday lunch or the time we earned bragging rights for winning that game of rec center baseball. 

When we remember these times, the importance of activities for youth becomes a lot less puzzling.

By hosting activities, we close the gap of us and them.

Instead of being categorized as homeless and not homeless, we become teammates, competitors or even – quite simply – friends.

And perhaps it’s not our job to “fix” someone. My favorite thing about following Jesus is no matter where I am in life He meets me where I am at. I don’t need to fix myself to be loved by Him. He’s all about meeting people where they are. By not asking youth to fix themselves, we can demonstrate some raw, Jesus-like love. All we have to do is extend the invitation to be themselves and hang out with us. In her book And It Was Good, author Madeleine L’Engle says, “Caught up as most of us are in the complexities of daily living, we forget that we are surrounded by the creative power of Love” It’s a creative kind of love, for sure; not asking someone to change but instead meeting them where they are.  And as creative it is, it is at the very same time extremely basic and easy.

Something Strong. Something Beautiful. Something Functional.

photo courtesy of the Huffington Post

photo courtesy of the Huffington Post

Glassybaby partnered with SYM for the Shine Bright benefit where attendees learned more about SYM's work with homeless youth. It also shed light on the challenges and successes of these youth. Long time SYM supporter Judy Myers shared these words at the event:

Tonight as I look around this space, seeing the colors, the craftsmanship and the glass blowing talent, I am reminded of a lesson learned in school from a craftsman by the name of Vitruvius. He described good design as needing three elements: strength, function and beauty.  And in his words true beauty is order and balance. When I see a Glassybaby lit up and being used as it should, I think that these objects embody the words of Vitruvius.

I think of the artists who carefully study their craft, understand the science behind glass blowing, and fully understand the unique qualities of the material – how hot the glass needs to be, how long it should take to cool the product so that in the end, the color is clear, and the object is strong.

It takes a team to work together to make a truly beautiful work of art. From their hard work and craft, we receive joy from looking at the object but also in the use of the artwork. And we get deep satisfaction when we give great works of art to others to use and reflect on its beauty.

This is the work of Street Youth Ministries. They are in the business of turning brittle shards back into something with full strength, function and beauty. They work hard as a team and they know their kids. Their commitment is to rebuild, teach and restore the broken lives of young people... They serve around 500 youth, all of whom are stuck in a story.  Each story is unique, describing pain, rejection, abuse, brokenness and barriers and the common theme that they have been told is “you are not worth being reclaimed or redeemed into something beautiful and functional”.


There is a process in glass blowing where the glass cools too quickly to be shaped, it is returned to a furnace called the glory hole for another melting down, making the glass once again workable and transparent.

The doors of SYM open onto this path: they change the message of useless into a message of worthiness.

Each of their youth get to place their name and lay down stakes with a healthy environment that knows them, knows their name and gives them a home to be rebuilt.

I encourage you to imagine the final outcome of the work of SYM: building strength, function and beauty in our youth. Our generosity means SYM gets to name each of the youth – I think of the joy I get from reading the names on the Glassybaby, our generosity helps SYM catch each of the kids and speaks their name out loud...With the beauty surrounding you in these pieces of art, give with the same vision: we can capture the street youth, changing their lives to reflect beauty, strength and function.

written by Judy Myers

Rattlesnake

"Feeling the earth between my toes."

_____________________________________

It was pouring rain,  

the way it does in movies, and we sat in a car full of mixed moisture, and the air was heavy.

"I don't know guys... do you still want to go up?"

Emily had driven myself and one of our youth nearly 50 miles down I-90 in search of a hike to "wash our spirits clean", as John Muir would say, but this rain seemed brutally unforgiving.

However, this particular youth is not one to back down from a challenge.

"Well we're here aren't we?" He zipped up his jacket and bounded out of the passenger seat. Emily and I swapped shoulder shrugs and followed him across the parking lot.

Not long after, we found ourselves surrounded by a glorious green, and the rain left us. God is here, I thought. 

Approximately 200 feet into the hike, our youth commented that his shoes were uncomfortable. About 204 feet into the hike, he removed his shoes and stealthily stashed them behind the nearest rock. After giving a yelp of gratitude to the surrounding treetops, he leapt up the trail, freed up by the comfort that no-shoes provided. 

For the entirety of the trail, we made quite a trio. Two sets of sneakers and one set of bare feet climbed switchback after switchback, breathing deeply and making sure to stop every now and again to gulp water and remind ourselves that our bodies were blessedly removed from the concrete and exhaust (in all definitions) of city living.

"What's your favorite thing about being in nature?"

I postulated this question to the group between breathes, thinking I was quite clever to initiate such profound group conversation. But our youth responded with only a thoughtful silence, so I resolved to let the question evaporate with the remnants of the rainfall. 

No less than 2 misty miles later, the trail came to a rocky scramble; we climbed over boulders and cracks, ascended the ledge, and lost our breath to the view. 

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This morning I had been preoccupied with the fact that I didn't have enough dirty clothes to justify doing a full load of laundry, and now I was standing 2078 ft above the Sound, feeling God's timely nudge to step out and let the wind pull at my clothes and mess up my hair. 

God apparently nudged our youth much earlier  -  he was already out dancing from rock to rock, his distinctly gleeful shouts no doubt meeting the nearby mountains.

A and Rock.jpg

We unpacked our sandwiches (we were out of bread so we used dinner rolls, a fact you didn't need to know but now you do) and settled like kings overlooking Rattlesnake Lake, some closer to the edge than others**. 

From my seat on the rock, I took in my surroundings  -  our youth was maybe 50 ft further down the rock face, peacefully inhaling and exhaling. I wondered what he might be thinking about, and I wondered why it is that I feel God so tangibly in these moments. I truly believe God meets us in nature. Of course He is with us always, but there's something different about a meeting, the intentionality of it perhaps, that makes me feel blissfully enveloped. Munching on my turkey roll and breathing thinner air, I was blessed by both conversation and silence on that ledge.

As we skipped back down the trail to the parking lot, I asked our youth again what his favorite thing about being in nature was. After a few moments of intentional consideration, he answered "Feeling the earth between my toes" and once again leapt ahead of us through the trees. 

I love that answer. I thought I was a nature-enjoyment expert, I thought I knew everything there is to know about finding joy in God's creation. But not once have I tackled a hike barefoot. Not once have I been mindful enough to realize that shoes are still between me and Earth, even when I think I'm completely immersed in nature. 

It's such a blessing that we get the opportunity to take our youth on adventures like this, outside of the city, away from the Ave. In these spaces, we get to be in fellowship with these young people, and we often have the privilege of getting to know their hearts and stories. But we also learn from them. It's in these exchanges that hope and healing are present, on both sides.

I am grateful.

 

*Written by Kaylyn Springer*

 

 

**Kaylyn and Emily were an exorbitantly safe distance from the edge, while our youth fearlessly ventured further out, uncovering ways to get closer and closer to the space between our mountain and the next. We have some very brave youth...

What's it really like to be a youth on the streets?

So, you support Street Youth Ministries.

But have you ever wondered what life on the streets really looks like for our young people?

written by Kaylyn Springer

I've only been working at Street Youth Ministries for about 4 months now, but during that time I've been blessed to get to know a lot of our youth. Many of them have made me belly-laugh unabashedly until I'm out of breath. Some of them are artists -- they draw, they write, they make music, and I've been privileged to witness their expression. Many of them go to work; they hang out with friends; they visit their case manager; they try to stay dry when it rains and warm when the temperature drops; they just do life with the tools and circumstances that life has handed them, just like you and I.

But too often, young people on the streets are dehumanized; they're generalized as disruptive, or as taking advantage of resources. But what many people don't realize is that each of these young people has a unique story, a narrative of circumstances leading to life on the streets. And each of their lives carries tremendous value, just as it is.

Especially as we face the coming year, I think we need to make an effort to really see our brothers and sisters, not with judgmental eyes, but in an earnest attempt to know the other. How can we expect to make a difference if we don't engage with those we seek to impact? How can we assume we know about someone's circumstances if we never stop to listen? How can we claim to be seeking after Christ if we never step out into the territory in which his ministry was so invested?

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What would it be like to live everyday faced with glaring impermanence? 

What would give you hope? 

Maybe it would be your friends that you'd cling to, fellow street kids who understand what kind of circumstances lead to life on the streets.

Maybe doing what you love would be extra life-giving, whether it's skateboarding or creating art or making music. 

Maybe your case manager, invested and working to help you pursue your goals, would be a source of hope for you.

SYM strives to be a source of hope for these young people by providing more than just resources; we also seek to provide relationships and life-skills that bring healing and a restored sense of self worth.

If you choose to support us before midnight on December 31st, your gift will be doubled

To help us meet our year-end goal,

Make a Donation Today!

The Power Shift

 

*Written by SYM Life Skills Coordinator Emily*

I love rock climbing with our young people because I’m not an expert at it.

There is a power shift when we go climb together—no longer am I the one with the resources or knowledge needed, but in fact, I often ask our youth for help because many of them are more skilled climbers than I am.  I can see that changing things for people; they are the ones with knowledge, and therefore, power, and in these moments together, they are able to use it to help someone else.

 

 

Today, we had a small group—just two young men and myself.  We spent most of the time tackling different routes together. We tried and failed. We strategized. We tried again.  We took turns. We made it one step higher and fell. We tried again. We faced something challenging and didn’t back down. We encouraged each other. We laughed. We succeeded as we conquered routes that took multiple tries. Some were too difficult for today—and that was okay.  We’re coming back next week to try again.

 

 

I am confident that this simple act of rock climbing together is changing things.  It might seem silly, but I see it in the smiles—the real smiles—that tell of joy and accomplishment and pride.  Together, we are learning persistence. Together, we are building self-esteem. Together, we are facing fears of falling and of heights (maybe that one’s just me!). Together, we are living life and enjoying it. Together. I love rock climbing with our young people because it’s together. Together is relational and strong and powerful, and I think there’s healing in together.

 

"Home is something worth searching for."

*Written by SYM Direct Service Intern Haley*

While discussing which path we should take on a recent activity to Discovery Park, one of our youth asked us if we wanted to venture down to the beach through a less traveled path that he knew of. He warned us that we would be going through sand and down a hill, but we felt up for the adventure and followed his lead. It felt like we were scaling a cliff while we trekked through sand and slippery mud, and while I was worried about slipping and knew there was a much easier path, there was so much value in letting him lead the way and show us something we didn’t know about. Moments of fear that we were going to slip and fall down the whole hill turned into opportunities for us to check in with each other and provide support for one another.

We were almost to the bottom of the hill when we heard our fearless leader say, “Well…this used to lead to the beach, but it looks like the tide is a bit higher now…” It turns out that the tide was much higher than the last time he had been there and after a quick look we knew that we definitely weren’t going to make it to the beach from that spot. However, that path did have something to offer us. It led us to a single rope swing hanging above the water. With some hesitation and encouragement from youth, I decided going on the rope swing was worth the risk of falling in the water. Soon enough, 3 out of 4 of us had conquered our fears and taken a stab at swinging over the water. There was a joy in the air as we all tried out the swing and laughed with one another when each person went. I was reminded of what a childlike, but joyful thing it was to find excitement in swinging.

At some point during our walk back to the car, the question of what home really means got brought up. This is a question I personally have been reflecting on for some time now. One youth was quick to say to staff, “well you guys have a home,” but when I asked the difference between a house (or permanent place to sleep in) and home, the conversation shifted. We then all started talking about what makes a place home and the times or places in our lives where we can say we definitely felt at home. Some of us shared about feeling at home at the place they grew up in, some talked about how they felt at home when they were with one specific person, and others questioned how we can ever feel fully at home in one location when we have called multiple places home. Toward the end of the conversation, there was a realization that some of us knew what home was to them for sure, and others were still searching for it (staff and youth included). While staff’s housing situations are very different than the young people we serve, we created some common ground by acknowledging we all have experienced this search for home. 

SYM’s mission is to use life-skills, resources and relationships to provide hope and healing in youth’s lives. It was a beautiful thing to see how this simple Discovery Park activity was a source of that hope and healing that we so desire for the young people we serve. The laughter through trekking down the hill and joking with each other was a source of healing – it allowed us to forget about our worries for a bit and reminded us of the joy that comes from community and fun. Swinging over the water and searching for walking sticks for the way up was a source of healing – it provided us a time where we could engage in silly things rather than focusing on all of the serious struggles around us. Lastly, the conversation about home was a huge source of hope – it broadened all of our perspectives on what it means to be home and reminded us all that home is something worth searching for. 

'Tis the season!

THANK YOU for visiting SYM's Ways to Give Page!

You've taken the first step to blessing a homeless young person this holiday season. Below, you'll find some tangible options:

 

Option 1: a Financial Gift

   

 

 

MAKE A DONATION TODAY

 

Option 2: an in-kind donation (See our updated wishlist below to find out which particular items we're in need of this holiday season)

You can bring any of these items to the University Presbyterian Church kiosk, or contact Rowena Harper for more information on SYM's needs:

rowenah@upc.org

206.524.7301 x111

 

 

Option 3You can make SYM your Amazon Smile charity of choice

It's easy! 

Just go to https://smile.amazon.com/ and sign into your amazon account. Then type "Street Youth Ministries Seattle" into the organization search bar, and select Street Youth Ministries as your charity of choice! When you make purchases through smile.amazon.com*, a portion of every purchase will be donated to SYM! 

(*Please note: you must go through smile.amazon.com if you want the purchase to count; purchases made through just amazon.com will not benefit SYM!)

 

However you choose to give, know that you're supporting SYM's mission of providing homeless and at-risk youth with resources, personal relationships, valuable life-skills and healthy community. Your donation helps bring hope and healing to the lives of young people - THANK YOU!

We are thankful.

The holidays are fast approaching, and with that comes the temptation to get caught up in the busyness. But in reflecting on the past few months here at SYM, it’s difficult to feel anything but gratitude. We are thankful.

We are thankful that we’ve been able to engage youth in exciting activities like horseback riding, rock climbing, cooking, and Whirly Ball (to name a few!).

We are thankful for our drop-in volunteers, who give their time to form lasting relationships with our youth and provide mentorship amidst instability.

And of course, we’re extremely thankful for our supporters – YOU! – who have stuck with us along the way providing encouragement, donations, even volunteering your time to enrich our programs and pour into the lives of youth. It’s because of you that we’re able to offer these opportunities to young people.

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If you’re a new supporter of SYM, or perhaps you’re just looking for a way to get involved, MARK YOUR CALENDARS: November 29th is Giving Tuesday!

“Giving Tuesday is a global day of giving... Celebrated on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving (in the U.S.) and the widely recognized shopping events Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday kicks off the charitable season.” (www.givingtuesday.org)

 

A great way to get involved in Giving Tuesday is by supporting SYM! In the coming weeks we’ll be updating you all on how you can best support our young people. And we're so excited!

 

Have any ideas or questions? We’d LOVE to hear from you! Contact Kaylyn at kaylyns@upc.org.

"I just love goats, man"

‘Tis the season for crunchy leaves, a chilly breeze and pumpkins. And goats, too, I guess.

SYM staff recently took youth to a pumpkin patch outside the city, where we took a hayride, tackled an 11-acre corn maze (shaped like the state of Washington!), and pet some adorable (and some not-so-adorable animals). As it turns out, cows have very long tongues and goats love us. Plus, God blessed our adventure with some sunny skies, which is always a win here in Seattle. 

In all seriousness, outings like these are moments of fresh air for many of the young people we encounter. For some of them, it's their only opportunity to step away from the burdens of homeless living. I am so grateful that SYM is able to engage young people in this way, through laughter and new experiences. Oh, and goats, too, I guess...

"I'm practically wearing it as a bracelet right now" - A

"I'm practically wearing it as a bracelet right now" A

Our very own goat whisperer working his magic. 

Our very own goat whisperer working his magic. 

We love these young people!!

We love these young people!!

Poems From A Friend

For over a year now, we have been visiting with a longtime SYM friend who has been in jail. This season of her life has often felt like a waiting game – and the unknown has taken her on a roller coaster of highs and lows. SYM has seen remarkable perseverance in this individual. She has decided to make the most of her time, and continually has surprised us with her endurance. During our visits, she has slowly been sharing her poetry with us. She has found a sense of purpose in sharing her poems with other inmates, guards and visitors; sometimes even writing poems to bring encouragement into specific circumstances. We hope that her writing inspires you to consider something new today.

Musings From A Longtime Volunteer

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By Dan Lafferty
SYM Volunteer

I was struck recently - thinking about Jesus and his need to remove himself from the community in order to spend time with God. Thinking about how, as a spiritual discipline it is important to follow in his steps and do the same.  But it's not a permanent removal.  Always, he returns to the community and gives it everything he's got.  I’ve been thinking about something - how we live in this constant tension - balancing, or rocking back and forth between ideal and the real, between our actions and our understanding of truth, between our desire to love and our inability to love perfectly.  We should not consider that the tension is necessarily bad.  In fact, a more healthy response would be to recognize that the tension is a necessary part of being human and to deny it, would in fact, represent a loss of this humanness. 

So, though it seems like an oxymoron, perhaps the power in the teachings of Jesus have a lot to do with accepting this tension and owning it, and living in peace with it.  This requires us to remove ourselves from community to rejuvenate, to re-create our ideals and love, and then come back again to apply them in the reality of our communities.  In this we may see some success and failures, and we may falter, we may tend to slip back into judging or get discouraged and we may have to adjust our understanding of truth.  Then it is time to repeat the cycle again.

The steps we take are repetitive, but they are necessary if we are to walk forward. When living in this tension with honesty and transparency, we inevitably become more and more skilled at applying the tools of forgiveness, grace, and mercy.  These tools are the antithesis of judging others because we are periodically reminded of our own personal shortcomings; and it’s difficult to judge others without also judging oneself.  This is the lesson that hovers over the work that I see going on at SYM and the philosophy that is applied by SYM staff.  While the rest of the world would come up with a formula that requires the kids to change and deny who they are - implying that who they are is fundamentally wrong; SYM would have them become accepted and loved for who they are.  This is recognition that for each one of us, true healing of the whole character can come only within the context of knowing and accepting who we are. 

A Driving Force: Compassion

By Katie Juhl, Friend of SYM

Webster defines compassion as “the response to the suffering of others that motivates a desire to help.”

Redefining Realness, by Janet Mock, really drove me to think about compassion and what it means to be compassionate towards others. Redefining Realness is Janet’s story of growing up as a young transgender girl of color in Hawaii. It provides an incredible amount of insight into what she and other transgender individuals face in accepting themselves. Accepting themselves is just the tip of what they must face as they then deal with others reactions. Many times this results in them being alienated from those around them and being homeless. She addresses why many end up on the streets or in prostitution as a means of survival. Hearing her story made me think about what it is that I could do to help. Again the thought of compassion came to mind and that this would make a difference in how transgender people are treated.

This was further raised to me when I read an article about a potential ballot measure that would look to change rules regarding the use of restrooms in Washington by transgender individuals. My first reaction was sadness and then I started to think about how that ballot measure might differ if we all challenged ourselves to “dial up” our level of compassion.

Imagine what it would be like if what bathroom you were or were not able to use was a day-to-day concern.
Imagine what it would be like if you had to wonder about your safety on a nightly basis.
Imagine what it would be like if you had to find the strength to tell those around you that you were going to undergo a transition.

All of these are incredibly challenging things to have to go through, and if they are done in a situation where people aren’t displaying compassion towards you, they could quickly become insurmountable.

It’s this compassion for others that drives me to support the work that SYM does. I can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like to be on the street or to be dealing with some of the “imagines” above. Aside from the lack of basic needs being met, the manner in which so many are treated is heartbreaking. Through my sister and brother in-laws work with SYM I have learned much about what might drive someone to be homeless which includes young, transgender individuals. When they made the decision to come out, they were quickly kicked out or worse. The stories break my heart and it is this heartbreak that fuels my desire to help. I feel incredibly fortunate that I am able to financially support SYM so that they are able to approach each and every youth with compassion, love, and to help them create a better future.

"Falling Was The Best Part..."

Reflections from Stephanie Healow, 
SYM's Life Skills & Activities Coordinator:

Around August, we begin fielding questions from youth regarding SYM's annual snowboarding season. The waiting list fills quickly, and every Wednesday afternoon you can be sure that a large group of youth will be outside SYM, waiting to go to the mountain. A buzz of nervous excitement fills the room as we complete forms, load up the vans, and cross the traffic deadlock of I-5 until we are free to cruise East on I-90. I think for most people it is consoling to see the panorama of sky scrapers fade into tall trees and mountains. For youth often bound by the Seattle bus system, it feels even more extraordinary to escort them into the windy Snoqualmie wilderness, far past where the Metro lines end.

The 2016 snowboard crew has become a strong community force. Some of the participants were friends prior, but many joined as strangers. At the end of each snowboarding session, we gather around the propane fire and reflect on our experiences on the hill.  On one particular evening, people were calling out individuals that shined or inspired them. My favorite part was youth recalling major falls, slips, wipe outs & my favorite, "supermans" (slamming belly down, arms out onto the snow). There is joy & laughter about recalling falls, because no one broke anything. The youth simply picked themselves up, laughed it off, and tried again.


"Falling was the best part because I knew I didn't die or break anything. I knew I was okay and alive."

--- a response to snowboarding

Snowboarding exhibits the resilient strength within each of our youth. It presents their ability to be okay with falling, the unknown, and the pain of often hitting the same spot time and again. Once they hit the snow, awareness comes to the present moment. Youth learn to stand up again, and slowly build the skills to carve and direct the mountain slope to their joy ride- rather than their collapse.

We often urge youth to consider how resilience learned on our snowboarding trips may be put to use in other areas of life, as well.  SYM's youth experience many challenges such as addiction, abusive relationships, and the unknown of where they will sleep on any particular night. These factors cause youth to feel out of control and vulnerable... much like youth may feel their first night snowboarding. The powerful moment comes when they can reflect on where they fell, how they stood up, leaned into the problem a different way, and tried again. We are grateful to take youth snowboarding, and be a resounding force of encouragement as youth take steps toward building a life off the streets.