The Gift of Life (Not-for-Profit)

AUTHOR’S NOTE: The following is written from the perspective of Amylynn Warners, Communications Manager at Bethany Christian Services. – Matt Bloom
It has been a privilege working with our partner, Initials, Inc., a direct sales company whose sales benefit Bethany’s N.O.W. (No One Without) campaign to provide forever homes to children in foster care. Through this partnership I met Paige, a consultant with a touching story explaining her passion for adoption.

In 2003, Paige was an 18-year-old freshman in college. She awoke one morning in excruciating pain. She drove herself to the hospital, where a nurse asked her so many questions she knew something major was going on.

Then she heard the nurse say, “We need a doctor now! She’s having a baby NOW!”

Paige had no idea she was pregnant. She had shown no signs. Her weight gain was minimal and she was having periods.

But she had no time wonder about it; her water was breaking.

In minutes her baby boy was born. He came at 30 weeks, weighing three pounds, two ounces, with blonde hair and blue eyes. He was placed on an incubator because he couldn’t breathe on his own. Paige checked on him often over the next couple of days as she recovered. She felt ashamed as she asked herself, “How could I not have known?” Then Paige’s father came to her side and, without condemnation, held her and cried with her before they went together to see the baby.

Six months of tears and prayer passed as the boy recovered from surgeries, grew and developed. “I loved that little boy more than life,” Paige says. “I began searching deep within myself and came to the heartbreaking decision that I was not ready to be a mother.”

That’s when Paige found Bethany Christian Services. She worked with a social worker named Mitzi who helped her find a family she thought was perfect for her baby.

[blockquote text=”“As I signed the papers and my rights away, I bawled my eyes out. I couldn’t even see the signature line,” Paige says. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life and took me many years to be okay with it, but I know now that I made the right decision.”” text_color=”” width=”” line_height=”undefined” background_color=”” border_color=”” show_quote_icon=”no” quote_icon_color=””]

The adoptive family sent Paige monthly updates and pictures in the first year. Though she chose not to continue sending letters as he grew, she prays for the boy, who is now 11, every day. She hopes to meet him one day.

“I am eternally grateful to Bethany Christian Services for all the kind, loving help that was given to me at one of the worst and weakest times in my life. Bethany will forever hold a very dear place in my heart!”

I am grateful for having met Paige, and for the honor of hearing her story. It continues today through her work as an Initials, Inc. consultant, where she is helping to give the gift of a safe and secure life to children just like hers.

What a beautiful expression of love in the wake of heartbreak. Thank you, Paige!

The Difference a Willing Heart Can Make (Not-for-Profit)

Civil war drove Divine and her sisters from their home in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1996. Divine was 19 years old. The family fled to a United Nations refugee camp in Rwanda, which they would call home for the next 18 years.

“Life was hard,” Divine says matter-of-factly about her life there. She and her two sisters lived in a small, one-room shelter, one of thousands of makeshift homes covered with plastic sheeting. They lie in endless rows carved into the Rwandan hillsides.

“You sleep on a little bed,” Divine says of her sparse accommodations in the camp. “Near the bed you have your clothes. Near your clothes you have dishes. You have a small kitchen outside, wood for making fire and to prepare food.”

Divine met Jeanbaptiste in the camp and they were married there. They moved into a separate shelter of their own, the couple’s first home together.

The UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) provided Divine’s family with basic necessities: food, water and medicine. Another nonprofit group offered primary education and gave Divine an opportunity to teach children.

Five years ago, Divine applied for resettlement in the U.S. She was moving through the process when she became pregnant and was unable to travel. It took another three years before her request was finally approved. One more year and she and her family would be on a plane to the United States.

Meanwhile, Bethany was organizing volunteers in Grand Rapids, Michigan to prepare for the family’s arrival. Members of Blythefield CRC (Christian Reformed Church) and Gold Avenue CRC collected donations and prayed for this family they had not yet met.

Divine and her family arrived in December of 2013 in the midst of heavy snowfall, which was something new to them. “I was saying, ‘What a cold country!’” Divine says of the experience. “We see everything is white. It’s wonderful, but it’s cold.”

Volunteers provided coats, gloves and boots to all 11 members of Divine’s family. Divine, her husband Jeanbaptiste, their six children, Divine’s two sisters and niece soon arrived at their new four-bedroom home. They were delighted to discover that the church volunteers had completely furnished the house and stocked it with food. They praised God in song for providing for them.

Divine was impressed that even the cold had been accounted for. “They put heat in our house,” she says. “Everything was good!”

Bethany assigned a caseworker to the family. She helped the adults enroll in job skills training, English classes and personal finances management. She helped enroll the children in school and assisted the family in applying for food and medical benefits.

As a result of the job skills training Bethany provided her, Divine not only acquired a job working as a hotel housekeeper, but felt confident enough to apply for a factory job with higher pay a few months later. She was hired and has had a great experience there.

“We have a team,” she says. “We have friends [there]. We like to work in a team. We’re joking, making stories. All things [at the factory are] good.”

Though they are thankful to be here in the U.S., the transition was difficult in the family’s first year here. The children, unable to speak English, struggled academically in public school. Jeanbaptiste’s oldest son tried to connect with some other teenagers in the neighborhood who only made fun of him for being different.

When the church volunteers closest to them learned of the children’s struggles, they mobilized to help. Through their connections with a private Christian school they helped the children enroll there and subsidized their tuition so they could receive a more individualized education.

Divine’s family has found a church home with Gold Avenue CRC, where they attend African community services that give them the opportunity to worship God in French, their native language.

“I thank people from the church. They are my family,” Divine says. “When I am with them it’s like I’m one of them. They love me a lot and I love them.”

“I thank Bethany for what it does for us,” she adds. “I thank case managers and what they did for me. I thank all people from America who have helped us – our neighbors, the people who took the time to look after my kids. I thank God who helped me to come here.”

Divine wants those who are interested in supporting resettling refugee families to know how blessed she has been by the assistance she has received from these people with a “heart of willing.”

“They can feel in their hearts that they are doing something not for nothing,” she says. “They are helping people who are like the member of their own families that have lost.”

Salt of the Earth (Not-for-Profit)

“It’s fun working with kids,” says James Williams, Manager of the INTAC (Intensive Adolescent Care) Program in the YOC’s Cottage 2. “It makes you stronger, keeps you young. It’s fun trying to keep up with them.”

James is married to Ashley Williams, the TASC (Treatment of Adolescents in Secure Care) Program Manager. Together, the couple represents 23 years of collective experience helping troubled kids learn and grow.

Ashley knew as a child she was going to somehow serve people who were at risk in the community when she grew up.

While earning her degree in criminal justice from Ball State, she did an internship with the YOC that turned into a fulltime position. She has been here ever since.

She says her father, a police officer, was an inspiration to her and a major influence on her career choice.

“He was doing a really difficult job, but it was necessary,” she says. “I recognized that there’s a need there and it takes people to address that need. Regardless of how difficult that need was, he pushed through.”

James always knew he was good with kids. Removed from his biological family at the age of eight because of physical and mental abuse in the home, James was already drawing on personal experience to empathize with kids in his church struggling with family issues.

“Someone gave back to me,” James says, referring to his adoptive parents. “I knew I had to do that same thing.”

James applied to the YOC 12 years ago and never looked back. He began in the TASC unit, and learned there how to work patiently with some of the most emotionally and physically volatile residents on campus. He was promoted to the position of Cottage Manager five years later, and last summer moved to Cottage 2.

The main difference between James and Ashley’s programs is the level of risk the kids are to themselves or each other.

In the secured TASC unit, the goal is to stabilize residents medically, then behaviorally, so they can move to a less restrictive environment like Cottage 2. James and Ashley train their staffs regularly to make sure kids are getting what they need on an individual basis.

[blockquote text=”“We want to make sure the kids in our program feel safe. Hopefully it enables them to focus on themselves and their treatment needs,” James says.” text_color=”” width=”” line_height=”undefined” background_color=”” border_color=”” show_quote_icon=”no” quote_icon_color=””]

Ashley and James credit their faith in God as the reason they’ve been successful in their positions.

“I think that my supervisors have been able to trust me in different roles and know that I’m going to do what’s right,” Ashley says. “I can’t take any of the glory for that, because I’m a different person by having the Lord in my life. It’s because of him that I strive to be this person.”

James says that although he and Ashley aren’t as open with their faith in Christ at work as they are in their church youth ministry, the strength their faith gives them is always evident.

“In Matthew, we’re told to be the ‘salt of the earth’ and ‘light to the world.’ When you live your life knowing that’s what your responsibility is, you just do things better.”

No Limits (Not-for-Profit)

Sonya Willis and Nik Sloan don’t easily accept limits. Not for themselves, and not for the kids at the YOC.

Their Independent Living (IL) program helps teenagers transition into becoming capable adults. As IL Educator, Sonya creates hands-on activities that give kids 15 years of age and up empowering experiences. Nik, as IL Coordinator, gives her something to work with.

“My job is to oversee the grand scope of things,” Nik says, “to ensure that we’re finding resources outside of the organization or even within as they relate to independent living skills.”

Then Sonya utilizes these resources – partnerships with local businesses and on-campus departments – to create IL activities. For example, she works with the campus store to give residents realistic work experience.

[blockquote text=”“They clock in and clock out with me; I’m their supervisor. I let them know these are real job skills because when they’re stocking and doing all those things, that’s exactly what you do in a retail store,” Sonya says.” text_color=”” width=”” line_height=”undefined” background_color=”” border_color=”” show_quote_icon=”no” quote_icon_color=””]

Gardening, nutrition education, carpentry, off-campus internships and college tours are some of the other experiences Sonya creates for herself or other staff to implement.

For many kids, these experiences are powerfully transformative.

One girl Sonya worked with had been rebelling against her treatment and running out of time. She was almost 18 and would be on her own soon. It was critical that she learn how to be a responsible adult before she landed in serious trouble.

Sonya showed this girl how to budget her finances and make wise shopping decisions. Empowered to expect a more fruitful life, the girl worked her way up from being campus-bound to having the freedom to go out and obtain her state ID.

“Once she got into the IL stuff, everything started to turn around. She started to see hope. She started to see that she does have a future,” Sonya says.

Last August, Sonya and Nik put on a Youth Summit, an eight-hour day connecting kids with professionals in their passion areas. An interest survey placed participants in one of six groups: trades, culinary arts, arts and creativity, public safety, computers and sports.

The kids loved it. 100% of participants reported that they learned something, and over 80% indicated they were satisfied with the event. One anonymous resident wrote, “Everything you guys did for us, you pretty much made every girl’s and boy’s day. Thank you so much!”

“That was the best thing we’ve done to this point,” Nik says. “It was people from outside the YOC, people the kids don’t see on a regular basis, coming in to invest in them. That was really beneficial for them to see.”

“They also got to dress up and eat Fazoli’s for the day,” Sonya adds with a chuckle. “They liked that.”

This dynamic duo is looking forward to building on last year’s successes. Job search training will become more realistic with increased access to online tools. New partnerships will allow additional opportunities for residents to obtain paying summer jobs.

None if it would be happening without people like Sonya and Nik believing in the potential of YOC residents. With passion and determination like theirs, there is truly no limit to what these kids can become.

Building More Than Buildings (Not-for-Profit)

Mike Tschuor’s involvement with the YOC goes back a long way. Further than the YOC itself, in fact.

“Back in the ‘70s when it was the old children’s home our office was across the street from it,” Mike says. He was a teenager at the time, working for his uncle’s Gale Tschuor Company. “We built the first two cottages that became the new cottages for the YOC.”

The more Mike learned about what the children’s home – and later, the YOC – did to help troubled youth, the more convinced he was that this was an organization worth supporting. It fit with his view of what a healthy community needs.

Mike and his wife, Sue, realize that troubled youth come from all kinds of families regardless of race, ethnicity or economic status. Sue points out that kids don’t even necessarily get in trouble because of any lack of parental love or attention.

“[Society] tends to think that people that are low income or not as involved with their kids are the ones that are having difficulty. Nothing could be further from the truth,” Sue says.

Five years ago, when they were starting a new construction company, Mike and Sue worked together on a name for the business. An experienced media salesperson, Sue applied her marketing know-how to the task.

“Mike talked about not just wanting to build buildings, but to do something that would make an impact in this community,” Sue says.

With that goal in mind, Pridemark Construction was born. Mike and Sue have used the company’s resources to support the YOC in a number of ways.

“When I have men available we go over and do gift-in-kind projects,” Mike says, “one-day (maintenance) projects to help them out.”

Pridemark also sponsored a “hospitality room” during the last Ball State basketball season so YOC kids could have a night out. Residents chaperoned by YOC staff were treated to a generous buffet from Texas Roadhouse before tip-off, and were acknowledged during the game.

Mike and Sue use also their other spheres of influence to advance the cause of helping troubled kids. Mike is on the board of the Blood-N- Fire community center, which serves meals to kids who often wouldn’t have anything to eat otherwise. As General Sales Manager for Woof Boom Radio, Sue coordinates Pridemark’s sponsorship of Child Abuse Prevention Month.

The Tschuors recognize that other community resources are sometimes not enough, and that’s when families turn to the YOC.

“It’s a last ditch effort. Usually when the kids get to that point they’re in serious need of help. If they don’t get help from the YOC they’re going to fall through the cracks,” Mike says. “There’s a lot of not-for-profits and charitable organizations that come asking for money and I try to support as many as I can, but first and foremost I make certain that I can donate to the YOC.”

For Sue, one reason to support the YOC stands above the rest.

“The people who work there … you can tell how much they really care.”