When Love Breaks Through
by CLDI Team Collaboratively | photos courtesy of CLDI
Youth Works is a CLDI- Community Leadership & Development, Inc program. It has a team that works tirelessly to build meaningful relationships with kids on the South Side with a driving belief that God often brings healing in the context of healthy relationships. Unique to other non-profit programs, many Youth Works staff live in South Side neighborhoods and do daily life with kids. Rarely does their work with South Side youth fit within the confines of your average 8am-5pm workday. The way the Youth Works team builds rich relationships with students is more of a lifestyle than just a job, as they come alongside youth in creative and personal ways. For example, they ensure these kids always know there is an open seat for them at Thanksgiving dinner or that they can get a ride home from college when their car breaks down. While they may do programmatic things - it's just people setting out to love kids the way Jesus loves them, intentionally.
It was a privilege to hear Raquel and Sabrina bare their hearts. These young, beautiful ladies were afraid of love. Afraid to receive it, afraid to give it, afraid it wasn't real. Growing up on the South Side left them with a harsh love definition...if I say "I love you," that insinuates "you owe me." Love was always tied to a condition. So when Raquel was told that her Youth Works mentor loved her, her instinct was to push away. She had learned to protect her heart by keeping it guarded against the very thing that could nurture or destroy her.
Raquel shared her story of entering a youth home where they forced her to face new definitions of healthy relationships. It was there that she realized that she had pushed away from the only unconditional love she had ever experienced - from her Youth Works mentors, Kaylee and Drew.
Raquel's story is not uncommon for the youth on the South Side of Billings. Unfortunately, these kids experience poverty and many other forms of trauma. According to the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study, higher trauma is linked to an increased risk of physical and psychological problems as young people and then carried into adulthood. These range from obesity and drug addiction to increased cancer rates and domestic violence.
How does one child experience trauma but go on to thrive in adulthood while a child who experienced virtually identical trauma can struggle for the rest of their lives, often repeating what they experienced?
Supportive communities, opportunities to connect socially, and developing a sense of purpose can have immense effects on a youth experiencing trauma. Having one safe, caring relationship early in life can give a child a much better chance of growing up healthy. Trauma can be healed by intentionally building resiliency through relationships.
This intentional 'interruption,' as we'll call it, disrupts the pattern that is shown to be set in motion with childhood trauma and poverty. It allows kids like Raquel and her friend, Sabrina, to experience unconditional love and acceptance and learn that their lives are full of purpose. When Raquel could leave the youth home, Kaylee and Drew were at the top of her list to connect with. She realized that the home they made available to her was more of a home than she had ever experienced. So she made the courageous choice to begin to believe what they were telling her...that she was loved...that she had a purpose...that she was not stuck.
Sabrina shared similar experiences and how it was initially hard to accept being accepted! But, she reflected on how much her thinking has changed through building relationships with the Youth Works team. “You don’t have to settle for the life you’re surrounded by, and even if you continue to be surrounded by it, you don’t have to be a part of it. You can be a light in the midst of the darkness — the hard people and hard things. I also probably wouldn’t be in school. I would be running away still, doing drugs, and getting involved with the wrong people. I wouldn’t know my worth, that’s for sure. And without knowing my worth, I wouldn’t be able to love and serve others like I do now.”
Sabrina & Kaylee (Youth Works team)
Raquel has the first year of college under her belt, and she knows her future will be filled with helping people. Sabrina is pursuing the goal of becoming a trauma counselor for children. "The life I had growing up and the need I see for kids to heal from their own trauma encourages me to continue my education and keep pushing into Jesus," Sabrina said, "I'm so thankful for the love that's been shown to me and the guidance that I've had in my walk with Jesus and in my everyday life. I couldn't imagine life without such a loving community [found in the Youth Works team]."
Light in the dark places. We need more of that right now, don't we? Thank you, Youth Works and CLDI, for being a light...for coming alongside the youth in our community and changing the trajectory of their future...and our future communities.
To hear Raquel and Sabrina share their stories and to support Youth Works visit cldibillings.org/year-end.