It’s ten degrees and the sky is so clear and close you can pick out every star. The fifteen-passenger UrbanPromise van pulls up and teens start jumping out like paratroopers. There’s no one but us and the crunching under their feet seems pretty loud. Calling the slope in front of us a hill is being generous. We stand poised atop the rise in my own suburban neighborhood where I took my kids sledding on many similar silent nights. The youths seem nervous and no one grabs a sled.
This is the UrbanPromise Wolf Pack, our in-house youth group for urban teens from our high school and StreetLeader® job training program. Every Wednesday evening whoever’s willing gathers up for some fun, fellowship, and a lesson from God’s word that will relate to their lives.
There are so many things you and I have enjoyed just from where we grew up or who we had as parents. Things we have received and been nurtured by that make us who we are today. Things that equipped us, built our confidence, expanded our vision, and things that encouraged us and gave us joy – like sledding. We don’t think about them because we’ve always had them in our life experiences, like background music that sets the mood of a movie.
Youth in the city have also experienced valuable things unique to their environment, things that my kids missed out on. But on the scale of developmental assets and privilege, our kids in the city too often have not gotten a fair shake. So much of what UrbanPromise does is to seek to balance the scales. It’s amazing how simple this can be – like sledding and hot chocolate on a cold, snowy evening under the stars.
As it turns out, none of the teens who came this night have ever been sledding. They came because someone who cared about them invited them. I begin to notice they have no idea what to do and there’s an air of doubt that sliding down a hill at night has anything to do with fun. I grab a sled and take a running leap to fly down the hill.
On the whole, it’s a far less graceful demonstration than I had intended. I jump up like that was exactly how it was supposed to be. At this point their novice status is a distinct advantage for my self-esteem and no howls of laughter escape from the ‘Wolf Pack’ on top of the hill. Suddenly kids and sleds are flying everywhere.
What followed was an hour of some of the purest joy I have ever seen our kids experience. I’ve served our kids for sixteen years, but I’ll never forget the joy we all shared that night – so innocent, so child like, so simple – the kingdom of God was very near. Later, as we warmed by the fire at my house and feasted on roasted hot dogs and s’mores, Aaron Orr, their staff leader, shared out of the Gospel of John. They were focused and respectful.
When people discuss solving the problems in our city I often tell them it’s not rocket science. If you boil it down it’s often very simple, like sledding and being full of joy together. The complicated part is getting our kids to the place where they’ll find their joy.
That’s why we need your help.
Long before those kids agreed to come sledding they were in our programs. In fact, while we drank our hot chocolate I listened to two of the youth swap stories about nearly a decade of their lives touched by UrbanPromise – the camps they had been in, old staff, old StreetLeaders, places they had been together. Watching them reminisce in such detail and delight was like watching a living parable about how UrbanPromise works to change kids lives and the city they live in. Each of the sledders had a complete network of UrbanPromise staff in their lives – teachers, supervisors, mentors, friends. These are the folks and activities I need you to support financially.
It cost about $40 to feed the youth that night, $100 bucks to fill the fuel tank in the van, $65 a month for health coverage for each staff member present (I watched them sled; they need health coverage!). $500 covers the monthly costs of a high school teacher (3 came sledding that night – Christina, Bain, and Sky), and $1000 will support Aaron for a month. Without Aaron there’s no trip. $2400 supports a trip a month for the whole year.
Every $200 you give us allows us to sponsor a simple yet powerful trip like this. For $200 you can get our kids to the place where they’ll find their joy. Tip the scales, feel the joy.