When I was a little girl, I went through an awkward phase of wanting to save the Rainforest. (I suppose the phase never really ended – I still am passionate about saving the rainforest but I haven’t actively done anything about it in years. As a ten year old, I wrote letters to anyone and everyone who was anybody, to get them to get them on board with my ideas to Save the Rainforest: Oprah, Maury Povich, the president…heck, I even sent a letter to Jerry Springer. I made little paper bookmarks and sold them for 25 cents each. I reached out to the president. I made a compelling argument for an 8 year old. The rainforest is dying! We need to save it! Without the rainforest, the animals won’t make it. I cried. I begged. I thought of ways to help.
I did as much research as a ten year old has access to. I gave speeches. I talked to anybody who would listen, pleading with them to help.
But nobody responded.
(Well, not nobody. Of course my mom and my family bought the bookmarks and listened to the spiels. They humored my little heart. They’d buy the sour lemon water from my makeshift lemonade stands and smile, trying not to cringe. They have always supported my wildest ambitions).
But as far as support, outside of my family…there wasn’t any.
I waited by the mailbox for the responses. I believed that somebody…anybody, could help. I rehearsed what I would say to get others excited about ‘Saving the Rainforest’ with me. I can remember this being one of the major disappointments I remember experiencing at such a young age. Until a day came, when I realized, this cause was bigger than 8-year-old-me. And I couldn’t save it alone. I remember being asked, “What’s your plan?”
I was annoyed and frustrated. I don’t have a plan- I’m 8. But I know that I have to do something!
Somewhere along the way, I became discouraged. I felt unequipped and unheard. I got quiet.
Don’t miss the forest for the trees.
Years have passed by, but I am still me. I still have big, audacious dreams and goals. But I’m learning every day, that anything worth doing, takes time. Natural diamonds take years of erosion. I think something fizzled out in my little 8-year old heart and then life got hard. I started surviving just to live. My dreaming was put on pause….but every now and then, I would have a wild, audacious idea…but then I’d think, ‘not my forest, not my trees.‘
In college, in sociology, I had to come up with a nonprofit design in our own city. I was stumped. I knew we didn’t have any rainforests locally and I’d already travelled down that lonely road. I did research. I watched videos of entrepreneurs. And I came across a phrase ‘Holy Discontent.’
What is the thing that wrecks your heart? What is that thing that destroys your heart so much you can’t stand to see it happening, so much so, that you have no choice but to do something about it? That is your ‘holy discontent.’
Now, get to work.
Those words hit me like a ton of bricks.
I thought long and hard about it.
At that time in my life, I had several holy discontents: kids feeling unloved. Homelessness. mental health disorders. abandoned/abused animals and kids. people not knowing Jesus. Hunger, Neglect, Malnutrition. Domestic Violence. People not having a safe place to go or a family to turn to.
What I didn’t realize then, was that each of these was going to someday, be interconnected in my story. While they seem separate and isolated, they are actually each trees in my forest.
My project turned into a hotel for the homeless. It was run and managed by the homeless people that sought out refuge. Those who arrived for a meal, entered into education and work programs, learned job readiness skills and became employed by the hotel. They cooked the meals, hosted new guests, and walked alongside them in their journeys. It was so much more than a hotel. It was a place where a marginalized group found refuge, hope, second chances. A community and network of support that could make all the difference. A family.
Of course, I submitted my 3D design and braced myself for the criticism. I knew the flaws in my plan (or at least, I thought I did). I knew that it seemed impossible…and improbable.
But instead of my sociology professor pointing out all the flaws and impossibilities: he looked it over. He smiled and said, “Now Go, Do it.”
I was completely caught off guard. Wait, What? I thought this was just a project. Create a 3D image, come up with a business plan enough to convince your classmates, get your grade and one class closer to graduation.
But professor Jerry Crane didn’t seem to care about my grade point average. He seemed to be more interested in what I did with that grade point average.
Well, I continued on, to graduate in human services. All these years later, I find myself working in my very own forest of holy discontents. Every day, I work with overlooked and undervalued teenagers, homeless teenagers; hungry teenagers. Victims of Domestic Violence or labeled with mental health disorders.
I find myself in a similar position as 8-year old me: I see the destruction, I see the devastation, I see the need happening around me. I see one by one, the wasting away of seeds that were planted so long ago and the need to intentionally, one by one, care for each one, devoting time and precision. I see the hope and possibilities. But I know I can’t do it alone. Our team can’t do it alone. But we also can’t keep quiet.
We are the family for these kids (They aren’t selling .25 cent bookmarks but they are making and selling gourmet popcorn!) I’ve never really realized that my dream for a hotel for the homeless, is also very much at the heart of Life Decisions. We have a Day Home, a safe and stable place to go every day. Where at risk and justice-involved kids can go to get access to meals, education and career resources, to get back on track, stay out of trouble and reach healthy adulthood. Mentoring. Job readiness. Safe and Stable Place. Meals. Family. Community Restoration…one individual at a time. Forest restoration, one tree at a time.
Our organization was launched during the pandemic. Without a board. Without any funding. Without a building.
We had the kids who had nowhere to go. The kids who were hungry and lost. We had the need. The holy discontent. But we had a vision.
And we had a few core advocates who met those young leaders and believed in our mission. Much like my professor, all those years ago, a good friend of ours sat across from us with a check to get us started and said, “Now Go, Do it.”
Nearly three years into launching, we have an active, inspired board & leadership team. We have a mighty core group of supporters who have made the 20,000+ relational mentoring hours possible. We have a growing, equipped staff. And we have a vision for this community and these youth that would blow your mind. But even better than the vision, we have a plan. We know what these trees need, to make a health thriving forest. We know the root of the devastation and we know the investment of time and the process of healing that needs to take place, one by one. But we also know that:
We can’t do it alone.
We can’t not do it.
The need is greater than ever.
In the last 4 weeks, we have had four youth with no place to go, who need help with housing and finding a stable place outside of the Day Home hours. We’ve driven one youth to South Dakota to work for the summer because there was someone willing to bet on her. To give her housing and meals and job experience. We’ve had one youth’s family member wounded by a gunshot and one who was killed in a car accident. We had one start a 3 month internship with us and another spend every Monday volunteering to lead popcorn production because it isn’t in our budget to pay him yet. Another one of our recent interns started nursing school and another one re-enrolled into high school and finally graduated! We’ve opened the Day Home to 32 NEW youth (a total of 98) since starting.
These are just a few of the milestones. I could share story after story.
And I will. Because I cannot get quiet. There is too much at stake.
In order to save the forest, we must first save the trees.
Here’s our plan in a nutshell: Work individually with each youth on a goal plan to address their biggest needs and barriers and goals. Pair them with mentors to walk alongside them, celebrating milestones and navigating hurdles. Pray with and for them. Not only feed them but teach them how to grow their own food and tend a garden and prepare something with that food. Teach them not only how to get a job but the skills they need to keep a job…even if that requires starting back at elementary basics, with educational therapy. Everything we do takes time. And time costs money.
There is no quick fix.
BUT MANY HANDS MAKE LIGHT WORK.
I’ve come to terms with the fact that I am an advocate. Since I was 8 years old, I have been an advocate for the things that are dying that need intervention. That need Restoration.
We need you to be an advocate, too.
If your holy discontent has anything to do with those things I listed (homelessness, racial disparity, domestic violence, etc.) then we need your voice. Learn More about Joining me in being an advocate here.
I urge you to be an advocate for the causes you are passionate about. If that is an organization other than ours, that is still ok! If it’s a local organization (most likely we are connecting our kids with their resources and it will still positively impact our youth!) And when our community gets better, our individuals will be healthier.
I often have felt like I don’t have much to give this world…that’s probably the reason I stopped selling .25 cent bookmarks. But that’s a lie.
This is what I have: I’m a storyteller. I’m an author. I’m an artist.
Someday, I’ll upgrade from selling bookmarks to selling books. Whether it’s a quarter or a quarter million, the cause remains the same….investing in the trees to save the forest.
But my generous friends and family, I know you have already bought the bookmarks… and the popcorn…and supported birthday fundraisers and campaigns…
And because of you, we have made it this long… and we are making a dent in what once felt impossible.
I am asking you to move from being a person who gives to being An Advocate. I know there are at least 10 people in your world who would support this cause. At the very least, you have ten people in your world who eat popcorn….If they knew their purchase was investing in community restoration, they might become a regular customer.
You have a voice. Don’t get quiet. We need you.
My favorite moments as a mentor are when a mentee shares their passion for how they will change the world. And I get to smile and respond, “Now Go, do it.”
But I’m still praying for the day when one of them comes up with a plan on how to save the Rainforest.
P.S. Sorry, about the title. I needed you to read until the very end.
P.S.S. If we can raise a quarter million for Life Decisions, I WILL write a book and give it the title And Then It Happened!