“Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained,
but happy is he who keeps the law” Proverbs 29:18
A lot of so-called “old sayings” really contain some powerful truth. Here’s a good example: “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” Another way to say this is: “It’s easy to get lost if you don’t know how to find your way.” The longer someone stays lost, the more they accumulate wounds, scars, and negative thinking that weigh them down and keep them discouraged. All of us need help on the road of life, but not all of us find the kind of help we need.
How It Has Been
I remember walking through the secure pods of our local detention center six years ago. I was one of many who regularly talked with young people who had freedom but not enough direction or wisdom to be responsibly free. As a result, they often lost their freedom and learned became accustomed to temporary, but frequent incarcerations. Lack of direction and wisdom almost always played significant roles in the way their life chapters unfolded; unless they understood there were other paths, they tended to stay in the negative rut they had already worn for themselves. Left to our own devices, most of us tend to default to bad habits that are easy to form and hard to break out of. The young people I worked with often found themselves arriving at destinations they would not have chosen, if only they’d had the vision to see logical consequences and other options.
Day after day I witnessed the negative consequences a broken system had on the lives of justice-involved 11 to 21-year-olds. Too often, the message delivered was “your choices led you to bad consequences”. But dispensing out consequences, without modeling and offering better alternatives, tends to be a recipe for recidivism. I saw how just one decision led to another and then another that resulted in a revolving door of incarceration. If I had to guess, I would say less than ¼ of all juvenile intakes had been locked up at least once before. Many of these young people were desperate to get their lives back on track but lacked the necessary support to sustain lasting change. They were unaware of what good and healthy support really looked like, or what another way of living actually looked like. Often within a matter of weeks, they would re-enter the detention center and, without a combination of new opportunities and a strong relational support network the toxic cycle would repeat itself. Now, imagine this young person had mentors to look up to, to believe in them, to invest in them, showing them another way of life…how different would their life be?
How It Can Be
Now imagine positive ripple effects of that that one young life, impacting another; that young man or woman who has been invested in by mentors, in it for the long haul, begins to move from being a mentee to becoming a mentor. This is a significant shift that requires determination, time, changed thinking, compassion, and hard work. But the pay-off can’t be calculated. Not only has one learned better ways and coached another peer, but both of them--and the lives of others they touch—now have vision and experience that lead to better choices, more fulfilling and productive lives, and an improved society.
One life leading another life…leading another life…towards lasting change. This is our vision: building a tribe of mentors bringing Restoration to Rockford. We have seen this change taking place again and again in our youth.
It’s one thing to describe changed lives, but that’s no substitute for hearing someone tell their own story. Meet Raheem. Last January, he was invited to serve at a Life Decisions event making care packages for essential workers in Rockford for the first time. One year later, we are so excited to offer Raheem paid work experience, as part of our Work-Now Internship program. In his own words:
Life Decisions helped me to become more of an adult, to be more serious about my future. I think differently now. I’m more open and a better person, happier, and have love. I was one of the first and now I’m basically a living example of Life Decisions for all of the youth coming after me; I want to be that example.” – Raheem
How to Get There
--Tried-and-True Life Decisions Mentors Pouring into At-Risk Youth,
Supported by a Clan of Investors,
All Pursuing the Same Goal:
CHANGED LIVES AND RESTORATION IN ROCKFORD—
Last June we kicked off our Launching Life Decisions Campaign, and we were blown away by the tremendous generosity of so many, not only supporting the launch of Life Decisions with financial support but even joining us by creating personal fundraisers and sharing the vision multiple times with friends and family. Our audacious budget goal of $252,000.00, enough to fund these three vital vision and life-change components in 2022:
Operational Day Home (Home Away From Home), open from 8 am to 8 pm daily as a place of safety, respite, and acceptance for overlooked and undervalued youth, and a central hub of all Relational Mentoring Programs.
Formalized Building Trades mentoring program developed and ready to teach LD youth mentees basic carpentry and trades skills and, in the process, renovating the Day Home to serve
Education Resource Center to include the following opportunities within the Day Home as part of participant’s Individualized Life Decisions Goal Plans:
GED (General Educational Development) high school equivalency;
Credit Recovery and school support
Virtual Education Advancement
How Far We’ve Come
At the end of the year, we made one more request for support to reach this goal, to help set up a fruitful year of Life Decisions in 2022. We are grateful to announce that we ended our campaign with $171,571. While this is less than our initial budget target, and we will have to adjust the levels of support we can provide to our mentees, we are incredibly grateful.
Because of the interest and generosity of individual donors, local businesses, and churches, and our Clan of Monthly Investors, the following opportunities have been made possible and are in process:
We have the exclusive use of a Day Home on E. State St. in Rockford, with a rent-free agreement for the next five years, through an incredible partnership with Crosspoint Church.
We have launched LD’s Popcorn, training and equipping our mentors and youth in how to produce, package, sell, and market our delicious gourmet popcorn, with intentions of expanding Work-Now opportunities to include paid employment very soon.
Although we haven’t yet launched Building Trades as a scheduled, formal program, renovations within the Day Home have begun. Mentees and mentors have logged more than 200 hours of building trades relational mentoring activities together.
Thanks to a partnership with Workforce Connections/Goodwill, we have had the opportunity to begin our paid internship program as part of our Work-Now Pillar for two young mentees, and grew our team of paid staff to five!
33 Youth Mentees and 47 Adult Mentors have engaged in a combined total of more than 6,000 hours of Relational Mentoring through these opportunities (and more):
Planning and executing a Community Block Party, hosted by our Youth Leadership Council)
Self-Care, field trips, and community service experiences, such as touring Poplar Grove Airport, planting 100 new trees, packaging items for new moms and babies at the Pregnancy Care Center, and meals with Kids Around the World.
Life Skills, meal preparation, game nights, recreational activities, birthday parties, life milestone celebrations, and retreats.
Paid work opportunities, construction, fencing, painting, landscaping, automotive, childcare, mentoring younger kids, and more.
Creating and building the LDs Popcorn Gingerbread House display for this holiday season’s Festival of Lights display, adjacent to Sinnissippi Park.
How Far Is Our Reach?
Imagine, again, how one young life, given opportunities and guided by caring mentors, models and encourages another young person, whose encouragement and success, in turn, influences another. They are inspired, find hope, and make life decisions that lead to productive lives, filled with value and satisfaction. Mentees catch the vision of helping others as they’ve been helped and become mentors themselves. And on it goes, ripple by ripple, as one life leads another life, leading another life towards lasting change.
This is our vision: building a tribe of mentors bringing Restoration to Rockford. We see this change occurring repeatedly in the youth we currently have the privilege to serve alongside of. As one catches a vision for their life, they invite a sibling or a friend. Then another. Then, those they’ve invited have peers who see the lasting change in them, are inspired, and want that for their lives too.
Relational Mentoring Multiples the gift of one. If one gift can provide opportunities for a life that will then impact several more lives, imagine what doors of opportunity a recurring monthly investment gift would open. Our Tribe of Mentors is relying on the Clan of Monthly Investors to make it possible for the mission of Life Decisions to continue. Their commitments provide the consistent support we depend on from month to month, ensuring more of every dollar spent is directly supporting young people like Raheem. We are grateful for the lasting impact of your generous support and would love for you to consider joining the Clan of Monthly Investors with the suppo