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College and Career Prep Blow-Out Reunion Picnic

Opportunities to Serve
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By John Stapleton

It’s Tuesday night at 9:30 pm, a time that often makes me worry when I get a text message. But not this time. It’s Asai, sending me a picture of a trip we took four years ago to see all kinds of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) exhibits intended to motivate young minds at family day where I work. She thanked me.

She’s headed into high school, a time when our city youth face the choice of going to school or working the corner to bring some money home. I told her I was being “old and boring”, but that I wanted her to stay on track. She replied: “I may give you a hard time, but I actually do listen to you and understand why you push me to do better. Thank you for helping me realize how great I am and how much power I hold. Sometimes I need old and boring.”

Nationally recognized educator Rita Pierson says, “Every child deserves a champion, an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection and insists they become the best they can possibly be.” (See Rita’s TED Talk here.)

Sarah Hemminger, who founded the Thread.org mentoring program on the East Side of Baltimore City, agrees. “The data is super super clear. We know that for a child to grow into a happy healthy adult – what do they need? They need one just one consistent caring adult in their life.”

It turns out that year-round two-way relationships actually do matter. They are fundamental to tipping the balance in favor of our at-risk, under-served, misunderstood city youth who live just 20 minutes from Glen Mar, closer to us than some parts of Howard County.

We’re in our seventh year of working with our Baltimore City kids to become everything God intended them to be. We stayed in touch with our youth throughout the pandemic. We made sure they had laptops, we encouraged them, and we did what we could to stanch the loss of more than a year of education. City kids are often the hardest hit by things beyond their control. They missed us badly and told us. So on August 1 we ignored the rain and hosted a blowout reunion picnic at Rockburn Branch Park. We had lots of food and fun and, most importantly, some in-person relationship rebuilding.

About 30 adult volunteers from Glen Mar UMC, JHU/APL, Emmanuel UMC, along with a few retirees enjoyed keeping company with 12 of our city youth. Dave Eddy made three trips to the city to make sure some stragglers could attend. Rob Niccolini stayed until all of our youth had arrived, performed an inspirational magic show, and shared strong messages about the gifts and power God has given us. Our city youth went home encouraged and with backpacks loaded with school supplies to start their next school year.

We’re planning to start meeting again in September with our city youth, for mentoring and relationship building, at our partner organization, Little Flowers Early Childhood Development Center in Sandtown, Baltimore (West Side). Volunteers also meet with our youth at other times throughout the year for field trips, take your child to work days, and breakfasts on Saturday mornings.

There are many ways to tell our city youth they are important, many ways for us to have their backs as they navigate the obstacles in their lives. Many of the youth on our waiting list tell us they wish they had some “old and boring” in their lives. Join us in two-way service with our city youth!

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