Youth Stories 2011

January 4, 2011
Happy New Year to all! It has been a very busy holiday season for YouthHope. This year for Christmas it was our goal to give each youth their dream shoe. A month prior to Christmas we asked each youth to fill out a card with his or name and their dream shoe. We then passed out these cards, of which there were 120 different names,to the community of Redlands and the surrounding areas. We were astounded at the response we received. Each youth had their dream shoe purchased for them by the kindness of strangers who wanted to help. We were inspired that the community reached out to help in this tremendous way, and we shared with the youth about the great effort involved to ensure that they each got their dream shoes. Not only did the shoes get taken care of but we also had numerous people donate homemade hats, scarves, and blankets. Each youth received these homemade items and were beyond ecstatic at having items that individuals had taken the time to make just for them. Many people who purchased shoes included notes of encouragement to the youth they had purchased shoes for and the youths were touched that someone cared for them enough to offer this gesture. Never before had these youth experienced so much love and care. One young girl who is 16 remarked that before the YouthHope Christmas celebration she had never received a Christmas gift and had learned to hate Christmas. She was the last youth to leave, and the grin on her face extended from ear to ear as she exclaimed that “this was the best Christmas I have ever had!”

Needless to say, the months of hard work that all of our volunteers had put into making this night happen was all worth it in that moment. We wish that all of the people who donated so generously could have soon the looks of pure joy from each child as his or her name was called and they received a package especially made for them. We want to take this time in our “Stories from YouthHope” to thank you all from the very bottom of our hearts. We could not have accomplished this very special Christmas without your kindness and your care for the youth. We do not know how many of you went out and bought shoes, or made blankets, or hats, or scarves, or made food but we do know that you touched 120 homeless, runaway, and hurting youth who would not have had a Christmas without you. For as long as YouthHope has been in existence we have been trying to convince the youth that there are people out there who care for them, who want them to succeed, and who care if they live or die. For as long as YouthHope has been in existence these youth have refused to believe what we have been telling them. They do not want to be hurt anymore so they have tried to shut the world out and have given up hope. You have helped restore that hope. They are now beginning to believe again and they are inspired to go out and make a better life for themselves.

In this New Year we are expecting to see growth like we have never seen growth before. We know that our road is not going to be easy in 2011 but we are not giving up. All of you who donated items throughout 2010 and during the Holidays have helped us realize that we are not alone in helping the hurting youth of our community and that we can handle the challenges together. Thank you, thank you, and thank you! We will be keeping you posted more frequently now that the holidays are over so stay tuned for all of the exiting, challenging, and heart grabbing stories sure to come from YouthHope in the year 2011!

January 19, 2011
When we started the New Year we were trying to gather ourselves from the busy holiday season. It was our thought that everything would slow down after the bustle of the season, but that thought was an incorrect one. We are discovering that we are busier than ever in this New Year with the good and the sad side of YouthHope. As many of you may have heard there was an incident that occurred in Redlands that made local news stations everywhere. It involved the shooting and killing of two teenage boys by another individual who is still at large. While the police are hard at work investigating these horrific murders we have to face another reality, our kids were friends with the kids who were brutally murdered and they were deeply affected by this tragedy. We discovered that many of them were stunned and deeply saddened by the deaths of their friends, and many are scared that the person responsible for this is still at large. Not because they had any involvement but because our kids are like many teenagers who believe that death could not find them at such a young and tender age. It was a stark reminder to the youth who sleep on the streets of Redlands that is dangerous for them to be without homes, and now more youth are coming to us for help. The stories are heartbreaking and we hope and pray that we can withstand these new challenges and get the youth the help they need.

With this influx of challenges we have also had some great success in the beginning of this New Year. One young lady who had been living in a hotel with her 2 year old daughter earned enough income to rent her first apartment. She has been attending UEI and will be graduating soon which means she will be getting a job in her chosen career field soon. This young girl has accomplished this task on her own with the support and encouragement from all of us at YouthHope. Words could not describe how proud she was of her apartment because it meant the beginning of a new life for her and her daughter. We took her grocery shopping to make sure her cupboards were stocked with healthy food, and she told Heidi time and time again how thankful she was to her for all of the encouragement and for love that Heidi had shown her.

We were sure that the New Year would slow down and we were wrong. We at YouthHope are sure of one thing for the year of 2011: we are dedicated to doing the very best that we can for each youth who comes to us for help and that we cannot do this without the help of many individuals. To get to the victories, we need to fight hard through the rough waters that lie ahead of us. We need to practice persistent patience for all of the challenges that are sure to come. Most of all we need to understand that nothing will be accomplished if we do not show the youth that we love them and that we are here to help. We hope and pray that you will join us in helping the youth. The more people who are completely dedicated to this cause, the more youth we can reach. Please consider becoming a volunteer or a donor to YouthHope in this next year. We cannot promise instant gratification but we can tell you that these kids are worth your investment and that is something we have been right about time and time again.

February 7, 2011
We are currently working with a young man, “Shawn” who just turned 18 last week. He has been attending our meal times but he has mostly kept to himself, until a couple of weeks ago. Shawn started sharing with us that he had tried to commit suicide the day before but his skin was too thick to cut through. He also shared that this was not his first attempt, but that his skin would not allow him to cut deep enough. Shawn believes that God does not want him to die yet and so he made his thick skin for protection. Shawn’s thick skin is not just a protection in a literal sense; it offers metaphorical protection as well. You may have heard the term concerning growing a tough skin to handle criticism that may come from others. Shawn may well have the toughest skin of any individual we have met. Shawn has had to endure many years of mental abuse, and these suicide attempts are blatant evidence that his tough skin is beginning to crack.

Shawn’s tough skin offered protection when he was a very young boy and his father was sentenced to prison for murder. Shawn has not had the chance, nor does he want the chance, to get to know his biological father because of the horrible crime his father committed. Shawn was left with his single mother who remarried when he was 8 years old. Shawn remembers all too well that his mom would leave him and his young sister with their new step-father while she would disappear for weeks at a time. When Shawn was 13 years old his mother left for good. She phoned her husband and said she had met someone else and would be moving to Mississippi, without her children. This is when Shawn’s skin really offered protection from the hurt his mother was causing him by abandoning him when she was the person who was supposed to love him the most. He became rebellious towards his stepfather because it is what children do when they do not feel loved, understood, or accepted.

Instead of offering him help, or encouragement, his stepfather did what he thought was best for a rebellious teen and sent him to live with his mother in Mississippi. It was at this point in Shawn’s life that his mother introduced him to Methamphetamine. She had been a meth addict for a number of years, and it is the reason she would frequently disappear from Shawn’s life. Shawn’s time with his mother was short because he could not handle the life of a drug addict and he returned to California to live with his stepfather. Shawn took the road he thought would be better for his life, but it turned out to be the lesser of the two evils, or just as equal in evil. Having sent him away to let his mother deal with him, Shawn’s stepfather had to deal with a new reality: that his son was a meth addict. Again, he did not offer help or encouragement to Shawn and instead he belittled him and tore him down.

Shawn’s skin was still offering that mighty protection. He was addicted to meth, he was being mentally abused by the one person who had taken him in, and he had been abandoned by his mother but he got through it. He got himself off of the meth without help from his stepfather, his mother, or a rehab facility. Shawn made it his goal to follow a different path than what his parents had laid out for him but being off the meth proved difficult when the mental abuse from his stepfather did not subside. This is the point in his life that the cracks in that tough, tough skin began to show. All Shawn had ever wanted was to be loved and accepted by his family. He decided he would take the most drastic step to ensure that his family would love him. He wrote a suicide note and sat down to cut his wrists. His stepfather and his sister were in this house, and all Shawn wanted was for them to walk in and see what he was doing and tell him not to because they loved him and they didn’t want him to die. This did not happen. Shawn’s skin offered the highest protection both literally and metaphorically but Shawn needed to know what it was like to be loved. He reached out to YouthHope and shared his story and asked for help. He just wants to know that there is someone out there who cares if he lives or dies, and someone to celebrate with when he succeeds, and someone to listen to him when he is hurting. Shawn has asked that we help him find a counselor because he knows he needs to begin the healing process to succeed in life. We were able to find him one and he will soon begin his sessions. Shawn was also happy to share that he found a job, and would like to work towards going to school so that he can move out of his stepfathers home, and away from the abuse. Kids like Shawn are the reason why YouthHope was started. We are here to offer
encouragement, and to love the kids who have not been given the opportunity to experience these special gifts. We ask that you open your heart to share a kind word or some of that love that lies within each one of us. Say kind words to the ones you love and you will be surprised at much they treasure those words.

February 16, 2011
We have some good news regarding “Shawn” who we wrote of last week. Since we shared his story with you he has started a new job, and his spirits have lifted greatly. This new job has given him renewed confidence, and he is on his way to getting his life in order. He has also been to several medical appointments to receive attention for some long standing back problems. Shawn now understands that YouthHope is here to help him and he continues to reach out to us.

Unfortunately, not every story has a happy ending for the youth we serve here at YouthHope. If we did not focus on the positive situations, though, we could not get through the bad situations, such as the one we are facing with “Abigail.” She and her boyfriend, “Sam,” have been attending YouthHope meals for some time now. We have known that both suffer from strong drug addictions, but we have continued to listen to them and encourage them in hopes that they will one day come to us for help. That day finally came last week, but it was not what
we had expected. Abigail came to us at dinner and said she needed help getting off drugs, she was done living this way, and she wanted into a rehab facility immediately. We had talked with Abigail before about her addictions and we knew her story, so we were hesitant to believe that she really wanted help this time.

Abigail started using drugs at the delicate age of 13. She was walking home from school one day and decided to make a stop at the Redlands Mall. While browsing through one of the shops Abigail was approached by the young man who was working the register. He poured out a white substance onto the counter and said “sniff this up your nose.” Abigail said “no, you do it.” So he did. And then she did. Abigail was hooked from that moment on. The young man behind the counter became her drug dealer, and started the demise of her innocent life.

Abigail grew up in a good home with a mother who loved her very much. When Abigail started her drug use she became a different person who her mother was no longer able to recognize. Abigail began stealing from her mother and lying to her so that she could continue her drug use. Abigail’s mother tried everything including rehab facilities, but nothing could heal her daughter. It was time to let her daughter go. She knew that Abigail would either have to learn how to survive without the drugs, or she would no it survive at all. This was a heartbreaking decision as any parent might imagine, but what choice was left? So it was that Abigail began her life on the streets where she met Sam. Sam also came from a good home, but had somehow gotten influenced to let drugs control his life. The two have kept each other down since the day they met. As life would have it, Sam learned he had a medical problem that would lead to death if he continued with the drugs. Sam knew his body had had enough of the drug use so he returned home to receive help. Abigail was left to deal with her demons alone. Her mother could not trust her as she had seen Abigail through withdrawals and rehab before, only to lead to destruction again. This was Abigail’s time to decide if she was going to survive, or continue to let drugs rule her life.

This is how Abigail came to us on Thursday, in the midst of severe heroin withdrawals. No rehab facility can take Abigail until she has been clean for seven days. She is on the streets where drugs are easy to come by and where drug dealers don’t care if you live or die just as long as you pay. We can get Abigail into rehab if she fights for it. We can’t do anything for her if she gives up and succumbs to the demons inside her. We hope and pray that she will make the right decision. Please keep Abigail in your thoughts and prayers. Pray that she has the strength to overcome her addiction and seek help so she will not end up another drug statistic. Pray that she becomes the beautiful young woman that she was made to be with a brand new life ahead of her.

March 10, 2011
At YouthHope it is essential to focus on the positive stories so that we do not become discouraged by all of the sadness we face. If you have been keeping up with “Stories from YouthHope” you will recognize this next youth. We spoke of him in May of last year, and we are ecstatic to report that this youth has come full circle. This young man was living on the streets because his parents wanted nothing to do with him, he had been shoved around, neglected, and he felt completely alone in life. He was tired of living life on the streets and wanted badly to enter into Job Corps. After an exhausting process he was able to enter into Job Corps with support from YouthHope. He has been in the program since that time, and he arrived at our meal time two Thursdays ago just to give us an update. He will be graduating the program in the next couple of months, and he is already applying to colleges to earn a degree in counseling. He wants to help others who are in the same situation he was in just a short year ago. He tells everyone he can about YouthHope and he acknowledges that it was YouthHope that helped him. We don’t care about the recognition though. We feel so lucky to have known this youth, that he opened up to us and let us offer him encouragement and support. We can see the potential in all of the youth who come to us, and for us the biggest reward is when they see their potential too.

We have also been working with a young man, “Bret” who has been trying to free himself from the clenches of meth. He has been addicted to this drug for some time now but he had never found the power necessary to live a drug free life. Until now. He came to us several weeks ago saying he was done living his life wastefully, and he wanted help. He did not want to go to rehab, but he wanted assistance to live a drug free every day. He asked that YouthHope act as a support system and meet with him each day to keep him accountable. He wanted nothing more than to meet with Heidi for an hour each day to share his struggles, and have us offer encouragement. Bret shared with us that his mother makes it very difficult to stay drug free as she does not have faith in him, and persistently puts him down. All Bret needed was to have someone beside him who believed in him, and who would keep him accountable. We know that this road is going to be a long one for Bret, and he has shared with us that he has stumbled already on this journey. But he will not give up, and we won’t give up on Bret. As long as he makes a continued effort to remain sober, and he works his hardest at getting his life in order, we will be there to support him. Please keep Bret in your thoughts and prayers and continue to offer encouragement to the youth around you.

March 22, 2011
We always hope and pray that when a youth comes to us asking for help off of drugs that we can see them through the darkness of withdrawals, and they can become clean. We know that the struggle with drug addiction is an enormous hurdle to overcome but we hope they will lean on us when they do not feel they can carry on. We also know that many times those who are fighting to loosen the grip of drugs will falter and try to ease the pain with one more dose. Some people are able to overcome those urges, and move on while there are others who cannot seem to get the drugs out of their system because the pain of everyday life is too great for them to bear without chemical assistance.

This is the case for Bret who we spoke of in our previous discussion. He was doing well and winning the fight against drugs and then tragedy struck. He received a call from his mother telling him she was leaving his father because she was in love with someone else. She told Bret he was strong and that he did not need he
r in his life, and that he would be ok on his own. Bret knew she was abandoning him. He knew would never speak to her again. Bret’s father who had been an addict himself began to spin out of control. He will not speak to Bret because Bret refused to contribute to his father’s addiction, and now Bret is utterly alone. He explained to us that all he ever wanted to do was to make his parents proud. He was winning the battle against his addiction because he knew it would make his parents proud. Now he admits that he has nothing, and there is no one there who cares if he is successful so he wonders why he should even bother trying anymore. We are holding onto him for dear life. We care. We don’t want to see him waste away to nothing. We know he has great potential, and we hope that he will one day see this potential himself.

One of our kids has seen her potential, and she is going far with what she has learned. This young lady, “Elizabeth” came from a home with many challenges to overcome. Her brother is mentally handicapped and Elizabeth has spent most of her life caring for him. The care started when her father was angry and would become violent, and try to take his anger out on her brother. Elizabeth would use her body as a shield protecting her brother from her father’s blows. She endured so many beatings she now suffers from back problems, but Elizabeth continued to press on. Her father eventually abandoned the family but life did not get easier for Elizabeth. Her mother became sick with cancer and it fell on Elizabeth’s shoulders to care for her mother and her brother. She was a diligent daughter and she cared for her mother until her mother finally passed on. Elizabeth was hurting deeply and this was all too much to bear for a teenage girl who felt completely alone in the world, and so she turned to drugs for consolation.

Two years ago Elizabeth decided she had had enough of a life filled with drugs, and she wanted help. She found a way into ITT Technical Institute because she was interested in electronics and how electronics worked. Elizabeth will be graduating April 1 with a 4.0 GPA and as the valedictorian of her class. She has earned her Associates Degree and will be returning to ITT for her Bachelor of Arts degree in Electronics Technology. Elizabeth has already interviewed for two jobs, and will begin work with Union Pacific Railroad when she finishes her Associates Degree in April making a great living for herself. Elizabeth still cares for her brother but now she also cares for herself. Elizabeth has seen her potential and we are so glad that we got to be there by her side to see her through this. She is so excited to graduate in April and she expects all the YouthHope volunteers to be there to cheer her on. We will be there and we will be yelling the loudest.

April 5, 2011
We are seeing the fruits of our labor at YouthHope this week. In the last story we mentioned Elizabeth who would be graduating from ITT. She graduated on April 1 and she had the support of her YouthHope family on her special day. She was so excited at the accomplishment she had achieved and so excited that her YouthHope family wanted to be there to share this day with her. Elizabeth will soon begin her work with Union Pacific and is well on her way to becoming a very successful and confident adult.

Another young lady who we spoke of in January visited us last night with some very exciting news. This was the young lady who had been living in a hotel with her 2 year old daughter but had managed to get herself into her own apartment. She visited us last night to show us her work uniform and to announce that she had just worked an eight hour day. She was grinning from ear to ear at this announcement and she couldn’t have been more proud of her work uniform. This is the first career opportunity for this young woman who has managed to defy all
the odds against her and earned a degree in Medical Billing. She is now able to provide a safe and healthy environment for herself and her family.

We have often spoken of a young man by the name of Garrett who had been starving to death and suffered from severe heart problems. We have worked with Garrett diligently and many changes have taken place in his life since we last spoke of him. We are happy to announce that this young man has found just a bit of peace in his life. He has moved in with his mother and stepfather, and though his parents quarrel often, he says he feels better than he has felt in a long time. He is eating three meals a day and no longer has to worry about starving to death. We hope this new found peace will continue to guide him along on his journey to becoming a
confident, self-sufficient adult.

In our story on February 16 we mentioned a young man, Shawn, who had just earned a job and was filled with a confidence he had never experienced. He continues to work eight to ten hour days six days a week, and he has been able to take care of a pressing legal matter. We had the chance to provide transportation to his court appointment for this legal matter where we learned that the judge required Shawn to do community service to pay for his infraction. Shawn explained that he could not fit in community service due to his work schedule. The judge decided it would be ok if Shawn paid a fine in the way of a $200 donation to a non-profit organization that the judge chose. Shawn mentioned that he had a non-profit in mind and explained about YouthHope to the judge. Heidi was required to speak with the judge to explain about YouthHope. The judge allowed Shawn to donate his fine to YouthHope after this meeting and we were so touched that Shawn would advocate for our cause. He explained to Heidi that we deserved the money because we have been there to support him and others like him.

If you were ever to visit YouthHope you may look around and just see a bunch of kids who come for the free food and the social hour. If you look closer though you will see kids who are hurting and who are yearning for someone to love them. If you look even closer you will see that in the midst of all the chaos of our weekly feedings we are reaching out to those youth who want help and we are giving a hand out of the dark hole they have been lost in. If you stay a little longer you might even get the chance to meet one of the youth we have
already helped who stop by to visit us, and give out hugs and updates. We know our weekly feedings look like
chaos but there is a method to the madness. It takes time to reach through to the hard hearts of these forgotten youth, and these meal times are some of the most valuable times we get with the youth. We feel we need to work at their pace to get the best results, and so that the youth feel they are free to make their own decisions. Please continue to pray for those that we have not yet been able to help, those who we are in the process of helping, and those who have already been helped. There are still many youth coming to us for help each week and it is our great hope that we can help them to the best of our abilities.

April 21, 2011
It is with a heavy heart that we must report the loss of one of our youth, Sheldon Womack. Though the circumstances surrounding this young man’s death are unclear, it is clear that he made a mighty impact on the lives of his friends at YouthHope. Sheldon was just 22 years old but had already lived a life filled with love and happiness. He was a world traveler, an artist, a beloved son, and brother. At the time of his death Sheldon was attending Crafton Hills College and he dutifully encouraged his friends to attend school as well. In fact, it was Sheldon who encourage Elizabeth to attend ITT. He went with Elizabeth for her initial interviews and gave her the courage she needed to get started with her schooling.

The youth decided they wanted to have a memorial service for Sheldon at YouthHope, and they wanted Heidi to lead them in prayer. The youth lit candles, shared stories of Sheldon, and sat in silence remembering what a great friend Sheldon had been to all of them. At the end of the memorial service the youth let a balloon go that had Sheldon’s name on it, and they had all signed it with their love. This memorial service marked a transition in the lives of the older youth we serve. They realized that they were an example for the younger youth, and they wanted the youth to know how important Sheldon had been to them. They wanted the younger kids to know that education was very important to Sheldon and he believed in his friends and encouraged them to strive for their dreams. The older youth decided it was their turn to take Sheldon’s place and encourage and believe in the younger kids. We pray for Sheldon’s family who will truly miss their beautiful young man. We are deeply sorry for your loss. But please know that we are so thankful for the time we got to spend with Sheldon and for the impact he made on the lives of his friends. He will live on in the lives of all the youth who are now attending school because he encouraged them to do so. Sheldon you will never be forgotten.

May 19, 2011
YouthHope has been busy planning the upcoming “Redlands Through Our Eyes” Art Exhibit and continuing to help the growing number of youth who are attending our meal times. It seems that this fundraiser cannot come fast enough for some of these youth as they need food, clothing, bus passes, and a roof over their heads. Last night YouthHope had to help 8 youth move from under a freeway overpass. This was the only place the youth had to stay dry and warm as there are no youth shelters in all of San Bernardino County for the growing number of homeless youth. The youth knew the sanctuary beneath the overpass would be temporary as the city cannot allow a homeless village. These youth are trying to obtain success and YouthHope is trying to help the youth into such programs as the California Conservation Corps. This takes time. All YouthHope can do is to continue offering them food, clothing, tents, bus passes, and support. This takes funding as we are a nonprofit and provide these to the youth at no charge so we hope the Art Exhibit will be a great success so we can continue to offer these services to the youth.
Not only are youth homeless and sleeping under bridges, there are others who are couch surfing and are having to do unthinkable acts to survive. One such young man, “Michael” is trying to remain positive despite his setback and despite his circumstances. Michael was an orphan in Romania before he was adopted and brought to the states. While under the care of the orphanage he was sexually and physically abused continuously. At 8 years old Michael was rescued from the terrors of the orphanage by a family from Florida. The father was a doctor and Michael thought this was a start to a brand new life of happiness for him. Soon after he was brought to the states his adoptive mother began physically abusing him. The abuse was so horrible that Michael was taken from his family and put into foster care. Michael expresses love for his adoptive father but he also admits deep disappointment because his father failed to protect him from the abuse.

Michael eventually ended up in Redlands and has gotten himself into the Redlands School District. He will be graduating from high school in a couple of months and it was no doubt because of a huge effort on the districts part. They have seen to it that Michael has proper California identification, and they have supported him in his efforts to graduate. Michael not only struggles with the terrors of his past, he also struggles with the realization that he is gay. Just trying to get through high school can be a challenge enough for many youth but combine that with the fact that the youth is homeless, and different from others. To ensure that he has food in his stomach and a roof over his head Michael will try to befriend others who are gay hoping they will be more understanding of the fact that he is different. He also has to sell his body to earn money for food and clothing. This causes Michael to be in deep depression but he does not express his sadness as he tries to keep a positive appearance. Instead, he cuts himself to release the pain that is within him. He has cut himself so deep and so severely that he has had to go to the hospital and receive stitches. Our hope for Michael is that we can get him into the Transitional Living Program and that Michael can learn to be happy. It is also our hope that he can learn to accept himself and realize that he is deserving of love.

June 6, 2011
We often see various patterns emerge within the lives of the youth we serve. When YouthHope first began we saw that many youth were coming to us from foster homes, or who had aged out of foster care and were in need of services. Not too long ago we saw that many youth were coming to us because there was a lack of involvement from the parents and the youth just wanted to know that they were thought of and loved. A new pattern we see emerging is youth who have been adopted from another country and who have not been able to adapt to an American home. This is the case for one young man, “Henry”, who was adopted from Russia at the age of 13. Last time we spoke of Michael who was adopted from Romania at the age of 8. Both were from outside the U.S. and both were adopted when they were a little older but their lives in the orphanage and in the U.S. could not have been more different.

While Michael suffered great hardships at the hands of his adopted parents, Henry had every opportunity for great success because of his loving parents. Henry came to his family with his own set of problems. He was an alcoholic at the age of 13. His parents tried everything to help him become sober. They sent him to the best rehabs and refused to give up on their son, but Henry could not become sober. Henry’s parents tried one more rehab located in Redlands, but Henry was not successful in the program and decided he could do better on his own. He ran away from the rehab and began his life on the streets. To survive on the streets Henry made a friend and they decided they would get through this period of their lives together. They found bridges to sleep under so they could stay out of the cold. They also had a strict schedule of collecting recyclable items that they could turn in for money to buy food. Each night the pair would walk a pre-planned route finding all of the recyclable items they could. This task would take them all evening but by morning they would have enough money to buy food for the day. Henry would then find a place to get clean and find a place to sleep for a few hours. Henry soon realized that this new “job” of staying up all night to find enough recyclable items to survive was exhausting and that he could not possibly keep this up. He decided it was time to become sober. He did not go to rehab but accomplished this task on his own. Henry has now been sober for 10 months. Henry also decided that if he was going to accomplish anything in life he would need to start by being responsible. He had never earned a high school diploma because of all the time he spent in and out of rehab facilities. Henry learned of the California Conservation Corps and that he could earn his high school diploma through the program. Henry made the decision to enroll in the program and he worked hard all on his own to accomplish this task. He decided he would call his parents to share his news because he was going to be leaving for Fortuna to begin work with the CCC. His dad was so proud of Henry’s sobriety and determination to become sober that he decided to fly Henry home to Texas for a visit with the family before he left. We were able to take Henry to the bus station on his way back to Texas and we were so proud of him and his accomplishment. We feel extremely lucky to be able to share in this victory with Henry and we pray that he will never have to come back to YouthHope for a meal. Maybe just for a visit to let us know how wonderful he is doing.

July 12, 2011
YouthHope believes that many of the kids we serve can change their life in a positive way when they are able to obtain an education. We encourage all the youth to invest in their education whether it be through a vocational school learning a skill or at college earning a degree. We have recently had the pleasure of working with a young man, “Paul”, who has set his sights high on attaining an education and who is on his way to achieve his goals. Paul came to YouthHope after spending a year living on the streets ofRedlands. He had grown up with his grandmother due to his father passing away when he was two years old, and his mother being an addict. Paul tried to live with his mother but CPS would undoubtedly retrieve him from the dangerous situation. His grandmother loved him and did her very best to keep Paul on the right track but he was a bit of a trouble-maker as a child. In the end he ended up in a boys home where he ran away for good. He dropped out of school when he was in the 11th grade and began a new life on the streets.

While he was living on the streets he made some mistakes and he got into some trouble with other kids who were on the streets. The trouble came to a peak when, after a night of partying, he was beaten, kidnapped, and taken to an abandoned church somewhere in the high desert. He was left for dead in that church until he was finally discovered three days later. He recovered in the hospital for many days and it was there he decided that his life had to change. Paul knew he was smart and he know he could make something of himself so he re-entered the school system and finished the 11th and 12th grade in one year. With his high school diploma in hand, Paul turned 18 and aged out of foster care. He was back on the streets. He lived on the streets for another year before he came to YouthHope for help. He shared his story and confided that more than anything he wanted to go to college, earn a doctorate’s degree in genetics, and help cure diseases. Though we could not help Paul exit street life immediately by providing shelter we were able to provide food, clothing, and help into CPT, a two year college in Redlands. This was a place where Paul could begin to work towards his goal of becoming a geneticist and work towards exiting street life for good.

Paul is now taking a bio-chemistry class and earned an 88% on his first test. He is still couch surfing but he knows that those days are soon behind him because his is well on his way to making his dreams come true.

August 1, 2011
YouthHope is pleased to update our readers on the progress of “Paul” who we spoke of in July’s newsletter. Paul was the young man who wanted so bad to earn his doctorate’s degree in genetics so he could help cure diseases. Paul has been attending the summer session at CPT College and completed his first course with a “B”. This comes as great news to an individual who is struggling to survive each day and who has to live in a vehicle. He is pressing on towards his dreams and YouthHope will be there to share his successes and his sorrows. Another of our youth is changing his life through education by earning is GED. We spoke of “Shawn” on our website in February and he was the youth who would cut himself so severely that he would need to go to the hospital. It is with great happiness that we can announce he is no longer cutting himself! YouthHope was able to introduce him to a counselor who was able to provide a safe place to share his hurts and learn how to manage his pain in a healthy manner. He was then able to take his GED and pass the test. He is now looking toward the future and hopes to soon enroll in Crafton Hills Community College.

Not only are the youth we serve getting into continuing education programs, our youth are also able to re-enter high school. One young lady, “Sarah”, is one of the youth who is trying to re-enter public high school after time spent living on the streets. Sarah, 16, was shuffled back and forth between her divorced parent’s homes while both parents were heavily involved in alcohol and drugs. Her parents ultimately chose their bad habits over their daughter and neither would take responsibility for this young girl. She was forced to live on the streets. Sarah quickly made friends because of her positive attitude no matter what her circumstances. Soon Sarah became friends with a girl her age who offered her couch so that Sarah would not have to sleep on the streets. Having seen what drugs and alcohol did to her family, Sarah decided that she would not be involved in those things but would work hard to make her life better. She became great friends with the mom of her kind friend while her young friend is struggling with the same habits that Sarah’s parents struggle with. Through her friend’s mother Sarah was introduced to horses and discovered that she had a knack for working with the large animals. She is now caring for her friends’ horses and has even secured part-time work caring for the neighbors horses. Sarah comes to the YouthHope meal times to eat and hang out with her friends. She is always quick with a smile and a kind word and everyone considers her their friend. Sarah has expressed a sincere interest in the local high school and now YouthHope is in the process of getting her enrolled into the school system.

YouthHope believes that when a youth is healthy and free to pursue an education their confidence is renewed. When they can achieve an education they are better able to obtain a career and end the cycle of poverty.

August 22, 2011
It seems that our goal of educating the homeless youth we serve to help them become self-sufficient adults is coming to a realization. This summer YouthHope has been hard at work trying to get youth enrolled into various education programs. Over the last two months we have been able to get four youth enrolled at Redlands High School, two youth enrolled at CPC college, two youth enrolled at San Bernardino Valley College, two youth enrolled at Crafton Hills Community College, one youth enrolled at Community Christian College in San Bernardino, one youth into the California Conservation Program, and one youth graduation from Everest as an electrician. That is a total of 13 youth who are being empowered through education! These are youth who have expressed a sincere interest in obtaining an education and who are making a diligent effort to complete their programs successfully. All of these youth have their own stories to tell about the struggles they have faced trying to obtain an education. We would like to share some of their stories over the next few weeks. “Nathan” came to us a year ago while he was sleeping in a friend’s car at nights to avoid sleeping on the streets. Nathan’s friend decided he wanted to go to college to make a better life for himself and decided he wanted to go to United Education Institute. Nathan went along with us as we enrolled his friend into the program but Nathan insisted he was not smart enough to do the program himself. After many long discussions with Nathan we convinced him he was smart enough and he could be a success. Nathan decided to give the program a go and enrolled full time. Now Nathan is graduating from the program in September and he plans on returning to UEI to accomplish the Bachelor’s Program. He is interning in his field of study and lives in an apartment with a roommate.

We knew that Nathan had faced his share of struggles before getting to this point in his life, but until very recently we did not know what exactly those struggles had been. Nathan opened his life up for us the other evening. He shared that he had been the product of numerous foster care homes because his mother refused to let him live at home when he got into trouble. We at YouthHope understand the need for tough love and sometimes this is all that can be done to help a troubled youth. However, Nathan has a younger brother who has gotten into the same kind of trouble that Nathan had gotten into and yet he is allowed to stay at home. For Nathan, this illustrated that his family did not love him like they loved his brother and he felt utterly alone. He did not give up on his family though because he yearned for a relationship with each of them. One Christmas Nathan obtained his first real job and was making good money. He decided he wanted to do something nice for his family with the money he had earned. He went out and bought each member a Christmas gift and left the packages on the doorstep. It was Nathan’s way of trying to make peace with his family and reconcile their differences. Nathan was crushed when he did not receive a response from his family. He understood that he would never have the family he yearned for despite his success or his efforts to make it right. Nathan has not let this realization come between his goals. He will continue to be successful in his education and we know that his hard work will pay off. He has empowered himself through education and he has learned to lean on those around him have demonstrated their care for him. Nathan knows that he may not have his family behind him, but he knows that everyone at YouthHope is there to support and encourage him. We cannot wait to see what the future holds for this bright young man and we are privileged to share this time with him. We hope many of the other youth we serve will learn from Nathan and see their potential, and go after their dreams despite their struggles.

August 31, 2011
Continuing on with our theme of empowering through education we will tell you about a young man named Jim. This young man has admitted to being a mischievous youth but he is ready to move on with his life. He is in the midst of building his father’s trust back and the road has not easy for either of them. Jim is 18 so legally his father does not have to do anything for Jim. Many of us know that even at 18 we need help still and we are not quite ready to be set out into the world on our own. However, because Jim was rebellious as a teenager his father is done giving him chances and he has kicked Jim out of the house so Jim will be forced to take responsibility of his life and his actions. Jim soon realized that his father was serious this time about Jim taking responsibility for his actions. He realized if he did not do something to prove he was done acting out he would always be homeless. Jim decided he wanted to finish high school with his diploma and he came to YouthHope asking for help getting back into Redlands High School. He has since started school and will be graduating this school year, but he is still on the streets. Many nights Jim spends the evening wandering the streets so he doesn’t actually have to lie down and sleep in the street. Every day Jim walks 6 miles to where his father lives to shower in the faucet in the front yard. He begs his father to let him back in, but his father denies every time. This is a difficult place for a parent to be as he is trying to teach his son tough love while he sees his son struggle each day. Jim’s father will have to see his son finish school and stay out of trouble before he can begin to trust him again. We know that not all parents can administer tough love, and we know that some parents might think this is too harsh of a punishment. However, this kind of tough love from his father made Jim realize he needed to get his act together. It was only when he realized his father was
serious this time around that Jim took responsibility for his life and began to make changes. We know this method does not work for every youth as each youth is different from the next. We have to really get to know the personality of each of our youth to figure out what parenting techniques will best work for each one. There is not a one-size-fits-all remedy for misbehaving children and we cannot expect a single remedy to solve the youth homeless crisis. Each youth needs to be looked at as an individual with their own unique personality traits. It is only when we start realizing how unique and special each youth is that we can begin to help them and ultimately end the cycle of youth homelessness.

September 7, 2011
YouthHope recently had the opportunity to take youth on a unique field trip. The Agency Boardshop in Yucaipa arranged for YouthHope to go to an underground skate park where some of our kids could learn how to skateboard. We had 12 youth participate in the field trip with only 2 of the youth having any skateboarding experience. YouthHope brought a skateboard and the kids shared that one skateboard for the first hour of the field trip. Then the owner of The Agency Boardshop, Shannon, brought 4 skateboards and some pizzas. The kids were elated. They all took turns riding the skateboards and learning techniques. As we were leaving the park Shannon gave one young man a very special gift, his very first skateboard. This skateboard did not have any wheels on it yet and it had been used but the young man did not care. It was like Christmas morning to him because it was the first skateboard he had ever owned. We are gathering all of the pieces necessary to make the skateboard functional for the young man and he will soon be able to ride his new gift all around town. When the field trip was over and we were driving home the kids were talking excitedly about the experience they had all just shared. All of them had grins swept across their face and they were proclaiming how cool the skate park was because it was just like their own secret place where they could be kids and ride around on skateboards.

On any other night of the week the youth would be out on the streets looking for a distraction from their lives. They would wind up participating in activities that are not good for them. On this night the kids were too exhausted to do anything but go to bed. They had worked so hard skateboarding that they no longer needed a distraction and were finally able to get one night of good rest. It is healthy activities like skateboarding and the support of kind individuals that will save the homeless youth. They need to know they are cared for and they need safe places to just be kids.

September 20, 2011
When we stop and take stock of what we have accomplished in the time since we began YouthHope we realize that we are still working hard to achieve goals for the same youth we started with. One young man has been attending YouthHope meals since he was 15 and now at the age of 17 he desperately wants an education.

This young man, “Joe”, is now a ward of the state but he spends his nights on the streets because he cannot bear to live in the boy’s home that was assigned to him. Joe was raised by his aunt because his mother is an addict and his father is not in the picture. Growing up Joe was happy living with his aunt and he remembers happy times with his cousins. When Joe turned 13 he began to realize that things were not has good as they seemed. He began to understand that he was a guest in his aunt’s house and he was beginning to over-stay his visit. His aunt began to tell Joe how much of a burden he was to her, and so Joe decided that it was better to live on the streets than listen to the negative words spoken by the one person he thought had loved him. He ran away from home and began his life on the streets. While living on the streets he realized his aunt had never loved him like he loved her, and she never would. He could never go home. He was officially handed over as a ward of the state at 15. He spent time in a boy’s home that he hated so he ran from it. When he was picked up by the authorities he was sent to a different boy’s home that he liked. However, he soon realized that many of the boys at the home were involved in methamphetamines and he wanted no part of it so he ran again. He has been sleeping on the streets since that time.

Now Joe is seeking an education so that he can become a civil engineer or work in the animal health field. He wants an education so badly that he is willing to be picked up by the authorities for being a runaway just so he can attend meetings with the school district. Time and time again we face road blocks with the school districts because of Joe’s status as a runaway. They have to follow procedure and call the authorities to enroll Joe, and YouthHope has to stick with our promise to Joe that we will not hand him over to the authorities. He understands the predicament everyone is in but he trusts us to do what is best for him. Just today we found out we may have a lead for an online program that Joe can enroll in. He will be able to obtain his high school diploma through this program which is something he has been dreaming of for quite some time. We pray that this new lead will work out for Joe so he can begin living his dream and start looking forward to the future.

October 6, 2011
We have talked about our youth going through phases before and we are still seeing all of the phases these youth go through. We believed that we had gotten through the phase of hard drug use amongst the youth we serve. However, we are now seeing a rise in heroin use once again. Most of the youth we serve look very poorly on heroin use. They have come to realize that when a friend begins using needles to insert heroin into their bodies, their lives are quickly approaching an end. Many of the youth we are serving who come to meals on a regular basis and who are trying to change their lives around are afraid of the effects of heroin. However, the youth who are using heroin say they use because they are afraid of life without the effects of heroin.

A young man who was brave enough to admit his fears of stopping heroin has recently opened his heart to us and has asked for help. “Tom” confessed that he was afraid to stop using heroin because he has been using it for so long he does not know what life would be like without it. He knows he has hurt the people closest to him and his guilt is eating him alive. This guilt is what is keeping him on the drug. Tom says that his guilt is all encompassing and he would rather not wake up every day to face his guilt. He takes heroin in the hope that one day it will kill him and he will not ever have to face his guilt. Tom’s guilt stems from having hurt his mother, grandmother, and grandfather who have tried to take care of him. Tom admits that his drug abuse started when he was 15 years old and it started with Marijuana. He let himself be peer pressured into trying the drug and he has been letting himself get peer pressured into everything else that has occurred. His mother was willing to get him whatever help he needed when his problems first began, so were his grandparents. They were there to support him and love him, but it was up to Tom to fight for himself. His mother had invested her whole self into helping her son, and Tom knew it. He knew his mother would have done anything to help him get better and he could not bear to see what his drug use was doing to her so he decided to live on the streets.

Tom’s father was never in the picture because he was also an addict. His father had moved across the country so Tom had nothing but positive influences surrounding him when he started using drugs. This was a fact that Tom’s grandmother pointed out to him a couple of evenings ago. Tom was sitting in Heidi’s van sharing his life story, weeping, and begging for help when he decided he needed to call his family. When he called to tell his grandmother that he loved her and that he was okay, she was nothing but loving and encouraging. She told Tom that he needed to fight to save his life, that he could not let his father’s mistakes determine his future.
His grandmother shared that Tom had a good example of what a good man looked like provided by his grandfather who had passed. She said that she believed with all of her heart that Tom could be a good man too if he was willing to fight for it. He knew he could no longer say he was sorry to them because he had said those words so many times that they had become meaningless. He knew he had to take action and prove that he was sorry.

Tom has taken a big step towards overcoming his addiction by admitting that he needs help. We explained to him that we would support him, encourage him, feed him, and help him into rehab but the biggest effort would have to come from him. He will have to suffer through the debilitating effects of withdrawals and the temptation from his peers. Tom will have to do this alone. He wants to become enter the Salvation Army rehabilitation program but they require addicts to be sober from heroin for one solid week. This week will indeed feel like a lifetime to Tom but our prayer is that he will have the strength to fight. Please pray that he will find the
strength within him and fight for his life.

November 2, 2011
We have a good updated regarding Tom from our last story. Tom has been clean from heroin since we posted his story, and he attended a YouthHope camping trip. He has much more work to do and we are still praying that he will strive to enter the Salvation Army rehabilitation program. Some youth are able to stay clean without assistance, but many need the guidance of a program. We believe Tom would be successful in a rehabilitation program so please keep him in your thoughts as he struggles with this decision.

One of the reasons that Tom believes that he can accomplish sobriety on his own is because he was able to climb a mountain, literally. A couple of weeks ago two of our dedicated volunteers were able to take 11 young men on a camping trip to the High Sierras. The group left the Presbyterian Church at 8:30 in the evening because they were waiting for one young man to get out of class at Valley College. They began their six hour journey to the Sierras with the “equipment” necessary for a weekend of camping. The “equipment” consisted of school backpacks with sleeping bags and other accessories tied to them. The boys carried other accessories
in their arms. These consisted of ice chests, a flat of eggs, duffel bags, and fishing poles.

Because many of the youth on this camping trip are homeless they did not have the proper backpacking equipment, and YouthHope has not been able to obtain this kind of equipment. So we made do with what was available. The boys couldn’t be happier about the adventure even though they had no idea what was ahead of them. They arrived at the base of the mountain at 12:30 am which was at altitude of 5,000 feet. They began their journey up, and finally stopped to set up camp at 5:30 am and woke to start again at 8:30 am. They finally arrived at their destination having hiked a 5,000 foot incline overnight. They made camp again and began their exploring. They did not ever complain or fight amongst each other despite the fact that they had just hiked a very large mountain in the most unconventional way. They enjoyed spending time with one another, and fishing, and hiking, and rock climbing. The trip taught the boys how to get along with others and work together to accomplish goals. It taught them that they could accomplish their biggest goals if they put their heart and soul into achieving them.

The volunteers who accompanied the boys were pleasantly surprised at how much the youth enjoyed the outing. They were saddened that the couldn’t take more as there were more young men who wanted to attend but more volunteers were needed. The volunteers both commented how the group went up the mountain as a bunch of boys and came down the mountain as a group of good men. We hope to continue having many more outings like this one
so we can continue to instill hope in the youth.

December 1, 2011
Tom continues to progress. He remains clean from heroin and he is doing his best to get by and get off the streets. On Sunday we had a work day at the First Presbyterian Church where we feed the youth. Tom arrived at 7:15 am and did not stop working until 1:00 pm. He then went on to do some yard work for someone who was in need of yard services. Although he chose not to enter the Salvation Army program he is achieving success on his own. We hope he continues to progress and we hope that with the support of YouthHope he will exit street life for good.

Another young man that we have become very attached to is Joe. He was the underage youth who wanted to desperately to go to school. We spoke of him in our September 20th story.YouthHope was able to get Joe enrolled in a charter school with the help of supportive volunteers. The struggle has not stopped there though. Joe is still living on the streets and trying to become a successful student. His success has been hindered because of the thievery that is involved with street life. All of Joe’s school work and school supplies have been stolen twice which has set him back in his course work. He is growing tired of fighting so hard and he is tired of being in constant mental pain.

A couple of weeks ago Joe came to us with a large scab on his forearm. We asked what happened because we knew that Joe had a history of cutting and we hoped he was not heading down that road again. Joe explained that he had taken an eraser to his arm to erase the scars. He said he was tired of the pain and it was time to erase the pain that had caused him to cut. Joe has been fighting through severe mental pain so that he can achieve his goal of graduating and becoming a civil engineer. He needs extensive counseling to heal him but counseling is unavailable to him because he is underage and a ward of the state. Joe explained to Heidi that he did not deserve to be without a home and without access to education or counseling. Joe is not a bad kid, he has just had a rough life and he is trying to make the best of his situation. He needs continued support so he does not lose faith in his abilities. We will continue to offer him hope so that one day he will also exit street life and become a self-sufficient adult.

One way we offer support to these youth is to be there through the holidays and provide a bit of holiday cheer. YouthHope was able to offer the youth several wonderful Thanksgiving meals because of the outpouring of care from the community. Even though the youth would much rather be at home with their families YouthHope tried to make Thanksgiving special for them. We had volunteers bring all of the kid’s favorite desserts, appetizers, and main dishes. And the volunteers delivered more than we could have imagined. They spent hours making homemade dishes like cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, cookies, stuffing, and green bean casserole. Every item that the youth wished for was present at the Thanksgiving dinner. This may seem like a small way to offer support, but it was huge. The youth are hurting deeply because of the holidays. They want to be with their families and because their families are too poor or simply do not want the youth the youth could not be with them. The YouthHope Thanksgiving dinner was their last resort but we wanted them to know that they were our first choice.

Thank you to all of the volunteers who cooked, served, decorated, and visited with the youth. Thank you to the First Presbyterian Church for graciously opening up their facilities for the meal. Thank you to Yucaipa Christian Church for providing a Thanksgiving meal on Wednesday and for making the youth feel special two days in a row. It is because of all of you that the youth will one day realize their potential and become confident, self-sufficient adults.

December 29, 2011
Christmas is a time of family and friends and presents and warmth from the fire. For the youth we serve it can be a depressing time as they are on the streets with nowhere to go. That is why YouthHope started the Shoes for Christmas, Hope for a Lifetime program where each youth is given their dream shoe for Christmas. The program continues to be a great success and the youth are given hope that there is a community who cares for them. This is the greatest gift that comes from the program, the gift of care. Many of the youth want to know that there are people who care for them and love them and who support them.

Before the Christmas party the youth expressed their deep sadness over the holiday season. There were several youth who were contemplating suicide because they could not bear to spend the holiday without their families. Tom, who we spoke of in the December 1 entry, remains clean from heroin. He faced his fear of going to jail and went to court for a traffic ticket that he needed cleared from his record. Tom did not have to go to jail and he walked out of court with a clean record. This meant that he could now apply for jobs and try to get on his feet. These accomplishments were not enough for Tom though. He wanted his family to see that he was trying to turn his life around and he wanted to go home for Christmas.

Another young man that we are just getting to know expressed his desire to be home with family. This young man, “Johnny”, was a star athlete in high school but his world started crumbling when his parents divorced. He no longer competed athletically and he could not get along with his new step mother. His mother then became ill with cancer which broke Johnny’s spirit completely. His mother had been a well-known dietician when she was diagnosed and she lost everything trying to survive the cancer. Johnny felt it was best to get out of the way so his mother could heal and so he wouldn’t be a burden to his father. All he wanted was for his family to be together again and for his mother to be better. He did not want to think of what Christmas would be like on the streets.

“Shawn” was also beginning to feel a deep depression over the holiday. He had been sent to Redlands for a rehabilitation program but he wanted to go home for Christmas. Shawn grew up in Florida with his adoptive parents who loved him dearly. They felt the rehab program in the Redlands area was the best thing for him but Shawn just felt he was abandoned by his family. He worked hard in the program and felt he deserved the opportunity to go home. Shawn had even made contact with his birth mother who lived on the East Coast and he thought there was no better time for a visit then at Christmas. He did not think a visit was possible because of the limitations of the program and he spent many nights contemplating ending it all. Everything changed for these young men on Christmas because they were given a very special gift.

Tom’s grandmother came into town and saw that he had been working diligently to overcome his demons. She filled Tom’s mother in on the progress and Tom was allowed to come home to spend Christmas with his family. Johnny had been attending YouthHope meals just trying to survive the chaos that his life had become. He did not know that his mother had listed him on the missing person’s list. Somehow she found out about YouthHope and made a call to Heidi where we confirmed that her son was with us. Johnny’s mother made sure that he was home with her for Christmas. Shawn had the idea to call his adoptive parents and ask if he could go visit his birth mother for Christmas. He explained that he had been working hard in the rehab program and that he did not want to spend Christmas away from family. His parents agreed and they sent him to the East Coast to spend the holiday with his mother.

These young men had all been living on the edge, debating about ending their lives because they could not bear to be alone. They felt unloved and just wanted a second chance. Their families gave them that second chance and they were all given the gift of supportive families this Christmas. They will now be able to go after their goals with a new found confidence because they know that if they work hard their families will be there to support them. It is not often that we get to see parents taking an active role in the lives of the kids we work with. When we do get the opportunity to see it, it is as if their love for their children could move mountains. Thank you to all of those who made Christmas special for those youth who do not have the gift of supportive families. Your help with our Christmas Shoes program demonstrated to the youth that people do care and that they are being given a second chance.