Summer has arrived – full of fog and cool breezes; that’s summer in the city. My desire to seek heat is often in full effect this time of year. My answer to the fog is to put my head down and work, work, work. Don’t bother it and it won’t bother you, right? Just hang on September is coming.
We recently had two celebrations that have left me marveling at the power of transformative grace. In April we had our annual Sunset by the Bay Gala. Despite having our lowest turnout, it was a memorable event. The theme of the evening was “Mission Possible” and indeed it was true from beginning to end. The spirit in the room was sweet. I don’t even know how to describe it exactly, but it was palpable. The staff and kids were excited in a way that I have not seen before. They were confident and engaged. The guests were also interested and interactive in a new way.
Deputy Police Chief Denise Schmitt started off the program with a home run, speaking first-hand about the success of our work and the smart investment that SYS is. With a 97% non-recidivism rate for youth and young adults in our Case Management program we are saving tax payers money everyday. When Brandy, one of our young moms spoke there were few dry eyes in the crowd. She told of the day years ago when she was in elementary school and we helped her get free from her drug addicted, abusive mother. She then continued to talk about the support that she now receives as a mother of four year old twin boys. Her story of transformation and grace is powerful. When she talks about forgiving her mom for all the ways she failed her so that she can be free to move forward, it’s hard not to feel devastated and elated at once. Brandy continues to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles each day for the sake of her boys. I recently came across a note that Brandy wrote to me several years ago saying that we saved her life and how grateful she is that we were there when she needed us as a little girl and continue to be there today.
When the Upstar Records crew hit the stage it was amazing! They put on a great show and left the audience wanting more. They were energetic, excited and proud! What a joy to watch them perform their song, “Mission Possible” and feel the power of art in their lives. In the end we had close to 100% participation in our Fund-a-Need giving opportunity! It was a powerful night and a financial success too!
Last week we had a record release party for our new album “Rise”. This album has 21 original songs, written, performed and recorded by the youth at Upstar Records with support from adult staff and volunteers. The youth center was filled to capacity all night as people came to eat pizza and cupcakes and support their friends. We had 16 scheduled performances and a few spontaneous ones. The cheering, singing, grooving and laughter were joy to my soul.
The transformative power of unconditional love and grace will never cease to amaze me. It is so simple on paper really — love and forgive. In life it is a much more difficult undertaking which is why it is rare. It turns out that youth really do blossom when they feel safe and loved. We see this every single day. It’s not fast, but it is real.
At the gala, Joel, our Digital Arts Program Co-Coordinator, spoke about the vital role positive and invested adults play in the lives of youth. Who can you point to in your life that helped you be who you are today? I’ve never met a thriving adult that can’t point to at least one person that believed in them, challenged them, encouraged them and loved them. Each day we get the blessing and the heartache of being the invested and loving adults in the lives of these young people.
Healing takes a long time and feeling safe is a process. It can’t be rushed, it can’t be planned or programmed, it isn’t able to be legislated, it can’t be demanded. It happens in small, cautious steps one day at a time. Who will slow down and take the slow road with the broken hearted? Who will answer the call that asks us to show up every day to hold the hand of those who don’t believe they have value? This is the call we’ve been answering for over twenty years and thanks to you we will continue to answer that call. We will be the people who believe in healing when it isn’t able to be seen or felt. We won’t give up or quit.
Thank you for helping us to answer this high calling. Thank you for giving generously so that we can bind the broken hearted and instill value in those who believe they have none. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to watch young people jump on a stage, mic in hand and begin to share their journey through story, song, or video with others. There aren’t words to express our humble thanks, you are our partner and we value you.
As we journey through the foggy summer into the sunny autumn we will be singing, dancing, weeping and laughing as we encourage these young people to “Rise” and take a new place in this world as beloved.