I could hear them long before they actually entered our office. Loud, full of life, and bursting with energy, Faith and Nai-Nai are regulars at UPI, always coming down after class to visit and chat about school and their latest adventures. They are always welcome distractions from work, making me laugh and infusing my day with light-hearted banter and jokes. Last week, Kelly and I were working on UPI’s child sponsorship program, so our desks were covered with photographs of youths from Malawi. The girls began to ask questions about the kids, and they were surprised to learn of the many challenges facing youth in Malawi, with 75% of them unable to attend secondary school.
Sure, the conversation was great. We could feel good about promoting the program and increasing awareness, even if it was only 2 high schoolers.
But then it got interesting.
Faith picked up the photo of a young boy named Orrisen and asked Kelly how much it would cost to sponsor him. They left with the photo in hand, and we moved on to other tasks, not giving too much thought to the encounter.
Fast forward to one week later, when I was visiting UrbanPromise’s high school. Nai-Nai hefts a piggy bank onto the desk, stuffed with dollars and change. After their visit to our office weeks ago, they approached their classmates, explained Orrisen’s situation and how their support could provide him with meals, Bible lessons, and academic tutoring. In just a week, they raised more than enough to meet their first month’s responsibility as sponsors.
Sometimes, in the midst of our desires to do big things, we forget about the power that lies in small acts. In our fervor to draw in large donations, we overlook those with smaller pockets. But, when we come together, sharing that which we can offer as individuals, that’s when we can effect change.
Loose change doesn’t look like much, but when it’s combined with passion and enthusiasm, those pennies and dimes multiply.
A child in Malawi will go to program because of it.
A group of high schoolers, undaunted by age or finances, gave what they had and changed a life.
Today seven high school students arrived in Honduras from the Lower East Side of New York City. They are part of a short-term cross-cultural experience called “Global Girls.” Global Girls is a program connected with the Educational Alliance. Founded in 1899, the Educational Alliance was set up to help Jewish immigrants get settled in the United States. The mission has now broadened to help youth of all races, cultures, and religions break the debilitating cycle of poverty through educational and culturally based programming.
“Why did you return with your group to Copan?” I asked their director last night at the introductory dinner.
“We had a great experience last year,” shared Amaryalis, a 7-year veteran of the organization. “The staff is exceptional—so welcoming. The diversity of programs is amazing. Our girls loved the opportunity to participate in the summer camps and after-school programs, and they really enjoyed working with other teens.”
Global Girls enables impoverished girls to travel outside of their own community. “We believe girls grow in their worldview and outlook on the world when they see other cultures,” added Amaryalis.
For the next two weeks UrbanPromise Honduras will host these young women as they work and learn about Honduran culture. These young women will return to New York City changed, thanks to their experience with the UP community in Copan, Honduras. They will move closer to understanding what it means to be a global citizen…not just a global girl.
Consider bringing your youth group or church group to UP Honduras. Blair would love to talk with you about it! Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
Energy was running high this morning at Camp Hope—UrbanPromise Honduras’ oldest summer camp. After all, it was Friday—Amazing Race Day!
Children were divided into teams. With precious seconds ticking, each team made their way through obstacle courses, glided along slip and slides, ate cold oatmeal, and grunted out pushups—all for the bragging rights of winning the 2012 Camp Race.
“The kids are really into it today,” smiled Kayla, a 20-year-old summer counselor from Honduras. “They are just having too much fun.”
Most children in under-resourced communities do not have the opportunity to attend summer camps. Well run summer camps are for children with monetary means—families who can afford to get their children out of hot cities during the summer months.
Twenty-five years ago UrbanPromise made a commitment to run quality summer camps for children who would otherwise be roaming the streets looking for trouble. Whether it’s singing the “Funky Chicken,” watching a skit about Jonah and the Whale, or dodging water balloons for the Amazing Race, children are having fun, learning, and experiencing love through young men and women who are passionate about their faith.
Today, children in the slums of Malawi, the inner cities of Camden, Wilmington, and Trenton, the barrio of Little Havana, in downtown Toronto, and on the east side of Vancouver are all enjoying camp because of faithful friends like you. Thanks!
Iglesia Bautista Roca Eterna is a small cinderblock church imbedded in the side of hill just outside of Copan Ruinas. Each week a tiny band of committed worshippers fill the empty sanctuary to sing songs, read the Scriptures, and hear an inspirational sermon from Pastor Nahum. Up until six months ago, the church remained empty most of the week.
“Pastor Nahum told me he’d been praying for a children’s program for the past 15 years,” shared Blair Quinius, the Executive Director and founder of UrbanPromise Honduras. “Fifteen years ago his wife abandoned him with three kids under the age of 5. Since then he’s always had a burden for single parents.”
Finally his prayers were answered when UrbanPromise Honduras entered into a partnership with Pastor Nahum and his congregation. To accommodate a new after-school program and summer camp, Pastor Nahum added two classrooms and a bathroom to the facility. Classrooms are used 5 days a week for tutoring, reading classes, Bible study, and other activities. Last night it hosted the 1st Annual UrbanPromise Spelling Bee—a first for the children of Copan.
The new children’s program is appropriately called Camp Agape—a place where neighborhood kids can come and experience loving counselors, creative programs, and additional academic support.
“I’m just amazed at Pastor Nahum’s faithfulness,” added Blair. “To pray for 15 years is an amazing testimony of perseverance. There are times when I give up after a few days if I don’t get what I pray for.”
A few years ago a book was published called The Pact. It chronicled the story of three friends who grew up in the inner city of Newark, NJ. Early in their lives, these young men made a "pact" to hold one another accountable, to inspire one another, to challenge one another, and to keep each other out of trouble. Despite amazing odds, the three young men all made it through college and are successful. The book’s theme is powerful: Friendships can make a more significant impact than families for kids growing up in under-resourced communities.
This morning I met "The Boys of Promise" in Miami. Justin, Pookie, and Jerry all grew up in UrbanPromise Camden. Summer campers. Streetleaders. Jerry graduated from our high school. They are all in college. They all want to get their Master's degrees. Most importantly, they are running the summer camp of 130 children in Little Havana, Miami—and doing a remarkable job.
"We keep each other focused," shared Justin. "We inspire each other."
Never did I imagine that I would see the day when UP Camden alumni would travel to new cities to birth new programs. But that's what is happening. Young leaders from Camden are spreading their wings, embracing this vision of promise, and impacting new communities around the world.
If you ever doubt that your investment over the years has made a difference, just remember “The Boys of Promise” in Miami.