I know I haven't posted in awhile on my blog but I've had a few requests from some of you out there to let you know what's going on. Let me tell you...I have a doozie of a story. This story goes back to spring of 2011. A lot of the information that I'm speaking about in 2013 was gotten by talking with the student, his admissions officer, mentor and college coach.
There was this young man who started coming to one of our basketball programs. This young man is a quiet kid and very unassuming. I started asking other young men I knew about this guy and they all had nothing but positive things to say about this young man. We started to become acquainted and throughout the time we started to develop a relationship. I found out that this young man wanted to attend a very prestigious private college which is located near Pittsburgh. Understanding the school he went to, I didn't have much hope in this young man attending this school. I actually took him to tours of other schools but he kept repeating that he was going to attend this other school. Little did I know but he had been working with a great North Side mentor who was walking him through the process. His grades were decent but his SAT scores weren't close to what the school accepted. Despite this downfall he didn't let this deter him. He kept writing letters to admissions and to the basketball coach saying that he was going to attend this school. The perseverance of this young man was the strongest I've seen in 5 years of doing this. Through that perseverance and several interviews the college decided to let him attend. I was called in to help him secure his financial aid and even worked with the school as they had little to no experience with the Pittsburgh Promise which was a majority of his financial aid. The young man's dream and his mom's desire were working out.
Throughout the summer of 2012 I got to know this young man better as he worked in our summer day camp and also played on our basketball teams. Our education director took a chance on him in letting him work in the summer day camp as normally she only hires students who've completed their freshman year of college. This young man didn't disappoint and he made my recommendation of him to work the camp a success. It was finally time for this young man to enter college....
This is where the story starts getting even more interesting. Have you ever had a dream where the reality doesn't match the dream? This is what happened to this young man. As I said before this is one of the top private colleges in America. They compete for Engineering and Computer Science students from MIT and Rochester Institute of Technology. Their niche is they cater to students who want a Christian worldview.
A little back story on this young man is he was a good student in high school with an approx. GPA of 3.3. His integrity was far beyond any I've seen of all the youth I've worked with on the North Side as witnessed from a Scholarship program he attended while in high school and his summer day camp experience. He also was able to receive a stipend from the scholarship program he attended which most students used for their proms yet he decided to save it for college as he knew the opportunity that was in front of him. The downside of all these great things was the fact that the high school he attended was at least in the bottom 5% of high schools in the country if not 1%. Despite all his efforts throughout high school he was going to be behind everyone else just because of the circumstances he was born into and the zip code he lived in.
Fast forward to the fall of 2012 and the beginning of his freshman year. I was attending a church near the college and I knew a couple who are professors at the university. As this is a small university I asked them if they could keep an eye on this young man and his attitude and progress. A few days later a received a phone call that wasn't great news. I found out that the classes this student enrolled into were probably the wrong ones and to multiply the problems I found out that he wasn't doing well. Myself and his basketball coach from UIF decided drive up there and visit him. We arranged to meet with admissions, my professor friends and the basketball coach. My professor friends helped rearrange his schedule so he was in the proper courses that were the proper gradient for him. They, along with the basketball coach spoke with each of their professors and got buy in that they were going to do all that they could do to bring this young man up to the standards held by the College. This was good news. We then were able to meet with this young man and the coach.
(As an aside, while the myself and the UIF coach were waiting in admissions we were watching some of the other prospective students. You need to understand that both of us live and work in the hood. We glance over and see a prospective student, he is wearing penny loafers, khakis and argyles. We feel as though we were transported back to 1982.)
This young man walked up to us and we both saw from the look on his face that all wasn't well. He had never been required to do homework in his past previous years in college and he had a load of it. He also spoke about not being able to sleep at night. From my previous relationships with him I knew that he loved taking afternoon naps yet these naps were for 2-3 hours. I convinced him that a nap was 30 minutes and to limit the nap times. We then walked into the lunchroom which happened to be packed with students. Myself and both coaches sat down with this young man. We listened to his frustrations. As we listened, it just sounded like a young man who was away from home for the first time and in a totally different environment. The college coach than came up with a brilliant observation. He told the young student to look around the room and tell him what he saw. This young man told us that he saw a bunch of privileged white kids who were all doing well. The coach called bs on this and then let him know about how most of the students were receiving their first B's, C's, D's and possibly F's for the first time in their life. He then told him to get to know some of them and he will find out how looks can be deceiving. I then realized that he was also going through the same thing, he was not the best at what he was doing for the first time in his life and he needed to once again rise to the top. After hearing this and he kind of smiled and we knew that he was going to live for another day.
As the coach and I were leaving the college, we both knew that this young man had a rough road in front of him. Racially he was out of place with about 2% of the people who looked like him. Economically, I can't imagine any other student being lower although I don't have the data for this but I'm pretty sure. He was in for a tough year. Throughout the year I stayed in touch with him. I made sure that he had rides home over the holidays and we had lunch. I was able to visit him and drop of gifts during 3 of his games and was able to get some of his friends to attend. He finished his first semester over a 2.0 and was able to avoid academic probation. Things were looking up.
This young man finished his basketball season and then focused all his attention onto his school work. During this time he contacted me concerning working at the Summer Day Camp this year. (Of course) We were able to take a group of our young man to this particular college for a tour and this young man gave a moving Q&A to these young men he's grown up with.
Today I was able to pick up this young man after finishing his 1st year in college. He is doing well and his GPA is in a very respectable range. He knows what it takes to be a student now and is ready to move onward and upward next year.
This is taken from an email I wrote to our staff the other day and I've been told several times that I should blog this, so.....
"Like most of you, last night (6/5/12) I barely made it up the steps into my home. I don’t remember the the last time I was so worn out and tired. My muscles were tightening up and I had a cramp in my hand that wouldn’t go away. (That’s what I get for not keeping myself hydrated yesterday.) I was questioning why we do what we do and with so many events over the past month and a half I’ve been getting physically and mentally tired. I’ve been praying for the Lord to give me strength and to renew my soul as I’ve felt myself losing my resolve and call to the NorthSide. I know that the Lord called me to this place and he hasn’t given me any new calling. (Which means if I want to stay in his will then I must “Stay the course.”) In other words I was tired and the enemy knew it!
Now, let me tell you what the Lord has done in the last 24 hours to renew my soul. These 3 things that have happened in the last 24 hours are why we do what we do! Without each one of us working together I’m not sure how this would’ve worked out. As I think of each of the stories I’m able ready to write, I can’t help but think of each and every one of your hands helping in making these things work. I’m just a recipient of seeing this last part and thus I have a responsibility to share this success with the rest of you to let you know that what you are doing is changing lives!
Yesterday afternoon, Jeff Steele took Jeremy to a job interview with Pat Cady’s company, CIS. Jeff worked with Jeremy to prepare him for the interview. He practiced with on potential questions, made sure that Jeremy looked the interviewer in the eye and made sure that he knew how to shake hands. He also let him know what type of questions to ask the interviewer should the opportunity arise. Needless to say Jeremy got the job! (There’s so much more to this story but this is a God send for Jeremy) This job is a career opportunity for Jeremy. Tom Kreider introduced Pat Cady to me earlier in the year. One other thing happened that opened started to renew my soul. I spoke with Jeff Steele last night as he was excited to be part of this and he told me that Jerome wasn’t sure what he was going to do prior to this opportunity as he didn’t want to go to College (Jeremy has said this to me since he was a sophomore in high school) and Jeremy felt since nothing was on the horizon that he would settle for going to ACAC and if that didn’t pan out than he may have to try the 6th option which is turning to the streets to make a living. Because Jeff Steele was able to help out with this process, I was able to hear personally what is going on in some of these students mind as they start to navigate their futures. I couldn’t help but think of all the people who’ve been involved, just in my mind in Jeremy’s life at UIF. Forgive me if I miss a few kudo’s but I think of Nehemiah, Jeff H., Seth, Pastor Ed, Ryan M., Jason B. and Tom Kreider. I know more of you were very indirectly involved with him as well. Thank you, thank you and thank you!
Next thing happened this morning. Last week one of our old students posted what I saw as a call for help on facebook. I called him last week and we shared a meal so he could share with me what’s going on. Basically he told me that he was doing things to earn money that I didn’t want to know about. I was able to share with him the consequences of those actions and the paths he was heading down. I was also able to get him to look at what at he has to show for it. (basically he has nothing to show for all the money he’s made over the last 2 years other than a bigger belly) We left our meal and let him know that once he’s ready, let me know and I will help get him “up to speed” in life and we can reverse his downward spiral and he become the man who God intended for him to be. He left me saying he wasn’t quite ready but he’ll let me know. This morning I received the text letting me know that he’s ready to move forward in life. I’ve known this young man for 4 years now and I actually cut him off and for him to let me know that he’s ready to move forward on his own accord and to initiate the move is huge! I can’t help but think of others who’ve been instrumental in this young man’s life, Pastor Ed, Seth, Nehemiah, Jeff H., Jason B., Ms. Gayle, Gregg Friday and I’m sure many others.
Right after that text I received another text from Steven. I’ve been hearing from some of the “guys” out there that Steven wanted to come and see me about helping him enroll in ACAC (Community College). I told them to give him my number and to have Steven call me. I didn’t pursue Steven. As some of you may know, many of us have pursued Steven only to be disappointed on many levels. Tuesday afternoon I ran into Steven and he told me that he needed help. I gave him my number and told him to call me and we’ll get together. I’ve had this happen to me many times and anymore I just forgot about it. As I said earlier, pursuing Tevin has usually been wasted effort. Well….this morning Steven texted me about getting together to work on getting him enrolled at ACAC in the fall. I believe him this time as he’s initiated this. Please pray for Steven as he’s been part of UIF for many years and many of you have been involved with him. I can’t help but think about Tammy, Pastor Ed, Josh, Ruthann, Seth, Nehemiah, Jeff H., and I’m sure so many other of you have been part of Tevin at one point or another.(Just thought I'd let you know...Steven showed up for his appointment and we completed his Financial Aid papers to attend Community College!)
This why we do what we do! Last night we cast a net! Some of these will make it to our outreach programs and then they will become part of our team or discipleship programs and finally they will come to Ruthann or myself and we will help them navigate the Option program. We are making disciples! I spoke with Jeff Steele last night and I told him about an open gym and it would be Urban Impact rules. I asked him what that meant and he immediately said, “Create a Loving Atmosphere”. I then asked him if he’d go over it with the guys before we play basketball tomorrow and he said “Sure!” With that being said, I now know that we are making disciples and with that knowledge God has refreshed my soul!
To all my friends, family and supporters thank you also.
2011 has brought many challenges and many rewards. This was the first year of college for the young men I mentor and although they all made it through the first semester, chinks were starting to show in their armor. I was able to open up talks with Penn State in regards to preparing students to enter the University despite the circumstances they've grown up in and the Chancellor has gotten the staff at Penn State New Kensington to believe in making diversity with successful graduates a reality. We continued our 3rd year of high school basketball teams and this year our boys played in the championship game. It was a heartbreaker as Mookie made a half court shot that was ruled ineligible in overtime due to the clock running out. I was proud of how well our boys took the loss despite the controversy.
During this period I started helping seniors fill out their applications for financial aid. I've sort of become an expert at this. I helped at least 20 students and parents fill out their FAFSA’s this year. This is another great way for me to meet parents who I've never met. It's great to hear how appreciative they are for our programs and the time we are willing to spend with the youth.
Spring came and with it baseball. This year we had 5 teams playing and I supervised the 9-10 year olds or the "Minors". We actually played in the championship game which was a first. Baseball has been a great way to meet the parents of some of our kids. Usually by the 6th grade parents become less engaged in the activities of their kids so you don't necessarily see them.
The college semester ended during this time and I had about 9 boys who were coming home for the summer and they were calling or emailing asking about summer jobs. I didn't know what to do other than pray that doors would be opened for these young men and women. As I wrote in an earlier post, I was able to find interns or jobs for every one of these as well as others who started hearing the "Chad" could find a job for them. Thanks goes to Urban Impact, UIF Summer Day Camp and Au Bon Pain for taking a chance on these young men and women. Over the few years I've been here, I've heard war stories about how the youth will disappoint you as they go into the workforce. I experienced quite the opposite. Overall these youth performed above expectations and all are being invited back to their respective employers for the holidays and next summer.
I had one young man who've I've known almost the whole time I've been in Pittsburgh who has had difficulties making wise decisions. I was driving home one afternoon and noticed the cops and ambulances on the street. This young man had been shot in the leg and it hit his femur bone. This was the start of a wake up call. When he was able to walk around again I began seeing him making bad decisions once again. His place got raided along with his girlfriends and life became serious. He's come by the house several times and talks about changing his life around and he now has a full time job. Let's hope the call of the streets fade from his hearing.
Fall was a scary time around my neighborhood. For 6 days straight we heard shots fired within several hundred yards of our home. This culminated with a youth being shot in the leg. (different than the one mentioned above) The shooting has quieted down and I pray every day for the safety of the youth that live around me.
I helped more youth than ever enter college or get jobs than ever before. I've had one youth who I hadn't seen in over a year, although I stayed in touch with via facebook and texts call for help over a month ago. This young man left our program angry and said he was never coming back. He called me up and said we needed to meet. I definitely went with lots of suspicion. This young man came to me and said, "Chad, there's nothing out here for me. I need to get serious about life, can you help me?" That's music to my ears. I was able to help secure him a job at Home Depot. I also have gotten to know his mother and have been able to get her agreement and support in helping him turn his life around. We are currently in the process of getting him signed up for school and deciding if it's best to start in the winter semester or next fall.
I'm currently working on an Options Guide to help a mentor walk through with a youth what it takes to get on a "bus".(Career, College, Military, Ministry or Trade School) There's plenty of references to navigate this minefield and consolidating it into one location has proven to be a formidable task although I feel that others who are walking with our youth will find out that there is help but the work needs to be done.
How am I doing personally? I still feel like I've won the lottery as far as my job and career go. I can't believe I'm saying this but I love working with these youth. Some great supporters of mine have connected me with a Doctor and he is working with getting me on a healthier lifestyle. I feel closer to my family than ever before and look forward to spending Christmas with my little brother and his family. I hope there is a woman out there who would be willing to put up with a man like me and I do hope that one day I will be married again.
9 years ago, I decided to follow Jesus and give my life to serving God. I feel like I'm doing just that. I definitely not perfect and I have many blemishes but I try to Love and Honor God with all my might, and Love others even though I fall very short in this area. Everything else falls into place from try to do those two things.
I've never talked about what I'm about to talk about on my blog as I am a bit prideful at times. I live and survive in doing what I'm doing by the generous donations of those who love and know me. Some do a little and some do a lot but all do what they can. Over the years I've been here I've lost a few supporters due to financial reasons and I really need the help this year. People support me and the calling God’s put me on in life please consider giving monthly or by one time donations. If this is something you'd like to know more about please contact me at my work email address. firstname.lastname@example.org or you can always call 412-576-7790
Back in June of 2008 I visited Pittsburgh to make sure that this was what my calling would be over the next several years. During this time Urban Impact Foundation had their annual Football Clinic with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Over 450 youth showed up along with parents on this rainy day. Due to the rain, the clinic was moved from outside to the Oliver basketball gym. We now had all these youth and adults crammed into a muggy gym in the beginning of summer. Larry Foote, middle linebacker for the Steelers was speaking and up at the top of the bleachers a group of high schoolers were acting out. Pastor Ed took the microphone and in a way Pastor Ed is the best at, he called out the ring leader. The youth immediately calmed down and the rest of the event went off and was a success. I remember the youth Pastor Ed called out, his name was Boo-Man. I looked up at him and he was dressed in a white t-shirt and his jeans were hanging halfway down his butt with his boxers showing. The others around him looked and dressed in a similar fashion. Coming from a suburban upbringing I was scared and intimidated by this look although I put on a good face. "What do I have to offer these kids?" resounded through my head. It's over 3 years down the road and guess what? Boo-Man and I have a story.
While I was new to Urban Impact, the athletic director at the time asked if I would take Daryl to our outreach basketball. Of course! Little did I know that Boo-Man was Daryl and he had a history with us. If we kept records on who had been kicked out of our gyms the most, Boo-Man has to hold that record. There are many stories of him circulating through our offices, "the kid who cussed out the supervisor", "the kid who wanted to fight one of our toughest volunteers". Just before it was time to leave for basketball in walks Boo-Man. I'm thinking, "do I really want this gang banger in my car?" From that day on, every Monday Boo-Man would come get a ride from me to outreach throughout what was then his junior year. He didn't talk much but I knew that he enjoyed basketball and played for his high school team. Fast forward to his senior year, I stayed in touch with Boo-Man but he was busy as a lot of high school seniors can be. I thought he had just strayed from our program. During the basketball season I went to watch his team play and this didn't go unnoticed by him. Later in the season, his team played Oliver, their rival and also the team I had a few of the guys who I'd gotten close to were playing for. In the Oliver gym, Boo-Man's team was down one with seconds left. Boo-Man was left wide open to shoot a 3 and took the shot. He made it! That was the shot athletes dream of, last second, in the enemy's camp. Boo-Man was THAT guy on that day. I was excited and I let him know how proud I was of him.
Fast forward to the end of the year. I would see Boo-Man around and I would ask him what he was planning to do for college. Come to find out, he had a decent GPA and could get accepted at most of the colleges. I helped him fill out his financial aid papers and we got them sent in along with a few college applications. He talked like he wanted to go to Penn State but as the clock was ticking he wouldn't return phone calls. Finally in July, about 3 weeks before it's time to enter college I receive a phone call from Boo-Man. Trouble was, I happen to be in Salt Lake City at the time. Boo-Man decided to attend Penn State New Kensington. (Thank God we did an app to Penn State) When I got home from SLC, the first thing I did was find Boo-Man. We listed out the things to do for him to start in 2 weeks and like clockwork he got them done and enrolled on time.
With Boo-Man set up to start school I felt I'd earned the right to ask him a few questions. One of the questions I asked him was what happened when he went silent on me for those couple of months. Someone from his neighborhood told him that he should attend one of Pitt's satellite schools and play basketball for them. He started going down that path as they said money wouldn't be an object. He ended up paying over $400 in different fees to find out that attending Pitt would end up costing him over $10000 more a year. I let him know that we could've found that out without him wasting all that time and money and in the future let me know what's going on in your head and we'll look at all the options and he can make a decision. Since that day Boo-Man has come to me with different decisions he's had to make.
Over the past year, Boo-Man relucantly went to bible studies with his roommates at Penn State. Sometime in the spring, something clicked with him and his whole tone changed. His postings on facebook were no longer vulgar or filled with obscenities and the leader of his bible study told me that he was starting to get engaged. Last May he called me up and told me that he wanted to get baptised. I asked him if he knew what that meant and he was able to tell me why. For different reasons it's been difficult to get him baptised as he doesn't attend a regular church and quite frankly my summer was extremely busy. I knew this fall I needed to make this happen and I had to prioritize this event. His bible study leader up at school made sure that he was ready to be baptised and knew what it meant and this Sunday I'll be attending a baptism class with him for his baptism on October 23rd! We'll be celebrating with all his friends and family his outward expression to follow Jesus.
When I first got here 3 years ago I was told that getting some of the youth jobs would be a thankless task as they would quit without warning or get fired. Last fall I had a company downtown hire 3 of my graduates who are working on preparing for different careers. I then was recently asked if I had anymore people I could send them as those 3 workers were by far the best workers they have in the 9 stores they have downtown. I was able to get 4 more people hired over the last week.
As I was leaving work the other day I spoke with the director of our Summer Camp regarding 7 people who she hired to work as student teachers over an 8 week program. She looked at me and just beemed. She told me that we are only a week into camp and these student teachers are some of the best she's seen in over 15 years. The amazing part is these are students who came up through our program and despite all the hardships they encounter and still are encountering they are changing their lives and the lives of generations that will follow.
I personally was able to hire 2 students to work as student interns this summer in our athletics department and they are doing a fine job.
I'm extremely happy that I'm able to view some of the fruit of all the hard work that has been done with these young people and I feel priviledged to be able to be part of what is happening in their lives.
I don't know if it's to early to recap the year but who cares! It's my blog. This year has been a very defining year for myself and the ministry I'm working in. Let's look at this year in review. January 2010-The year started off with a bang. We had a basketball team that was invited to play in a high school basketball league for small schools. These were mostly Charter schools or very small private schools. It was definitely a great match for the caliber of players we had as our best players were on their high school basketball teams. I also planned an event for MLK Day for our youth that was attended by approximately 100 people. It was a great event as I was able to secure Reverend Robinson to speak to our youth about the times he spent with MLK personally and also talk about the Civil Rights Movement which he was an integral part of and led the Pittsburgh area in its role in the movement. The most touching part for me was sitting with him in the beginning of the night while a slide show was showing pictures of the events that happened back in the early 60's and to have the Rev start telling me the names of everyone in the different photos. He commented on the slide show and how nice it was to have all those pictures as it stirred a lot of memories.
February- We finished up our basketball league and begun planning for the baseball season. I remember feeling very tired and worn out during this period as I was basically working 6 days a week and often into the evenings. We started doing a Thursday night baseball clinic to start getting our boys ready for baseball. Early in the month I was invited to a Men's retreat at Jumonville. I brought four high school seniors with me as I thought it would be a good experience. This weekend coincided with the blizzard that hit Pittsburgh and surrounding areas. We were snowed in up at Jumonville and the boys were stuck with only staying at the retreat. We talked about heading into town for a movie but were unable to due to the blizzard conditions. It was an interesting experiment and next time I will only make the boys attend just a couple of sessions although they were listening as they won some prizes at the end by answering questions about what was gone over during the retreat. It totally surprised me. I begin questioning the boys about their financial aid for next year.
March-Baseball season started with clinics every Saturday and pitching clinics on Thursday nights. I also began putting pressure on the boys I work with who are seniors on starting to figure out and make decisions on what they were going to do next year.
April - Baseball season started. We had a fantastic opening day and the weather permitted us to have a carnival along with some great baseball. We were asked to join the Josh Gibson league which was an answer to prayers for the 11-12 year olds as we were having difficulty getting games for them. The boys loved it and the fact that they had 2 sets of uniforms made them feel awesome. We decided to start an AAU Team for basketball and it gave a way for our high school boys to do something for the spring and early summer. Easter came and I was able to have a bbq and easter egg hunt on my block for the kids in my neighborhood. I was also able to spend a few days at Myrtle Beach golfing.
May-I started to feel the pinch for the boys I'd been mentoring for 1 1/2 years at this time. I realized that they didn't have parents who knew anything about getting them into college and if they were going to attend I was going to have to take some ownership in leading them. We started taking trips to different University's and they boys started making decisions. Baseball was in full swing and took up most of my evenings and afternoons taking care of the field, concessions while running the 2 teams for 11-12 year olds. We had only a few rain delays so games overall went as scheduled.
June- Baseball ended and we had an awesome awards ceremony. The end of baseball is always bittersweet as you realize you won't see some of the kids for almost 6 months as a lot of them play football. I spent a lot of time doing financial aid work and getting the boys ready for college. I also spent time at Penn State as I had to attend 4 different orientation sessions but I also became acquainted with the Chancellor of the school and that my be a blessing for future students.
July- I spent almost 3 weeks in July in Utah. I was able to attend a family reunion which was a great blessing. Since my father passed away in November 2009, my family has really renewed our relationships and it has been great to get close to some of my siblings again. I also was able to spend time with friends and other relatives. My aunt Marva and uncle Roger hosted a party at their home and a few other relatives visited. My friends always treat me right and I was able to share many meals and conversations with old friends. I also spoke about my experiences in Pittsburgh in front of about 400 people at K2 the Church south campus. I felt blessed to be able to share what the Lord is doing in my life.
August - This is a time to get ready for the fall programs. I was busy getting things ready for the fall as well many meetings with parents and practices with kids. I also helped get 6 boys off to college, 4 to Penn State and 2 to Loch Haven. I kind of became the go to guy when others dropped the ball so these boys had everything from financial aid to NCAA eligibily requirements so they could play sports ready. An interesting thing started to happen at this time. Other students who graduated started to drop in or call and ask for help. As of this time (December) I've now helped over 24 students get into the different Options that are out there for youth once they graduate or finish high school. I must admit that when I dropped the boys off to school that I almost cried.
September - We started with our outreach programs and I took on more of a leadership role. We also had our teams in full gear so I felt like I was busy for almost 6 days a week. My Athletic director noticed this and didn't want to burn me out so we lightened my load a bit so I didn't have to work 6 days a week.
October - October was a tough month as one of the students I've known for several years decided to continue making poor decisions and one cost him his freedom and he is now in jail. This really shook me up as I was followed by potential shooters who were looking for him. This was reflective month and a month to really make sure that I was safe as well as making the right decisions. I will remember October 2010 as a month marked with violence, shootings and deaths. It really seemed to explode during this month.
November - This is the month of Thanksgiving. I was able to help with both the Soccer celebration and Basketball league celebrations early on in the month. We had great events and were enjoyed by all. I also helped with getting some middle school youth set up for some baseball hitting clinics at an indoor facility the MLB and Pirates organization started in Pittsburgh. We are hoping to start a Pony league in the fall for these boys, God willing. I was able to spend my Thanksgiving in Blacksburg, VA with old SLC friends who relocated. It was special as I spent over 10 Thanksgivings with them in SLC. I was spoiled by Donna and Asa and had a great time. I look forward to visiting more often as it was closer than I thought.
December- So far so good, I've been able to watch my boys play for Penn State NK and I'm looking forward to heading to Salt Lake City to spend my Christmas out there.
This is my year in review....I know I missed a lot of things but this is what stood out at this time.
Last Thursday afternoon while picking up boys for basketball practice I noticed I was being followed closely by an SUV. Before pulling into the parking lot at the gym one of my boys noticed it also. The car had been following us for a couple of miles and followed me through several left hand turns. I know I hadn't cut anyone off and was wondering why this car was following me so closely. I dropped off all but one of the youth and then I took the junior high school youth to his gym. I couldn't shake the fact that I had been followed closely and it wasn't just a random car. I got home around 7 pm and decided that maybe I was a little paranoid and got ready for the football game.
Let me go back a little and give some history. A few blocks from where I live, there have been some shootings going on over the last few weeks. No one has been shot but the police are aware of some of players and are doing all they can to end the violence before someone gets shot. Someone was even found with a rifle on the roof and the players are being rounded up. There is a problem with keeping them in custody as they've just become adults and although they have records, juvenile records don't follow people as they become adults. Example: if a youth has 2 felonies as a youth and then commits a felony as an adult, there is no 3 strike rule as 2 of the felonies were committed as a youth. This has definitely tied the hands of our justice system from getting some of these bad apples off the street. No one really wants to "snitch" on anyone else as that makes them a target as well as their family members.
Now I'm moving forward in time. This past Saturday one of the boys I picked up on Thursday walked into the gym with 2 of his "friends". One of the leaders of the gym commented on the type of friends the young man is hanging out with as the boys he came with have bad reputations and are known gang members. Now moving forward to Sunday I find out that those boys and the one who I gave a ride to on Sunday may be a part of the gang that is shooting up our neighborhood and starting a gang war with someone who was just released from prison. When I found that out, everything that happened on Thursday afternoon came to light and I was shaken to the core.
For the first time I felt I may or the car I was driving was a target of violence. I've been in some tough neighborhoods yet I was never a target or felt like I was a target. This is not a good feeling and the fact that I have young men in my car doesn't make me feel any better. I'm praying for comfort from the Holy Spirit and that peace and understanding come to these young men who are committed to the violence of the streets. I look forward to talking to the young man who I personally have a relationship with and look forward to hopefully walking him through to safety and a healthy lifestyle. Please keep me in your thoughts and prayers as I go through this time of unrest and please keep the youth in mind whom I've been empowered to help.
I feel like I've had a warning to keep up my power of discernment concerning the streets and the violence which is constantly below the surface here in the North Side of Pittsburgh. I don't question why I'm here nor is this a lifting of the white flag of surrender. This is more of me just figuring out how to work smarter and once again shows me how close to the bottom these boys whom I serve are.