Monday, December 6, 2010

2010 Revisited

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.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Another lesson learned from the streets

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.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

When to give up?

I've been chewing on "when is it time to give up on someone". I've been chewing on this for quite sometime as I've been disappointed by a few of the youth I work with. Without going into details as I think the details are really insignicant the point is, I felt like I just needed to give up on some of the boys I deal with. To be perfectly honest, it would be very easy to do this and would definitely make my life a little easier. Thank God, I didn't act quickly on this thought. I felt I needed some advice from someone who's been down my road and I knew the perfect people to ask. I've written about Reverend Robinson and his wife Dr. Betty Robinson in the past so I won't go into any detail other than they've been doing this for at least 50 years through Education and ministry. They agreed to meet with me. Without going into to much detail about our conversation, the takeaway I had was a simple story Gram (Dr. Betty Robinson) told me of a 50 year old man who she had in her school many years ago. I don't know this 50 year old man's story but Gram told me that she'll see this gentleman from time to time and he'll say "I'm doing good". Considering that he wasn't the best student or citizen she'll take that and hug him and say "I'm proud of you."

I chewed on this for a few days (I'm a little slow). I thought about my own life, I gave up on my family religion, I joined a cult, I made terrible accusations against friends and family members and lots of other things that were unseemly throughout my life. I've given friends and family many reasons to give up on me over the years yet I've been blessed by many and they've stuck with me through the thick and thin. I couldn't help but think about the story of the Prodigal Son in the bible (Luke 15: 11-32 in the New Testament) The father who waits for his son, the son who squanders his inheritance, lives an immoral existance, and ends up on the streets (living with the pigs). I can't help but think of my parents who took me in at the age of 30 to get my life back together after spending 9 years in the cult and basically cutting them out of my life. I think of my brothers and sisters who have shown me tremendous love and acceptance over the past several years after enduring over 5 years family squabble. I think of my friends who have supported me throughout financial crisis, job losses, change of life directions and many other things.

This all comes back to when do I give up on some the boys who have been put into my life and the answer I came up with is "NEVER"!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Generational poverty adverted?

I haven't written in awhile and I have lots of excuses but nevermind, here's another story of my life over the last 2 weeks.

I thought I'd write a note about what's been going on in my life since getting back to Pittsburgh a few weeks ago.(I was on vacation in Utah) 2 out of the 4 youth I'm working with on going to Penn State have all their financial aid packages set and room and board set up. The other 2 have a couple of hurdles to jump over and should be fine by this time next week. I have the good fortune to be able to take them and move them into their dorms this coming Sunday. I look forward to this although I wish I could be watching them leave with their parents taking them off to college. I have a couple of other boys who are leaving for Loch Haven University on Thursday morning and they are, as of 11 am this morning fully ready to attend college. All 5 out of 6 of these students are entering college as the first member of their family to attend college. It's been alot of hard work and lots of paperwork and follow up as the parents just have no idea what to do as most of their parents haven't even graduated from high school.

I have one more story I'd like to share that has happened since I got back. Tom Jones, a father, who is also student of mine who didn't graduate told me that he wasn't going back to get his diploma. I asked about his GED and he was lackluster at at best. He asked if I would help him get a job as I have some connections for jobs although most are of fast food variety. I drove him down to an area of town where they have a school called the Bidwell Training Center. I let him know that he could attend this school for free and be qualified for a career. The careers range from Pharmacy Tech to Culinary Arts to Horticulture. Their culinary arts department is very well known in and the Horticulture department grows some of the world best Orchids. I told him as I took him home on a friday that I would pick him up on Monday morning for the orientation class so he could learn more about the school. His attitude was terrible and I thought to myself that I'm about done with trying to help this kid out.

Monday morning I showed up at his place at 8 am and knocked and knocked and knocked on his door. His sister finally answered and Tom came down the stairs apologizing that he forgot and would I wait for him to get ready. I got him to the orientation by 9 am and told him I would pick him up at 11 am. At 11 am he finished his orientation and I was there to greet him. He walked up to me and told me that he was going to be a Culinary Artist! I then walked him over to admissions and we talked about the GED program they have for him so he can get his GED before he starts his program.

Here's where the rubber starts to hit the road. Tom has needed his state id since last December and I have hounded him several times about this. I even was unable to get him hired due to him not having an id. Well...that wednesday he texts me that he got his state id!!!!

This may seem simple stuff but it was huge and a big step for this young man and father. I can now get him hired at Burger King and in school to get his GED and then on to Culinary School. This young man now has a path out of generational poverty.

One person, One family, One block at a time....

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A late night visitor

I would like to share another story with you that hopefully shows how fulfilling my call to the North Side of Pittsburgh has been.

Last Wednesday night as I was getting ready for bed, as a matter of fact I was just getting under the covers. I heard the door knock and the dog bark. I was thinking "who is coming over at this time of night?". My roommate Jack, was in the living room but was under the weather as he was getting over a nose operation and was in no mood for visitors. Jack yells out to me, "Chad, one of your boys is at the door." I must admit that I was, as said earlier, just getting under the covers and did not want to get up. I wasn't the happy guy. I put on my sweats and walked to the front door and standing there was one of the boys I see from time to time. He told me that the door to his house was locked and his dad wouldn't be home for another 45 minutes. He said I'm cold and I haven't eaten anything. I don't know what happened to my bad attitude but I said come on in. I told him what I had and he said great. I happened to have a package of cookies on the table and I said take those. He ate a few as I prepared a meal for him.

The meal was prepared and I couldn't believe how fast he ate it. It was enough for 2people and remember that I'm a big guy saying it's enough for 2 people. I figured that he was warmed up and well fed and he said by the time he got home that his dad should be at the house. He left.

I cleaned up and got myself ready for bed again. There was a problem. My adrenaline was running extremely fast and my mind was working overtime. A thought came to me, "was that really who I thought it was or was that Jesus coming at the door?". I'm normally a pretty lucid guy but this thought still lingers with me a week later as I write this. I can't help but feel proud that I actually listened and answered the call to help the least and the lost in Pittsburgh. That event, was one of the reasons I felt called to not only work in the North Side but also live in the same kind of neighborhood my youth live in. I felt fortunate that I got to experience feeding the hungry and warming the cold, if he would've asked or if I thought it was necessary I would've gave him a place to sleep. I may not have many resources but the Lord has provided me with the right amount every time. (I've been well fed in the process also)

Someone asked me if I share the Gospel and I told them that I do as much as I can and sometimes I use words. I also feel that if God can use a white, overweight, 46 year old bald man with no special talents that he can use anyone. Listen to what he's telling you, don't second guess it. Your life will never be the same again.

Monday, April 12, 2010

College Bound

This has been an exciting season for me in Pittsburgh. Those of you who follow my blog know that I've been mentoring some boys since their junior year in high school. This past season I've been trying to get them to look at what is in store for them next year. The problem is they are trying to figure out how they are going to get the fee for their basketball team or $10 to go to a movie and I'm asking them about a concept most of their families have never really talked about other than the way I might talk about winning the lottery with a friend.

2 of the guys we knew who played on their high school football team got invited to check out Loch Haven University. This started making it real that high school is about over and these boys need to make a plan.

One night 2 boys were over and I was able to have what I feel is a breakthrough conversation about what is in store for them and what plans are they making for the future. As a result of the conversation and some follow up confirmation conversations they've had they have both enrolled in a local Trade Tech college. They are going to welding school and it's exciting to see their excitement and one mindedness on this particular goal they have.

I've developed a relationship with the Athletic Director at the high school that most of these boys attend and through our tag teaming we've gotten the other boys to fill out their FAFSA(financial aid application). We then took 4 of our boys to Penn State New Kensington and we were able to get them accepted a provisional students. (this means that they need to carry a 2.0 or better for the first semester or 18 credits.) In other words the 5 of the boys I've been working closely with have been accepted into college or trade school. They had an orientation this past weekend and this has really excited the boys in their decision to go to Penn State.

All in all, I've got to say that I feel like a proud papa. I'm not ignorant to the fact that we still have a long way to go but we are on the "bus"!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

My Life in a cult (part two)

It's time to write about my cult experience again. I can't believe the great responses I've gotten from friends and family wanting to know more. Here we go...

When I last spoke of my life in a cult I had arrived in Clearwater, Florida to what Scientologist refer to as "Flag, the Mecca of Technical Perfection", The next day I took the elevator downstairs and there was a bustle of construction activity going on in the lobby. I didn't know what to expect or where I was supposed to be so me being me and it being football season I walked outside to grab a paper to check the college scores. I grabbed the sports section while reading I kept a watch out to see if there was anyone I recognized. About 2 hours later I saw the "recruiter" and asked where I needed to be. I was whisked away and taken to the basement area. I was put onto a routing form where I was put onto the Estate Project Force or the "EPF". This is the equivalent of boot camp in the military. It lasts as long as it takes you to get through the Scientology courses. The worksheets say 4 weeks but most people took 2 to 4 months to get through it. Most of my day was spent cleaning rooms where people stayed. I remember trying to dispel thoughts of how degraded the place was and I tried justifying my thoughts about it. I would like to have thought that Scientology had just purchased the building but it was just about 10 years into their ownership. The food purchased seemed 2nd rate also as we would unload the deliveries once a week and I felt like the fruit was bought from stores before it spoiled and was unsellable. I also remember the size of cockroaches, called palmetto bugs, I'd never seen a bug that big. I also remember seeing rats at night.

I took pride as a fully doctrinated kool aid drinker though in the task at hand although I had some issues that were simmering under the surface. I ran from task to task, (when I say ran, I mean physically ran), I made sure that the rooms I cleaned were the cleanest and the toilets sparkled. This got noticed and I was chosen to clean a VIP's room who was staying there for an extended amount of time and quite possibly may have been a wealthy Sea Org member. I remember them having special edition Scientology books that were leather bound, and a platinum emeter(these cost thousands of dollars to purchase). They were from a South American country and Saldiarraga I think was the name. I remember years later of hearing that he died.

This went on for about three weeks and I was totally focused on getting through. I woke up one morning and felt an asthma attack coming on. I was having trouble breathing and was miserable. I eventually convinced them that I needed to go to the hospital. After hours of Scientology assists and no relief I was finally taken to the hospital. I remember that it took me years to pay off that visit to the hospital.

I finally got over my attack and went back to work. Something had shifted in me and I felt that if I wanted to be a real help to Scientology I needed to finish my education. I called my parents and booked a flight home. I had no idea of the flap that I created by doing that. I went and told my supervisor that I had an early morning flight the next day and that I was going home. I remember him looking at me with his mouth wide open and he said you can't do that. I told him that it was all set and paid for. To this day, I don't know how I made it out of there in good standing but somehow I did. The problem was this wasn't the end of my Scientology experience but the beginning.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

It's been awhile

Hello everyone and sorry it's been awhile since I last blogged. A lot has gone on since my last blog and I hope to get everyone caught up in the stories of my life and what is happening with me. In November I bought a new home in Pittsburgh (new to me, the home was built in 1928) I felt very blessed to get this home as it's fully remodeled and it's actually cheaper than rent.

On November 15, I received news that my father passed away suddenly. This hit me pretty hard and I still find myself wanting to dial his number and share something with him or ask a question only to realize that he's not there. Despite all that, it was an amazing time at the funeral with my siblings. Amazing, and siblings is something I haven't experience in years if not decades. We had a great time together and we were able to laugh, cry, and share many memories we had with our dad and each other. My dad, I'm sure was smiling down on us.

Thanksgiving and Christmas came and went like a whirlwind. I've been the administrator for our travel team and they had quite a few practices and games throughout the holiday season. I've been able to start a few new relationships and I'm always excited to meet new people.

Most of the boys I'm close with play on the Oliver High School basketball team and they've been busy playing games and they are doing pretty well. I've been working my tail off making sure they've been getting their fafsa's done, (federal aid for education) as well filling out college applications. This can be daunting at times as they need their parents to do this with them and their parents aren't always available or around. I did have one of the boys I'm close too just get accepted to Loch Haven University and that was exciting. It's crazy has they are so late in turning in apps. but we're getting them done one at a time.

I've loved being able to share my home with the boys and they consider it their home as well. I do give them ownership and they are pretty good at taking care of things. I do have to remember that they are high school students and sometimes I can be a bit of a nag. (That's because I'm not the cleanest guy and if we don't get it done right away, it might take awhile.) I usually have 4 guys spend Friday through Sunday with me and they go home after church on Sunday. That still amazes me that they would choose to hang out with a straight guy like me who doesn't let them cuss or drink, and I make them clean up after themselves.

I promise to update more frequently and look forward to sharing more stories with you about chadinpittsburgh!