Thursday, December 1, 2011

2011-Another year in Pittsburgh or The Hood deepens!

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. or you can always call 412-576-7790

Thursday, October 6, 2011

A Transformation in the hood

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.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Summer Jobs

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.