There is something so refreshing about a new year. Something about the pages upon pages of empty calendar months just scream promise. 2015 was a year of great loss and challenges that resulted in hard lessons learned and growth that was hard earned–both on a personal level for me as well as an organizational level for ROOM–and lessons like these are ones I am grateful to have in my pocket, but also happy to have in my rear view mirror.
2016 is a year of promise.
One of the lessons I learned in 2015 is hold on to the people that jump in the trenches with you when find yourself in hard times.
And that is exactly who Jilli Schulz and Anita Betancourt are to me. When life was crazy–and our ROOM Transition Home most likely resembled the house that Mother Goose spoke of in her fanciful rhymes–I was surprised by just how many people jumped right in alongside of us…maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised…I mean, the reality is that we were living shoulder to shoulder with people who have made a conscious decision to serve and give. But really, how many people have you met that would jump right in to the hardest moments of your life immediately upon meeting?
Anita and Jilli became such a fluid part of our Honduras culture that it was hard to see divides in ministry…we were simply friends.
These are the friends that filled the seats around our table most nights. Sure it always seemed we were having BBQ chicken, but the company was worth it(?) or, at least, they kept coming back for something! They were the friends that cried alongside of me when we said goodbye to a child. When I was literally too weak or spent, their arms reached over mine to help provide the strength it took to give medical attention a child in my care needed. They were the friends that pitched in when they saw me sick, sleep deprived, and overwhelmed. I remember the day perfectly when Anita asked me if she could help me by staying overnight in our house with one of the babies. I told her that I felt like I should say no. Her response was, “then I am, because you need me.” And I did. I needed her and she didn’t even know me the month before, but she knew I needed her. They are the friends that went out of their way to celebrate the birthdays of my children. Sometimes we were having really ridiculous lip-syncing parties that were made into huge events because of the sheer degree of participation. Sometimes they were shoving marshmallows in their cheeks in a quest to find the remedy for the fake Tracker Jacker stings they received. Whatever it was, they were there.
So that’s why it was a blessing to us to be there for them on the day of the inauguration of CRECER, a day center run by The Children’s Home Project (or TCHP). Both Jilli and Anita work for TCHP and I have witnessed them pour their lives into children whom many have forgotten. As Jilli spoke at CRECER’s inauguration, her passion for the center’s mission became evident and I found myself holding back the same emotion. At the heart of it, our desires are the same. We want to love these kids. The kids I care for (the age of children ROOM Honduras cares for predominately) are infants and toddlers. The kids Jilli and Anita care for (through TCHP) are mostly early adolescents and teenagers. We want them to know that they belong; that they matter. I do this by bringing babies into my home and praying that they know how pursued they are. ROOM does this by advocating for foster care in Honduras and overseeing the placement and management of many of those foster families. Jilli does this by chasing down kids who have left children’s homes for the “freedom” of the streets to try and remind them that rules are a sign of being loved. Anita does this by being present…whether it is tutoring for homework or overseeing a family visit.
We want them to have a chance. We provide this chance by fighting for children who have not found their own voice, or who are are not yet strong enough to use it.
That’s what is beautiful about the many members of the body of Christ. We all aim to accomplish one goal and we do it by working in the capacities in which we have been called. I am just so thankful that those capacities have overlapped for ROOM and TCHP!
CRECER is the product of seeing a need and responding to it.
In Jilli’s own words:
Through more than two years of street outreach, I’ve met and grown to love many kids who live with their families in extreme poverty-… These are the kids we want to reach- the kids who feel like they don’t have any options. Our goal is to make sure these kids don’t fall through society’s cracks. We want them to feel welcomed, loved, safe, and valued. We aim to empower them to embrace new opportunities to break out of the cycle of poverty in which they’ve grown up.
How beautifully does this desire line up with ROOM’s own goals!
While ROOM’s daycare program through Bethel Ministries in India is thriving and preventing many children from becoming abandoned, most of our work in Honduras has been focused on the support and solution aspects of our three-fold focus (prevention, support and solutions)…until now!
I am so beyond thrilled, proud, and full of expectations to announce CRECER as one of our newest ROOM partners!
As CRECER continues to see and respond to the needs of the community, ROOM will be right there providing support to their leadership.
One of those goals aims to start in February: We are so excited to come alongside of CRECER as they start their very own school!
Their families are hungry and living in tin shacks (pictured above in the background). At CRECER, they’re currently learning the importance of listening to directions and not saying every curse word that comes to mind. It would be arguably easier (and cheaper) to fund construction projects and give food once a week to each family. Needs would be met and food would always be on the table.
But what would that lead to? What kind of future would that mean for the kids?
It’s safe to assume that our teenage girls would enter motherhood far before they’re ready. The boys would probably end up at those same lower-than-minimum-wage jobs, unable to support themselves or their family. Essentially, history would repeat itself and we’d be having this same conversation about their kids in 10 years.
So what is the solution? I have searched and thought and wondered this for a long time. And there is only one thing I keep coming back to. One thing that can really get these kids on the right track and motivate them to not repeat their parents’ history.
It needs to be education. At the bare minimum, education will prevent them from being stuck at those less-than-minimum-wage jobs when they’re older. On a broader scale, education will challenge them to explore, dream, and think for themselves. It will take them to a place where instead of feeling burdened, they will be able to help their families.
But it’s not here. It’s not now. Education takes years. It takes money and it often takes sacrifice. It’s not something these parents can invest in because they’re too busy trying to stay afloat day to day.
And that’s what CRECER is for. We help see beyond the here and now and provide education when the parents can’t. Next year, every. single. CRECER. kid. will be enrolled in school. For some of them, it will be their first time ever in school, even at age 13.
~Jilli Schulz, director of CRECER
We couldn’t feel happier to be part of this project. As of now, that partnership has mainly meant providing a physical aid to the load of running a project like CRECER.
- We have helped ensure that each kid received one “need” and one “want” for Christmas.
- We have helped maintain the center’s facilities.
- We have helped gather necessary materials for CRECER to be legally recognized as a school
- We have offered ROOM’s services however they can be used…be it teaching, mowing the grass, grocery shopping…
And now we are excited of a new way in which our donors can help make CRECER’s school a reality.
Our goal is to provide the uniforms for all 15 of the kids part of CRECER.
It may seem simple, but a uniform is a critical tool for breaking the mental vice of poverty.
When a child leaves the bordos (Honduran slums) wearing a school uniform, they are filled with a sense of pride and purpose.
All it takes is a bit of fabric and thread and we can be a tangible part in changing the future of 15 kids!
The thrill of that opportunity is so real to me… maybe because I know the director and believe in her…or maybe it’s because I have met the kids and know their names.
My kids have played alongside the CRECER kids. They have laughed at my awkwardly constructed Spanish. I have seen their glares when they receive loving direction. I have seen those same eyes light up with joy just because they know they are chosen…they belong.
I have a desire…no, a need…to do something that is tangible. I can only equate it to adoption. So much is out of my control. I can’t control the government’s decisions. I can’t control the speed at which the documents are processed. The list of what I cannot control is and cannot do is crippling…but I cling to what I can do. Those things keep me focused. They remind me that God has given us all potential to make tangible differences. If we choose to actually participate, those little changes add up to big changes.
These are real lives. Lives that have the potential to be forever changed. I hope that excites you! Because I am almost giddy with excitement 🙂
If you want to come alongside of us here at ROOM to help provide uniforms and other necessities for prevention programs like CRECER, please visit: R.O.O.M. donation or mail a check to ROOM PO Box 5882, Concord, NC 28027. Be sure to indicate “CRECER” or “Prevention” in the memo field to designate your gift.
*You can read more about CRECER on Jilli’s blog.*