by Paula Guikema, leader of youth programming at Streams of Hope

As I sat and watched Hurricane Harvey flood Houston, and then Hurricane Irma pound the state of Florida, I was reminded of one thing:what matters most is family.  In the midst of losing everything they owned, survivors were thankful that their families and neighbors were okay.  For most of us, family is the people we live with but it can also include extended family, neighbors, friends, schoolmates, or any group of people we care about.

At our After School Program we think of ourselves as a family.  We help each other with homework, we offer smiles and encouragement after a difficult day at school, we share our stories.  Our adult staff and volunteers have a passion for walking alongside our kids during adolescence, a time that can be both fun and scary.

Every day, we sit down at our kitchen table with a snack and have “Real Talk”.  We talk about issues that our kids are facing, things like bullying and having compassion for others.  We share things we’re worried about, things we like to do, conflict in family and friendships, peer pressure, the dangers of smoking, drugs, alcohol and sex.  We talk about school, the importance of working hard, doing your best, handing in assignments, and  respecting teachers.   We talk about EVERYTHING!

Students participate in “Real Talk” after school.

And through it all, we leaders teach them how to have respect for each other by listening, by agreeing that it’s okay to disagree.  We play games that require teamwork, we learn how to win and how to lose, to be helpful instead of hurtful,  and when we have differences, we work them out so hurt and anger do not fester.

One of my favorite things about our job is that we get to partner with parents.  As a parent of teenagers myself, I recognize that we can’t do it alone.  We need other adults to come alongside our teens and guide them, to reinforce our values.   At this age, kids tend to see parents as “not cool” and they push for more independence, whether they’re ready for it or not.  I have had kids complain about their parents.  I always listen, and then I gently suggest to them that maybe their parents are acting out of concern for their safety, that their parents make rules because they love them.  I always try to lift up parents because the truth is, friends may come and go but families are forever.     

To get involved with our student programming, fill out the volunteer form or email gro.e1511059503pohfo1511059503smaer1511059503ts@al1511059503uap1511059503 for more information.