A Summer of Learning and Fun For The Good Shepherd Youth
All children and youth look forward to summer when the pressures and demands of the school year finally recede. Summer is a time of renewal and replenishment for them. When families live below, at or barely above the poverty level there are few resources to provide special experiences for enjoyment and social and spiritual growth. In Fort Myers, there are no free programs that children can attend. Hanging around the house all day to avoid the heat and rain is the primary alternative. But, thanks to a generous grant from The Father’s Table Foundation and donations of time and money from volunteers our Good Shepherd Ministries has been able to offer special trips and outings on a weekly basis in addition to meeting on Sunday afternoons to process and discuss the experiences. Part of this time is used for them to write and draw about their experiences and each will have a little book at the end.
In various constellations according to age and reasoning we have thus far taken eight exciting trips and also provided funds for parents to take their children to special movies. In May we had the young people discuss, rank and vote on a list of possible trips. We are more than half way through their list as of July 18th. Thus far 15 young people have participated ranging in age from 5 to 18 with two others, 20 and 26. Our older youth are either leaders or special needs young adults. Additionally we have involved three parents as chaperones and leaders to give them enriching experiences along with their children. Other adults from the Ministry have also chaperoned. The parents process the experiences as well as the children and the learnings of all have been invaluable and precious.
The first very special trip was for the teenage class plus one special needs 12 year old. It was a reward for excellent Sunday School attendance and academic accomplishments. We celebrated our High School Senior, Natasha Terrell who was graduated in May and Keion Lewis, age 12, who made wonderful success in reading and was promoted to Middle School. Five young people attended this trip ages 12-18. It was the first trip to Disney for Keion and his 16 year old brother Keeron.
This is what Keeron wrote later: “Disney World for the first time with family and church members was a mind blowing experience and I will never forget it. Getting to the hotel then leaving toMagic Kingdom-from packing to leaving I enjoyed every second of it with you. At Magic Kingdom Thunder Mountain was good but Splash Mountain was better and Space Mountain was the best…. I can’t get over how much money you had to spend so all of us could eat (Laugh Out Loud- LOL). Even though I can get difficult sometimes I just want you to know I appreciate everything big and little you do for me.”
Keeron is 16 and he has many pulls on his young life, including gangs and drugs. He is steering clear of these and needs the love and connection of the church and youth group to do it. His growing faith has changed him dramatically. He is actively trying to live a Christian life and his witness has recently helped his older brother to return to the church as well. A Disney trip is expensive, but if it helps redeem young lives by showing that we care enough to provide special experiences, it is more than worth it. Jolinda, 16, wrote “I loved every minute of it. But the best part was being together with the group and going on the rides. Some were exciting and some were educational so I actually learned a lot! I am very thankful”!
Natasha, 18 wrote: This trip reminded me of how lucky I am to have people who are willing to take me and my family on beautiful trips. How blessed I am to see things that others may never get the chance to experience. I know that I shall remain humble and continue to do the works of God and find a better connection with God because I am experiencing so much because of God. I am so thankful to get away from all of the craziness of Fort Myersand enjoy myself with my Pastors and the group without pressures and worries. It is amazing to have Pastors who enjoy seeing their youth have fun and that love to bring such happiness to us. With much love, Natasha.
The Escape Zone and Zoomers
On June 13th ten young people ages 5-16,and their young adult leader Efe and Linda, a parent, enjoyed a day of activities at the Escape Zone, an indoor amusement area with a skating rink. While two of the 12 year olds enjoyed the games of skill, the big hit was the roller rink as most learned how to skate for the first time. Jolinda, a 16 year old who generally lacks confidence said: “The Escape Zone was a great time. I had fun with the little ones. My favorite part was skating and teaching the little ones as much as I know about skating. I had a good time with everyone and even though I’m not the best skater, I never gave up which is different for me”! Keeondra, the 13 year old agreed that she was so pleased to remember how to skate. Twelve year old Marcella drew a beautiful picture of skates and said “skating was fun even though I could barely skate without the wall. Thanks!” Marcella, like Jolinda, is a youngster who avoids trying new things and gives up easy. Jakeriya, age 12 said “Although I kept falling, I still had fun, thank you!” That day they all learned to persevere and had great fun doing it. The three five year olds drew wonderful pictures of three smiling skaters, even when one fell down! There were very good lessons here.
On June 20th nine young people ages 7-18 and youth leader Efe with parent Linda went to Zoomers an outdoor Amusement Park. This was a real treat as it was in another part of Fort Myers and none had been able to go there before. Twelve year old Jakein wrote “ Zoomers was my favorite of all trips so far. We got on two roller coasters that were equally fun. We also went on Go-Karts and even my Mom went on. That was fun!” His older sister Jolinda agreed. “But, spending time with my church family is the best and I look forward to coming each time”. This family has recently faced the terminal health problem of their older brother, they have been filled with sadness and worry. To get away and have fun is such good therapy. Natasha the oldest sister said” “It was so good seeing everyone have fun and smile and laugh. There was something there for everyone. The big kids enjoyed experimenting with driving with the racing cars!” Jakeriya said, “When I looked around and saw the smiles on their faces I knew everyone was happy and getting along. So, thank you, I think everyone bonded on that trip”. Indeed, the bonding as a group is so important to the progress these youngsters are making that will carry over to school and life. Pastor Judy Beaumont attended parts of these two trips and reflected that seeing the older kids help one another and the younger kids to enjoy the attractions was the best part for her.
Seeing God’s Creatures-The Shell Factory Zoo and Rides
On 6/27 eleven young people ages 5-18, our young adult youth Leader Efe, and parent, Linda visited the Shell Factory where they toured the large outdoor zoo and aviary and then rode the zipline and bumper boats to cool off on the hot day. Keeron, 16 wrote: “Bobcats, racoons, parrots, turtles and owls, I saw them all at the Shell Factory! The Zipline was awesome and scary at the same time!” Jakeriya, 12, wrote” Thank you for letting us discover the animals and learn more about them. There were big long snakes and the petting farm with the baby goats. I was scared of the zipline at first, but when I went on it I saw the turtles and fish when I looked down. It was so much fun!” Jolinda said “I liked the black leopard with the green eyes best. But it was the expressions on the little kids’ faces that were priceless: they really enjoyed themselves!” Keion was laughing as Jakein told the story of Keion and the parrot having a screaming contest. He said Keion won the contest, and Keion was pleased to agree!
The Broadway Palm Dinner Theater-Joseph and the Technicolor Dream Coat
We had prepared for this event for a long time. There was much anticipation and they were not let down. All of the kids read the story of Joseph in the Bible and discussed it several times in their respective classes and groups. On the day of the event, July 10th, they were able to tell the story to the accompanying parents and chaperones. Ten young people ages 7-26, all dressed in their Sunday best, their young adult leader and parents Linda and Debbie with two other church members and both Pastors (a group of 17) enjoyed this musical theater experience. Negotiating the Buffet and the formal table settings was also a pleasurable learning experience.
Gaspare, a young adult who has been fearful of leaving his home and joining with others was able to join us accompanied by his sister, Marcella. Both loved the play. Marcella, who wants to be an artist was mesmerized by the sets and the costumes. She also got the plot and loved the acting. Gaspare said “This was my first Play, a Broadway Musical, and the experience was great! It was very entertaining. It was very creative and the performers are very talented. They did a wonderful job. Joseph helped his brothers despite being treated poorly in the past. Even though he was a slave he was blessed and became powerful in Egypt.”Gaspare was also “poorly treated” in the past and he identifies with a Joseph that can overcome that and “become powerful”. He also reflected “I did have some difficulty because it was so packed but it was a bit easier with my sister. The food was great too. I’m glad I could write and that my mind was able to grasp and enjoy the play. That is progress for me, thank you for inviting me”.
Seven year old Joelle and her Mom loved the play. Joelle asked her mother to write that she learned that we must all learn to forgive each other and not be jealous, but to love one another. Her Mom said that they were both so thankful for the experience and that Joelle also identified with the little children on stage and felt she could be in a Play some day too. She practically danced in her seat throughout the show and we had no doubt that she too could learn to act in a Musical Play, They intend to find out when next auditions are. She would be great! Keeron, 16 also identified with the actors, “I once was in a play about William Shakespeare and I did a good job remembering a big role. I enjoyed this play, and the kids in it, and the dancing was great too! They thought they didn’t need Joseph, but they did and he taught them a valuable lesson. ” Mom, Linda, reflected on Joseph’s forgiveness of those who treated him so poorly. “I learned that if God can forgive me for the wrongs I have done, then I can forgive everyone anything as Joseph did. I have carried hate and grudges but when I gave them up and forgave it was a load off my chest”. Jolinda noted “Joseph always had hope no matter what happened to him. He kept hope”! Indeed, as she said, it seemed this joyful and sometimes funny play with a serious theme made each group member feel more hopeful .
7/17 The Butterfly Estates and the Movies
On this day fifteen young people (ages 5-26) and four adults including the Pastors enjoyed an oasis of Nature in downtown Fort Myers. Only one youngster and one adult had been there before. This was an aesthetic and beautiful educational experience. One docent taught about cocoons and butterflies in one area while the other walked the group through a hothouse garden with waterfalls and tropical greenery that house butterflies freely flying. No matter the age each one was fascinated. Ray, age 9, was unusually quiet and took in everything. Then he took my hand and showed me a chart of butterflies and explained all that he learned. I was amazed that this usually hyperactive boy was so moved and thoughtful. Our adults accompanied the younger kids and explained the wonders before them. The littlest girls, the five year olds were entranced. The teens tried hard to take pictures of the butterflies. This was a wonderful experience for all and they then went to have lunch together and see a movie. They had a choice of two movies and they all chose to go together as a group. Once again, Marcella enabled her brother Gaspare to enjoy this group experience. It was well worth the effort.
We are extremely thankful to The Father’s Table Foundation for changing the lives of young people this summer, for building hope and learning and joy. We still have a few trips to go before school starts and afterward will continue our enrichment outings on some basis.
Rev. Dr. Judy Lee, Good Shepherd Ministries