For a very long time a good friend and I were searching for a volunteer opportunity.
Nothing I came across seemed to be quite the right fit. In the past, I had delivered food boxes and gifts to those in need. I have taught Sunday school and have led a Bible study in my home. But I wanted something deeper—something that would make an impact on lives in a different sort of way.
I remember once watching a young lady while she waited at a light rail stop. She was beautiful—maybe 18 years old. Sadly, she appeared to be on drugs and in need of care. Her jeans were all torn. She was wearing boots but no socks.
As she sat there I couldn’t help but wonder what her story was. She eventually slipped away, out of sight. But she left an imprint on my heart.
To this day, I wish I had taken a moment to try to connect with her…
A few years ago, I listened to fundraising radio program on 104.1 FM here in Portland, Oregon USA. It was my first exposure to Transitional Youth. I heard stories of at-risk youth and how TY was making a big impact on their lives. It certainly caught my attention.
A friend of mine donated some items to Transitional Youth. She got to spend some time with Rhona Mahl of TY. Afterward, my friend urged me to attend an orientation session for volunteers interested in serving with TY.
I decided to go and ended up getting to serve with the TY team the very next Saturday. I knew had finally found what I was looking for!
We serve a meal outdoors on Monday evenings, come rain or shine. We assemble several “easy-up” tents for them. We want to give our youth somewhere semi-dry to eat the meal we’ve prepared. Connecting with these amazing young people always starts with a meal.
This world of at-risk youth on the streets was totally foreign to me. Yet, I felt deep compassion immediately for the young people we serve. Each person has a story. Each one has lived through things I cannot even imagine.
I started by volunteering with TY once a month. Then I began going twice a month. Soon, I became part of the Monday night team, serving almost every week.
In the time since, I have learned that it can take awhile for the young people to warm up to us volunteers. However once they do, they begin to share their stories. Most are filled with unspeakable abuse and heartache. Little by little, these young ones let their guard down and let us just love them.
One of the most impactful statements I have heard from them is:
“I have never had adults that cared for me before.”
Over time, the young people become very protective of us while we are out on the streets serving them. They come to understand that we are there not to judge them, but to serve them because we care. So, they show their care for us too.
A Grateful Heart
I realize that volunteering at a Transitional Youth outreach isn’t for everyone. Some try it and decide it isn’t for them, and that’s okay. The hearts of those who volunteer week after week after week are absolutely amazing.
For me, working with TY has truly been one of the most humbling experiences of my life. I appreciate what I have and am thankful for my friends and family in a totally different way. It has caused me to be less judgmental and less fearful of those hurting and struggling with homelessness, mental illness, gender identity, drug abuse, and addiction.
What Can You Do?
There is always a need. I believe those who serve regularly have been called to do so.
However, there are other ways you can love these youth who call the streets their home:
- You can give essentials like sleeping bags, warm clothing, socks, and shoes.
- You can donate personal care items which are always appreciated.
- You can contribute financially to help fill in the gaps.
- And last—but certainly not least—you can pray.
Please pray for the youth. Pray for the volunteers. Pray for Rhona Mahl, Bert Waugh, and the rest of the Transitional Youth/Braking Cycles team as they reach out to homeless and marginalized youth in our area.
Thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts about serving with TY.
Transitional Youth and Braking Cycles Volunteer