Monday, June 9, 2008

Idaho Youth Summit 2008

The Idaho Youth Summit in Driggs, Idaho (at the Grand Targhee Resort, which a great venue with wonderful facilities and staff), was an unforgettable week.

Let me tell you about the people who made it unforgettable for me: my family group. At the beginning of the week, all the campers, staff and chaperons (I was there as a chaperon) were divided into groups of about 12 people, including one adult leader and one youth leader.

Steven was my group's youth leader. He looked younger than his age and acted older than his age. He is wise and mature beyond his years. It was a pleasure to watch his leadership style develop throughout the week. He was open to criticism and suggestion, firm when necessary. He is going to accomplish some great things in his life.

Breanna, what a wonderful person she is. My first impression of her (recorded during a group activity) was "creative." During one of her self-descriptions she mentioned her creativity. Although she was often quiet, she was never uninvolved. On the contrary, I think she observed everything. Whatever was said, she heard; the body language, she noticed; the mood of the group and individuals, she was aware and sensitive. During our last group activity she gave me one of the best compliments of my entire life. But, what's said in group stays in group, so you'll just have to wonder what it was. She knows.

Ashlynn is a walking smile. Her personality and demeanor are so sweet and cute and kind, without being sugary. Just being around her brightened my spirit every day. Add to that her intellect and she has incredible potential. I don't think she realizes how smart she is. Once in a while she would say something that was so insightful, or notice something that others had missed. I believe that Ashlynn is a born leader waiting for a group to call her to a leadership position.

Austin is a self-admitted big-goof. One of our group activities involved learning a dance. Austin is not a very good dancer. I can say that because I'm a worse dancer than he is. Even so, he committed himself to the process 100%. Austin does not care what others think about his "foolishness" but realizes that his willingness to participate - freely participate - inspires others to do the same. During the dance, there was one head, taller than all the rest, right in the middle of the dance floor, being the perfect "Austin." He inspired me to participate, which is no easy feat.

Nicole. She is unlike any 15 year old girl I've ever met. Confident without being cocky, plain without being invisible, opinionated without being judgmental. She is such a strong person partly because of the things she has been through. She doesn't use her difficulties as excuses, but rather takes pride in the success she has experienced because of them.

Diana (pronounced dee-anna) was completely closed off at the beginning of the week. Her attitude, body language and words all said, "You can't get close to me so don't even try." However, it was a thin shell. Every single day, sometimes hour by hour, she opened up. Her face became warmer and happier. One of our group activities was the trust fall. One person stands on a barrel, like a 55 gallon drum. They fall backward as the rest of the group catches them. Diana wasn't sure she wanted any part of that, not believing we could catch her. I will never forget the look on her face after she trusted us. I almost cried right there, but her joy and excitement overtook the moment.

Levi was the most quiet of the group - at the beginning. Just like most other group members, suspected that he would not participate during the week. His voice was almost too quiet to hear, and even if I could hear him, his answers were typical adolescent answers, "I don't know." He made more progress during the camp than anyone else. He found his self-confidence somewhere. It was hidden, but no so deep that he was unable to bring it to the surface. I like to think that we - as a group - played a part in that search and discovery. He has a great sense of humor and adventure, a truly fun person to be around.

Cade is one of the strongest people I have ever known. Not just physically, although he definitely has physical strength. During our low ropes course, one of the activities involved passing all the members of the group through a web, each one through a different hole. I went through before Cade, and part of my task was to hold his upper body while the family members on the other side held his lower body; the body cannot touch the webbing. As I grabbed him around the chest I could tell that he is 100% muscle. His more impressive strength is found in his character. His natural leadership ability and willingness to lead is so evident. He was always ready to step in and take control. However, he was equally willing to assume the role of follower, allowing the leadership of other family members to be exercised. I have no doubt that Cade is capable of someday leading a city, a state, or the country.

Sarah, what a bundle of energy she is - non-stop energy. Sometimes her energy wore me out. I remember wondering if she ever slows down, and deciding that she probably doesn't. What makes her energy so amazing is the perpetually positive nature of it. Despite all the things she's been through, more than any person deserves in a lifetime, she is a genuinely positive person. I admire her indomitable spirit. I don't think there is any force in this world that will ever convince her she is unable or incapable. When she decides to do something, guarantee it will get done.

Halie is one of the most competitive people you may ever meet. She is one of those "win at any cost" type of people. Except, I know for sure that she would never hurt another person in order to win. As much as she wants to win, and enjoys winning, the kindness in her whole being is the umbrella under which the competition must operate. If she had to chose: win and hurt someone or lose and help someone, she would choose to lose every time, and take pride in her decision. There are some people who smile and make other people smile. Halie is like that. Seeing her smile, even thinking about her smile now, makes me smile.

Last, and certainly not least, Kas (short for Kasidy and don't call her Kassie). She was the adult group leader, and I use that adult term loosely. She is all of 20 years old, still a kid to an old guy like me. Even so, she could not have been a better leader. She lead by her words, by her example, by her emotion. Kas was the first to cry, which to me showed how truly strong she is. Her willingness to share her inner self, to open herself up and model what it means to be vulnerable to your family group - that is true courage and strength. Every time she cried, I cried with her. I'm just emotional that way. Her genuineness and honesty are so needed in this world, especially by adults toward adolescents. She is going to touch so many lives. I know because she has already touched mine.

Overall, I could not have asked for a better group. At the beginning of the week I told them I have rheumatoid arthritis. Because of the RA, I find it very difficult to sit on the floor, where most of our family groups were held. They accommodated me, allowing me to sit on a chair with the circle of them around me. Occasionally things around us would get too loud, and our group circle was too big to hear. Steven would say, "Circle up." Inevitably someone would say, "Around Chris." It was so touching. They included and accommodated me without making me feel like an imposition.

There are things I wanted to say to my group, but couldn't. Because I was tired and sick, my emotional regulator was basically out of order. I knew that if I had tried to say it, I would never make it through. So, I'll say it here and hope that some of them read this.

You eleven kids, and you are all kids to me, inspire me more than you know. In my job as a school counselor, I sometimes tell kids, "You know I care about you, right?" I usually get a look like, "You're just saying that because you're the counselor. You get paid to care about me." Or something more like, "Whatever. You don't even know me. You can't really care about me."

I suspect that kids react this way because they don't have any adults in their life who really care about them. Sure, they have one or more parents, who may or may not say, "I love you." But, it's possible to say that without meaning it. They also react this way because they can't believe that genuinely care.

God has given me a heart for kids, a passion for the well-being of children and adolescents. When I say, "I care about you," I mean it. I never ever say that just to hear the words come out of my mouth.

You kids, in the family group, you have no idea how much I care about you. It's true that I don't really know any of you. We've shared some deeply personal things here. But whatever those are, they only scratch the surface of who you are, who each of you are as a person. Even so, I care about you as if you were my own kid. I would be a lucky father indeed to be able to call any of you my son or daughter. If I could call all of you my sons and daughters, I would be the luckiest father, man, person on the face of this earth - past, present or future.

You inspire me to be a better person. I am now a better person than I was a week ago, simply because of you.
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