I am so blessed to have been able to serve at YoungLives camp three years in a row now. If you had told me three years ago that YoungLives would completely capture my heart and still have a hold on it three years later, I wouldn’t have believed it. I began volunteering with the mind set that I was going to make a difference and be a blessing to young mothers, what I didn’t realize was that those young mothers and leaders were going to be such a huge blessing to ME.
Three years of childcare, three years of camp, and I am not ready to let go. I have been blessed beyond belief by this organization and have met some incredible people. Every year I go to camp ready to serve and watch campers’ lives change, but I am always amazed at how much God teaches ME and changes ME.
In case you have never heard of YoungLives, I will tell you a little about it. YoungLives is an organization designed to serve teen mothers. It is a christian organization that introduces Christ to girls by meeting them where they are. There are groups all over the United States and each one is run with the same basic principles, but the leaders have a little flexibility. They hold weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly meetings that are called “club”. Club is a time where girls can come, fellowship with other teen mothers, develop a relationship with a mentor, be taught about Christ, and receive free child care for an evening.
This was my third year going to YoungLives camp and each year I fall more in love with it. This year was one of the most difficult for me, but I still did not want to leave. A week is not long enough and I wanted at least one more. It is sad to think that I have to wait an entire year to go back and that is only if the nature of my life a year from now allows me to go. Camp is such an incredible experience. It allows these young mothers the opportunity to experience camp and gives them the chance to just be teenagers.
It is amazing to see how the camp is transformed to accommodate one hundred and fifty mothers, one hundred and twenty-eight babies, one hundred childcare workers, and over one hundred leaders. The sheer amount of people that volunteer their time to make YoungLives camp happen is incredible. People come ready to dedicate hours upon hours of service and they all do it with a smile. It is such a happy place to be. People are tired, home sick, stressed out, yet they all have servants’ hearts and do without complaining.
The child care spend six plus hours a day with the babies. The typical camp schedule for a child care worker looks like this:
8am Club. 9am Breakfast. 9:30-12/12:30 Child Care. 12:30/1 Lunch. 1/1:30-5 General Free Time (with random scheduled child care times for girls to participate in activities). 6pm Dinner. 6:30-10:30/11pm Child Care. Sleep. Repeat.
This year they changed things up a bit and instead of having the free time every day, the random scheduled child care was more frequent. We spent the majority of the free time in our nurseries spending some extra time lovin’ on the babies. Therefore, in the past we spent 6-7 hours in the nursery. This year we spent 7-9 hours in the nursery.
The pictures make camp look easy. Of course, no one takes pictures of those moments (some times hours) of insanity where every single child in the nursery is screaming until the nursery workers go deaf. No, we take pictures of the peaceful sleepers, or the happy smiling children. If that was what camp was full of, then there would be no problem getting child care workers to come back every year. It isn’t easy. Many of the young mom’s that come to camp have never left their child before. Taking care of a child who has never left their mother’s side can be very difficult and nearly impossible to soothe, but it is so worth it. It is worth it when that baby comes in to nursery on day five and finally recognizes you and gives you a little smile. It is worth it when at the end of the week the mother tells you that it was the best week of her life. It is worth it when you think about how one hundred and fifty-two young girls just heard about a man who loved them so much that He died on the cross to save them. Camp is incredible.
This year I was placed in the Puppy nursery with five and six month old babies. Let me tell you, those babies were adorable! We had a little guy who smiled with his entire face. He lit up from ear to ear any time some one looked at him, but when he was hungry he made sure you knew. There was another little boy who self-entertained most of the time and had the sweetest little grin. Then, there was a little girl that I connected with. I don’t know how much she connected with me, but I was attached to her pretty early on in the week. She had to be held all of the time, other wise she would scream. So, I held her. By day four she would let me put her down for a few minutes here or there, but I had to be close by. She loved to grab on to my pony tail and I eventually had to put it up in a bun. Even then, she would weave her hand in to my hair and hold on as if it were my leash. She gave me many slobbery open mouthed kisses that left me feeling like I had received a saliva facial. She would try to pull out my earrings and some times grab my face and squeeze as tight as she could. It was some times a little painful, but all I could do was laugh. She was precious.
One thing that was particularly special about this year was the nature of our club talks. Each morning we would have club that included a time of praise and worship, a fun game, and a message. Two weeks leading up to camp I had made some difficult decisions and was constantly telling myself that I needed to follow God’s calling and not settle for *safe and comfortable*. I wrote the blog Regrets. Mantras. talking about it just two days before I left. The very first club talk given was about how God had called each and every one of us to camp. He didn’t need us, but he chose us. He talked about how we were there for a purpose. He ended the talk by asking if we ever just settled for… wait for it… the *safe and comfortable* life. My jaw just about dropped when he said that. He said be honest, is that the life you want? For the first time in a long time I was able to say no. I do not want to live the *safe and comfortable* life. It was incredible how on point his messages were. I felt as if they were directed at me, not a group of one hundred plus individuals.
All of this to say, three years later and I am still so passionate about this organization and not quite ready to say goodbye. While I will be leaving JCo soon, I hope to start working with the YoungLives group in the area I will be moving to. It is bittersweet to think about my time with JCo being over, but I know that there is a time for everything. So, here is to new beginnings and hoping that this year was not my last at YoungLives Camp!
Each year YoungLives camp has a photographer/videographer who captures the atmosphere of camp so that others can see what is going on. These videos are so much fun to watch because it gives glimpse in to what an awesome week these girls have. Most of the girls had to grow up quickly after having a baby young, but this is one week of the year where they get to be teenagers again and just enjoy the goofy activities and hear the good news of Christ.
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The cheeks on that second to last picture – wow!!!