I have hope for the future. . .

The president of one of the charities I support, UrbanPromise, a charity that helps kids in Camden, N.J., sent me a letter this week showing me there is hope for the future:

For the six weeks of summer, 16 teens, each having grown up in our programs, were hired to work as camp counselors and mentors for our younger camp kids…we call them StreetLeaders.

They helped interns lead recreation and Bible classes, taught our camp kids songs and skits and shepherded hundreds of Camden’s children to stimulating and just plain fun events.

And they earned money to do it! Like all teenagers, they could have done anything with that money. They could have blown all their money on video games, junk food, going out to the movies with friends…and who would have blamed them?

They worked hard for that money. They earned it. But, what they did still chokes me up. You see, they decided to give it away.

Immediately after summer camp finished, a time when most teens would have relaxed and enjoyed their humble paychecks, our StreetLeaders packed into two vans, and with their chaperones, drove non-stop to Biloxi, Mississippi to give back to those whose lives had been devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

They painted walls, cut and laid floor tiles, fixed floors, decontaminated mold, and cleaned up debris. Our enthusiastic kids even paid for their own meals and made contributions for gas. But most importantly, they worked non-stop for five days in blistering 100 degree bayou heat and never complained. And they wanted to keep working, especially on 55-year-old Miss Jeanine’s house.

Miss Jeanine and her family had their home destroyed and repaired in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, to only have it damaged again when severe storms came through Biloxi earlier this spring.

“My granddaughter and I have been sleeping on mattresses on the living room floor ’cause the bedroom floors were so badly damaged,” Miss Jeanine said.

Miss Jeanine’s story did not deter our wide-eyed teens. “These were the hardest-working kids I’ve ever seen,” she commented. “They’ve given me hope.”

Hope? Our kids gave her hope? Our kids, from one of the poorest, most dangerous cities in America…our kids, who most of America has forgotten…gave Miss Jeanine hope!

“Camden’s not the only place that needs help,” said 17 year old Miles, a kid that grew up in our UrbanPromise programs. “We wanted to give to another community as others have given to us.”

I think that’s the sweetest thing I’ve heard all week. These kids who’ve grown up in one of the most impoverished, dangerous places in the U.S., wanted to give back. Instead of keeping the money to themselves they used it to help others. They dedicated not only their money but their time. Their dedication to service and to others shows me another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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