What if one encounter, one impact, could change a life? What if one exhale was the last gust of wind someone needed to fill their sails? What would happen if we pursued these encounters and seized every opportunity we saw to offer up a word, a breath, a smile? Could we change the world? We wanted to find out.
Studies have shown that youth involved in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems are at a greater risk of exploitation. In our commitment to supporting at risk youth in an effort to prevent trafficking and exploitation, Unbound Houston developed a curriculum that allowed us to intersect with this precious and vulnerable population. Once a month, our team of trained volunteers visits girls at our local juvenile justice center and hosts Junior Varsity Unbound (JVUB).
The objective is to equip the girls to recognize potentially dangerous relationships and situations. But our underlying purpose, our driving motivation, is to be that word, that breath, that smile that parts the clouds and lets the light come through enough to see that the path ahead is bright and beautiful if they just keep going. The girls first arrive to class quiet and disgruntled to be spending their weekend at a court-appointed group with strangers. They’re met with smiles, music and beautifully wrapped home-baked treats. In the hours that follow, they are reminded of their value that cannot be lessened or taken away by any word, decision or experience. They’re presented with an opportunity to dream, a set-aside moment to ask themselves questions that matter and discover for themselves what makes them come alive and what they hope to accomplish. They’re presented with stories of survivors who overcame the unimaginable and are encouraged to assess their accounts to glean hope, wisdom and perspective.
These conversations take place in the safety of small groups with their peers and an Unbound Volunteer leader, who listens as they share, acknowledges the validity and value of their perspectives and emotions, asks provocative questions and offers encouragement and hope. In that space where they feel seen and heard and their hardships, as well as their strength and resiliency, are acknowledged and honored, a tangible shift can be felt. Their stories break our hearts but also fill us with courage.
These young women have faced countless challenges- broken families, bullying, poverty, loneliness, stigmas, pressure and loss – and yet they carry their dreams and their loved ones deep in their hearts. Some possess wisdom beyond their years. Others display a warm-hearted joy that baffles us given their histories. These girls are gems, treasures many have been overlooked and written-off. It has been our deep honor to look in their eyes and call out what we see – gold.
“Y’all are very kind, mainly my small group woman.”
“I really loved being here.”
“I found them (the classes) very uplifting and inspiring.”
When they arrive, they’d rather be anywhere else. Over the course of a few hours, we witness their resistance melt in the presence of love. They leave with a smile on their face and a light in their eyes. And aren’t those the moments we live for? To see our word, our breath, our smile become a thread in a tapestry of a story with more tell.
By Christa Mayfield
Director of Prevention Education