Vere & Vanessa: How a shy girl became the next neighborhood leader.

Verenice (Vere) cannot help but to smile.  Everywhere she goes she is grinning ear to ear.  Although she was extremely shy as an eight year old, nothing could ever stop her from greeting you with a smile. This was the case the first time she joined the Garnet After School Program and met Vanessa, an ASP volunteer.

Erik, An Unexpected Light

The “Blue Apartments” are well known in the Maple neighborhood. The epicenter of most of the gang activity, this specific row of tiny living quarters has built a reputation of being one of the darkest spots of Fullerton.

Erik grew up in these apartments. It is everything that he knows. In 2011 the Maple After School Program did not have a building. Solidarity would take pop-up tents, portable tables, folding chairs, some school supplies, and load them all into the back of a beat up pick-up. Feet from Erik’s home, the staff would unload all of the elements necessary to run an outdoor after school program. Despite ugly weather conditions and a harsh learning environment, Erik’s curiosity led him to hang out with Solidarity in these very early days.

Almost five years later, Erik sat on a chartered bus returning from Yosemite Sierra Summer Camp (YSSC). For a week he had experienced God’s presence in a Christian camp on the outskirts of Bass Lake. Things felt different to Erik, but he didn’t quite know why. He completed Level 3 of IMPACT and earned his way to YSSC. Reflecting back on the work he put in leading up to his week at camp, Erik realized his life was heading down a path he never imagined.

Our IMPACT program asks each student to set three goals. Creating tangible benchmarks with a mentor, Erik focused on a few areas in his life he wanted to improve: self discipline, academics, and health. He committed to maintain a 70% attendance at Merge (Monday evening church). God was quietly shaping Erik as he accomplished goals, met with his mentor, and experienced new purpose and direction in his life.

While at camp Erik joked, “Here, everyone feels like family; people just say ‘Hi’ all the time and everyone loves you. On Truslow (the Blue Apartments), you have to be careful of who you talk to or you could get slapped.” Although it was masked in humor, the seriousness of Erik’s statement resounded clearly.

There is a consequence to the way you behave while living in the neighborhood. At camp, Erik was free to be a teenager without the pressure of having to demonstrate how tough he was. He didn’t have to prove anything; instead, he was accepted into a safe family environment. In this new-found freedom, Erik took risks by reaching out to make new friends, going rock climbing, and banana boating on the lake.

However, the biggest change in Erik’s life is how he began to listen to God. The next night at Merge, Matt Anderson taught that the same experience of being in God’s presence at camp was attainable in the neighborhood as well. Matt explained that God was speaking to them at camp and is speaking to them here on the streets. He then asked the whole room to quiet themselves of all distractions and listen to God to see who He put on their mind.

Erik settled into his chair trying to quiet his mind and listen to God. In the silence, Erik did not expect anything to come to him. Then, all of a sudden, his dad popped into his head. Shaking it off, Erik thought to himself, “No, that was too quick, I think I made that up…I gotta try again.” Again his dad entered his mind. Figuring that God was trying to tell him something, Erik asked, “What do you want me to tell my dad, God?”

“I felt like God wanted me to tell my dad that no matter what we are going through, that I will be there with him,” Erik recalled the next day. “Things have been rough lately between me and my dad. It hasn’t been the best.” Erik shared how Matt’s teaching had really moved him. God wasn’t an invisible, unknown entity; He was the Lord, choosing to speak something specifically to Erik.

God used IMPACT, camp at YSSC, and a prayer exercise at the Merge to draw Erik closer to Jesus.

The Blue Apartments are still a dark place in the Maple neighborhood. Yet, God has chosen young leaders, like Erik, to be a new light. He is not the same. His home will not be the same. The Maple community will not stay the same.

Through your support and generosity, Solidarity has been able to provide opportunities for IMPACT, camps, and a youth church. Thank you for investing in the hearts, minds and lives of those God is using to help transform communities.