Fresh Start

There is nothing like a clean slate, a fresh start, new mercies. That’s what a New Year brings. We stop and think about what direction we’d like to head, the goals we’d like to meet, places we’d like to go, people we’d like to hang out with. BUT, it also stops us and gives us a minute to look back over the last year. At YoungLives, we are sometimes so busy planning our next Club Night, parenting class, committee meeting, fundraiser, etc… that we forget just how much fun we had along the way! Here’s a look at 2018 in pictures. 200+ teens and their little ones, 70+ volunteers, 30+ graduations celebrated, winter and summer camps, 10 Club events in two cities, weekly parenting classes, four major fundraisers, weekly prayer coverage, committee meetings, coffee meet ups, and sooooooo many things in between. What a blast!

If you’re reading this and aren’t currently involved, you should consider it – we honestly have so much fun together and the best part…lives are changing. Young lives are changing with the teens and their children as they are exposed to the Lord by word and by actions. Volunteers lives are changing also because that’s just how good the Lord is – the more we share with others, the more abundantly He blesses us – there is no outgiving Him. If you’re ready to start something new – YoungLives may be just what the Lord is calling you to in 2019. If so, get in touch with us…we’d love to talk with you!

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When You Wish Upon A Star

“When you wish upon a star, it makes no difference who you are. “

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That’s the phrase that comes to mind when I think of Disneyland, there is something about a place that when you enter you are enveloped by these types of messages. Things of wishes, dreams and wonder are often left in the state of childhood. Regardless of age and where you come from, the minute you enter the park everyone has the same access to all the Disney magic. You might have to wait in long lines and manage through busy crowds, but everyone with a ticket to the “Magic Kingdom” is able to enjoy the benefits of the “happiest place on earth”.

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I recently had the pleasure to visit the park along with a few teen moms and their kids from YoungLives. There’s something special getting to witness others experience places like Disneyland, especially through the eyes of a child.  At every turn there is wonder and amazement. Children have a way of reminding us the simple and beautiful things that make us human. We spent a whole 12 hours walking around the park and making the most of all the sites, rides and delicious treats. The park was decorated for Christmas with trees, trimmings and many, many lights. It was the sweetest thing to see the moms delight in sharing this experience with their little ones. Throughout the entire day they were all smiles and carefree spirits, the kind that comes when you are in the moment and embrace life’s simple pleasures. These moms are some of the bravest women and they model so much sacrifice and love for their kids, to say this gift was a treat is an understatement.

One of the things I appreciate about serving with YoungLives is that they do many amazing things to help and care for teen parents and their families, but what stands out is how they don’t just strive to provide basic needs, they go above and beyond to restore love and dignity with gifts and experiences like Disneyland. They may start with the practical, but they move on to help these teens to believe in themselves and their futures.  They say that raising a child takes a village, and for those that are a part of YoungLives, they get to experience community and support in ways that allow them to not just thrive but flourish.

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That day, God reminded me once again, it really doesn’t matter who you are. Even greater than Disneyland, the invitation into the Kingdom of God and access to the abundant life is available for all. Regardless of where we’ve been and what our circumstances are we can step into the reality of life and joy to the full. That is what the gospel is all about, Jesus desires to restore hope, love and new dreams to all those who would accept the invitation.

Ellie Fonseca, YoungLives Mentor

Crazy Generosity

Have you ever seen crazy generosity? The kind that really makes no sense? The kind where you step back and go – Really? The flavor of giving that leaves you with your jaw on the ground and a million questions swirling in your head? I have. I got a front row seat to that kind of makes-no-sense, bigger-than-us generosity at our recent YoungLives Christmas Boutique. And let me just tell you, it was soulfillingly (yes, I just made up that word!) beautiful.

The generosity started with the giving of gently used items for babies, mamas, and baby daddies / boyfriends. I casually made an announcement at a weekly gathering I attend. I figured I would just “throw it out there” and maybe have a couple of people give a few things. Fast forward a few weeks, and a literal mountain of donated items was in front of my garage door. I got a little choked up by such kindness. Oh, but the goodness of generosity was just getting started.

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After that there was a simple little text from a friend. Her daughter’s National Charity League group had voted and they wanted to give a bunch of wrapped gifts to our Young Lives moms. Would that be OK, the text asked. Young girls giving to other young girls in a very different circumstance. If that isn’t beauty, I don’t know what is.

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Other volunteers across the county were having the same experience as me as we collected and sat in awe of the abundance. On the evening of the event, we filled one room where the moms and young guys would have a chance to shop for themselves, one room where they parents could shop for their babies, one room where new toys were on display and the teen parents could place tickets in a raffle to win the toy of their choice, gifts under a tree to be given to the girls as they arrived, and then a parting gift for the end of the evening. Did I mention that someone stopped by the morning we were setting up and just happened to have gifts to give to all the kids when they sat on Santa’s lap?  Oh, yeah, that happened too!

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Are you getting the picture?  Are you seeing the love and kindness just seeping out of the edges of this whole beautiful scene? Not quite? OK, then let me tell you about the kind of generosity that doesn’t offer THINGS, but time and talents.

So much of that kind of generosity showed up at the Christmas Boutique that I don’t even know where to begin. I could tell you about the young woman who gave her time to decorate the entire venue EXQUISITELY. Or I could tell you about the hours of logistical planning that went into making the whole evening flow smoothly. I could also mention the army of baby holding arms and patient listening ears that came out to rock, cuddle, read, and play with the little 50+ guests in attendance. Oh, and there was the professional photographer who set up the most beautiful of back drops for family photos for these teens. Yep, they ARE families and their special moments, like Christmas with their babies, deserve marking, honoring and remembering too. That was a generous gift that will be treasured for years to come.

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Ever think about driving as being generous?  I can assure you that as a mom with 4 kids left at home, each with a bajillion activities, driving is a pure act of generosity! And our volunteers and mentors battled the traffic of a Tuesday night and the car seat wrangling required to get babies where they needed to be. They did it with ease and grace – even at the end of the evening when loading their cars up to leave was harder than winning a game of Tetris.

 

Then there were the guys that prepared the meal. When we volunteers gathered in the kitchen to pray before the guests started to arrive, I was just overcome by how a simple smell can speak love. The meal of ham, sweet potatoes, and spinach salad smelled so good and so comforting. These guys had given their day to prepare a meal to be shared and enjoyed by many that they didn’t even know. That there is a foodie’s generosity in all its glory.

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And then Myrna’s message. Oh, the message that is so simple that it can be contained in one nativity sticker sheet. And yet, it’s so complex that you can hear it again and again and take something new away each time. The teens sat and heard of Jesus’ birth and of circumstances that weren’t ideal and choices that were hard. They heard of shepherds who “leaned in” and went to see, because a great and generous God told them to. They were invited to lean in too, to see what God has for them. 

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Some went away with a lot of wonderful gifts. Some went away inspired and encouraged. Some went away feeling loved and cared for. Some went away understanding the Christmas story for the first time ever. And some went away believing again in the goodness of the God who created them and the gift of His son that we celebrate at Christmas. Whatever each teen took away from that beautiful evening, it was generosity in its many and varied forms that made it possible. The same generosity that brought a baby into the world thousands of years ago overflows in us today to point the way back to Him!

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Merry Christmas to all of our teen parents and babies as well as to all of our YoungLives supporters and volunteers!

Tricia Poissonnier, YoungLives Volunteer

 

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

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This may just look like a random photo but when you’re knee deep into YoungLives, you begin to see the stories unfolding. Stories that have stories of their own. And this photo, though random at first glance actually tells so many stories.

There’s a few girls and their little ones that are in this photo that are alumni moms – those that have graduated from high school. Moms that are raising up toddlers now. They are busy moms figuring out next steps, doing their best to raise their little ones with patience, and love, and manners, and security. They have dreams for themselves and dreams for their little ones. They are not too different then many reading this, in their hopes for their futures, though their obstacles are most likely bigger than ours. I admire them so much for their strength and for their willingness to keep pushing forward. It’s super sweet that on occasion, when their schedule allows, they come back to see us and help out. They are friends of ours and I love seeing them in this photo all together.

One of the alumni, Jayanna (seated on the floor in the grey sweater), has come back to YoungLives full force – she joined the team at Summer Camp as a Junior Leader, she shares encouragement with the young moms. She attends both Santa Ana and Huntington Beach Clubs helping out in anyway she can – eager to give back. She will tell you that YoungLives has really impacted her life and that’s why she wants to give back, but that is a two way street because YoungLives is really impacted by her as well.

Right in the middle of the photo, wearing the white kimono, is Laurie Bradley, Huntington Beach Club Coordinator. She keeps things moving along on club nights from set up to tear down. She spends a good deal of time hugging volunteers, teens, and the babies. She is one of those that checks in with people, making sure they are okay. Asking questions and really listening. She loves the Lord like no other and it can’t help but to reveal itself. She plays a part in so many of the stories of YoungLives.

On the right in the photo, I see the back of Keila wearing the gold color top. Her story about volunteering was featured on the blog in November…you should check it out (here) because it is pretty awesome.

Just to the right of Keila is her friend that is expecting any day now. A new YoungLives baby on the way…the story continues.

In the back of the photo (far right) – a young mom and dad and their little one. They are such a sweet family. This is what they shared recently, “We have both faced many challenges in our lives and we still do everyday. We have learned that YoungLives is always there for us teen parents. We both hope to finish high school and go to college to begin careers for our family. Thank you for everything YoungLives. We really cannot explain how grateful we are for this program.”

God willing, the stories will continue. I’m so grateful to be part of it.
Colleen Drew, Area Office Admin

Thankfulness

This week was a first for me in YoungLives. Due to a schedule change we had made for Club Nights, there was going to be one month, November, that would land TWO Clubs into one week. This was that week.

Honestly, heading into it I was a bit apprehensive about keeping things straight from an administrative point of view. Is food, craft, decor, program, message, childcare, rides lined up for Santa Ana? What about for Huntington Beach? Wait. Do we have a musician for Huntington? We don’t have live music in Santa Ana (still a prayer that hasn’t quite been filled yet!), so I don’t need to worry about it there but almost forgot to inquire for HB. Oh yes, and a change in childcare room availability in Santa Ana…okay, no worries, we got this. BUT…will the sweet high schoolers show up to help us in Santa Ana childcare? What if they don’t? Yikes! (I’m reminded how we are so blessed to have the Lord watching over this ministry and providing just what we need but I sure wish He would bring us a few more volunteers in this area – lol!) For the record…the high schoolers showed up and were AMAZING as always. Stevie showed up in Huntington Beach to provide music like he always does.

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The Thanksgiving meals were prepared with serious love…I’m talking about volunteers that go above and beyond…turkey, fresh veggies, homemade rolls, parmesan chicken, lemon bars, brownies, cookies, cupcakes…unbelievable goodness. The rooms in both locations were so festively decorated, reminding us that it’s Thanksgiving time and there is much to be grateful for.

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Strong messages were given in both clubs by Evie in Santa Ana and by Lisa in HB. As we head into the Christmas season, I thought that Lisa posed a really great question to the teens – “Do you think there are benefits to getting to know Jesus?”  She shared how we sometimes decide we don’t like someone because they appear different than us. We don’t really get to know them, we just decide we don’t like them. She told us that was how she first felt about Jesus, until she got to actually know Him. She challenged the teens to follow Christ through one of the gospels, to at least get to know Him before hanging onto the thought that they don’t like Him. Travel where He travels, see what He has to say, check out who He is hanging out with, watch out for His reactions, see how He treats people that are different from Himself. She told them, they may just find out that they like Him and want to get to know Him even more.

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With it now being Friday, two Club Nights behind us, I can honestly say – ALL my apprehensions were left unwarranted, the week was AMAZING. Teen families were loved on, reminded how grateful we are for them and for the courage they have to show up. Volunteers gave their energy, their smiles, their hugs, and their time. It was a great week and I’m thankful to have YoungLives as part of my everyday.

Happy Thanksgiving!

❤️Colleen, Area Office Admin

 

Full Circle, Giving Back

The first time I was introduced to YoungLives was through my older sister Alyn. She was a teen mom at the age of 18 with my blessing of a nephew, Jr. A friend of Alyn’s invited her to attend this wonderful group of teen moms and a community who help them in November of 2014. I was living with Alyn at the time and I will never forget the nights she would come home from these events, not only with her hands full of baby stuff for my nephew but her eyes and attitude filled with joy and happiness. It filled my own heart with joy to see how these people, who we barely knew, could have such a great impact on her small family. Their ability to give what might seem like so little created something much greater for teen moms; from clothes to a well spent evening with dinner, and a great message from their own experience through their own parenting journeys and how our Lord has touched their hearts and lives, and to top it off, a wonderful craft to go home with.

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I would only hear all these things from my sister, who would tell me everything they provided for her and how excited she would be each month about attending the next YoungLives. This touched the deepest part of my heart! After a couple years, God blessed me with a home here in HB in not only a home that is a blessing but with a wonderful lady named Kimberly who had mentored my sister during her time in YoungLives. Kimberly had also hosted my sister Alyn and her family at a previous time.

After reflecting on what these events have done for my family and our lives, and now being closer to this community, more than ever, I felt in my heart, to give and help out in anyway that I could. So, I signed up to volunteer for childcare at YoungLives because I love spending time with such wonderful people, who make all this happen for the teen moms and getting the chance to be part of this amazing community!

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Then I heard of the opportunity to make/bring a meal for the October’s 2018 club night – I didn’t hesitate to do so because what they have given to my life is nothing compared to providing a meal made possible with the help of Kimberly and God. Just being able to serve them during that night and getting feedback on how they enjoyed the meal brought me back to those days my sister would come back home with happiness and joy in her eyes and heart.

I’m so proud to say I’m happy to be part of the YoungLives community and be able to see how much they do for these young families. Recently I even invited one of my close friends to attend so that she could experience this great journey with me! Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to be part of this!!!

Proverbs 3:3-4 :: Let love and faithfulness never leave you: bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man.

Keila Orihuela, Childcare Volunteer and Amazing Cook!

 

 

 

Transformations

One of the things I love about club nights is the transformation that takes place. It starts with a few volunteers (aka friends!) walking into a ‘blank slate’ if you will, a big empty space. IMG_0032Then tables and chairs start getting pulled out of closets and set up, kraft wrap is unrolled to become table coverings, and for this particular night – a Halloween theme begins to unfold. Candle sticks, little kleenex ghosts, pumpkins filled with greenery, big balloon letters spelling out BOO, and festive desserts and drinks are set up. Bins of baby clothing, accessories, formula, diapers, etc…are unloaded and set out for the soon to arrive teen parents to take as needed. Childcare rooms are stocked with necessities. A craft room gets set up with all the materials to make a pom-pom garland. And an amazing Mexican feast including FOUR different types of enchiladas, rice, beans, and salad AND churros – prepared by the nineteen year old younger sister of one of our teen mom alumni (isn’t that awesome?!!!) is set up and ready to be served. Wa-la! The room is transformed into a warm and inviting place – the perfect space for October Club to happen!

We lift the night up in prayer asking the Lord to get the teen families to club safely, for the mentors to have good conversations in the car, that the night’s message would be heard by hearts that need it and they would be moved, that childcare helpers would be ready to love on the little ones, that small groups would be a time of building trust and friendship, and that by the night’s end everyone would have had a good time.

As the teen families and volunteers begin to arrive and check in, it begins to get noisy in all the best ways. Laughter, lots of hugs, ‘how have you beens?’, ‘please, may I hold your baby?’, and again I notice…transformation – a quiet space has been filled with the sounds of friendship and love. It’s so cool to watch this happen!

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After dinner, the room empties of little ones as they head off to childcare to play and be loved on. The teens are then treated to a crazy little game put together by a Shark Duo (Myrna & Yousef – lol!), music by Stevie, and then the message for the night. Amber, in humbleness and vulnerability shared her very personal testimony by way of spoken word. She titled it Proven Wrong. It was so powerful. Not only in the way it was delivered to us, but in the content: “I will rely on no one”, “I thought I had to do it all on my own”, “I had it all, nothing made me happy”, “God has proven me wrong! Straight up, Jesus is rad!”, “There is no way to go through life without storms but with Jesus, we will be safe”, “He wants us to call out to Him.”

DSC_0860A BIG transformation story was shared by a beautiful girl, saved by grace and by God’s grace, continued transformation will continue to happen for those that heard the message.

Colleen Drew ~ Area Office Admin

 

Santa Ana Club Night

Maria, our Santa Ana Club Coordinator and Committee Member takes a look back at Club Night in Santa Ana last week with a great recap.
Last week we had a Halloween Theme for Santa Ana Club. As preparations and set up got underway, the first thing I noticed was Laura and the food team setting up the food table, and second, I saw Tricia decorating the dinner tables with very creative Halloween themed centerpieces. The room quickly filled with families, volunteers and even a group of high schoolers from Santa Ana High School that came to help out.

Laura  surprised us with a special lasagna dinner and as an extra special treat, a couple of ladies brought dessert to sweeten up  the evening. Halloween candy was found in several areas making for a festive evening!

During the Club Talk, Theresa, one of our mentors, shared her personal testimony. She shared about a big storm that she had to walk through but how God got her through that storm and answered her prayers. Her testimony was not only personal but I also believe that a lot of the teens in the room could relate her story to storms in their own lives. Theresa shared a story of hope and also a testimony of how God answered her prayers. After Club Talk, the teen parents had small group time with mentors and friends giving them the opportunity to express themselves and ask for prayer.
At the end of  the night the  teen moms enjoyed craft time that I had the honor of leading.  The  young mamas were able to make a Halloween theme bead bracelet.  I love
craft time since it gives the girls a chance to break away from their every day routines and get a little creative.  I enjoy seeing each one of their personalities and creativity expressed  into the craft.  Craft time also gives the teen moms and mentors  the opportunity to get to know each other, bond, and have a few giggles in between.
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♥ Maria and a YoungLives alumni

On a personal note, I love what God is doing in the YoungLives ministry. This year we have been blessed with many new volunteers and I love getting to know them as we walk through and serve in this ministry together.

We Are the Story

I walked in to the YoungLives Giving Gala on October 5th with my brand new friend and teen mom, Stephany.  I was already feeling God’s presence as He had so carefully orchestrated Stephany and I meeting that evening. We instantly clicked and had already begun to have an open and pretty vulnerable conversation that was creating an incredible connection only God could have made happen.

The room looked beautiful. The ceiling was illuminated with string lights bringing warmth and comfort to the space. The tables were decorated with exquisite displays of delicate flowers, vintage books and old metal keys; an alluring juxtaposition of past and present, beauty and brokenness.

YLGala_2018-16A few dedicated people were there making sure everything was just right and waiting in anticipation for what the night would bring.  My photographer husband was walking around being sure to capture photos of everything in the calm before the storm.  The food was being prepared and smelled delicious. Catering staff appeared ready to go. Everything looked and felt perfect.

What made this whole thing even more amazing was that it truly was one big display of love; showcasing what YoungLives is genuinely all about.  The entire event was sponsored to ensure ALL of the money raised that night would be given to North OC YoungLives to support the sincere efforts of getting resources, love and assistance to the teen moms and dads in Orange County.

 

God’s presence in the room was overwhelming.  I prayed quietly to myself that He would open the hearts of those attending to see the truth of how YoungLives was impacting the youth of our community.

The theme of the evening was “We are the Story”.

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One of the most special parts of the night was when that theme really came to life and some of the teen moms and dads got up to talk about what YoungLives had done for them, their children, and ultimately their lives. Stephany was one of the moms speaking.  Even though she was a little nervous, I encouraged her not to worry because what she had to offer was so important and God would give her the right words. I was excited for her to get up and share with everyone.

As the teen moms and dads were on the stage baring their hearts in front of a group of strangers, I thought about how strong each and every one of them was.  First of all, to have been courageous enough to give their babies a life when they knew it wouldn’t be easy, is an act of bravery like none other.  Now, to get up and share some of their deepest thoughts and feelings so people could see the impact that YoungLives has had on them, their families and their futures? It showed how absolutely fearless they can be as well as how much they believe in what YoungLives is doing and has done for them.

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Stephany with Area Director, Myrna Bittar

Stephany shared so many wonderful things with me about how YoungLives has completely changed her, her perspective and her motives through reintroducing her to God and making her realize there is so much more to life.  So much so, that she was already talking about wanting to come back and volunteer with the program.  I am excited to continue to walk on this journey with her and see where God takes her.  She is determined to finish school this year and I have no doubt that she will.  She is tenacious and a fighter.  I can’t wait to celebrate her graduation and huge accomplishment with her and her son.

Having been a very young parent in a not so great situation, I’m so thankful for this ministry and all its doing.  I wish I had something like this during that tough time in my life.  However, I’m glad I can at least share my story with others and encourage them that there is hope; that life is not over because you’ve had a baby.  No. Life actually has become something more.

To the teen moms and dads out there, you have made the right choice. You can do this. You are strong. You are loved. You are admired. Keep going, ask for help when you need it, walk with God and know He will use your story to encourage others.

To YoungLives thank you for allowing me to be a part of your story.

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Amber and her husband Tony

Amber Matos, YoungLives Mentor

Shaping Lives

For those of you who may not know me, my name is Nicole. I am a nurse practitioner by trade, newly married, I absolutely love Jesus, and I am in love with YoungLives. I love encouraging others whether it be in their faith, their careers, their home lives, school, you name it. The teenage years are a prime time in youth development. Teens are finding themselves and forming their own identity. The choices they make will shape the rest of their lives. Those teens that are currently involved in YoungLives also have the responsibility of caring for another human while trying to figure out who they even are themselves. This year I have the honor of teaching parenting classes at a local high school. Last week I taught a group of 8 girls the importance of language development in their children. What I love about these classes in the intimacy of our setting. We gather around a table in a small room. On the other side of the wall their children get to run around and explore their own development under supervision of enthusiastic caregivers. There are no desks, no slides, and I am not standing up in front of a classroom. This is not your typical high school class. So, we sit down together and dive into a box of donuts. I pass around a couple of handouts and we dig in. I find that these lessons are most impactful when the girls get involved. It’s only the second class of the year so we are still learning to trust one another but these girls will soon see that I am here for them on this journey. After chewing on the importance of language development I get the girls to put it into practice.

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What better way to get comfortable reading to your child than through reading to your peers? The girls look at me like I’m crazy but once they realize I’m serious they humor me. After the first one or two take their turn, the others do so with less hesitation. I’m grateful for their willingness to participate and in the end everyone seems to have enjoyed herself. Girls start firing questions related to the topic and I’m comforted to know they truly care. Next we explore the concept of baby sign language. Again, the demonstration provokes laughter but the girls seem genuinely intrigued. I love the hour I get to spend with these girls. I get the privilege of empowering them to shape themselves into the best moms for their children. If you don’t have children it’s hard to imagine the sacrifice it takes to be a mom. What I can tell you is that I have witnessed the love these young women have for their children and their willingness to do whatever it takes to provide the best for them. I am looking forward to getting to know the girls as the year progresses and seeing them next month to hear about how the lesson has impacted their lives.

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Nicole Vidal, Mentor & Committee Member