We see them frequently, moving in small bands up and down the hill between downtown Stanwood and the high school. They’re not students, but they seem to like being near though not part of the school scene.
One recent June evening two of these teens knocked on our door. They wore knitted caps pulled low over their ears and carried nearly-empty backpacks. They were polite . . . and hungry. Though it was 9 P.M. and nearly dark, they asked if we had any work they could do. They needed $5 to buy food.
They’d evidently not been on the streets long. I wanted to pull them inside and sit them down for a good meal, then give them a place to stay. But warnings came flashing to mind. Instead, I told them we had no work but if they’d sit down on the porch, I’d make them a sandwich. I did that, and added some brownies. Wyatt and Chris thanked me profusely and set off down the road, but not until Wyatt told me where he was from and that he and his father didn’t get along. “But me and my mom are in touch every day,” he said. I asked where they’d spend the night. “I have a blanket,” he said. “We’ll be okay.”
We prayed for the boys that evening, but still I worried about them. The next day, we ran into them in the halls of the community center. They were still walking around looking for work. I asked if they’d stayed warm last night.
“It was cold,” Wyatt said, “but we had a dry place to sleep.” He was reluctant to tell me where, though he did share that he hopes to get his GED.
Our little farming community has a big population of homeless kids. Some sleep in the parks and in dumpsters behind the downtown businesses. Some make a practice of couch-surfing, staying with one friend, then another. Some are addicted to heroine.
Some of these boys and girls are runaways or throw-away kids. Their common denominator is that they feel abandoned. I read a piece by an anonymous foster parent who said “Too many parents, especially men, try to “fix” their children after they are teens, which only teaches them that they are not good enough, at a time in their lives when they need every ounce of self-confidence they can manage.” Perhaps this is what’s going on between Wyatt and his dad.
What can I do to help these lost, aimless kids? I’m not sure. At the very least, I need to understand the problem. I need to have compassion for them. I may never have the skills to deal with their problems myself, but I can support those who do. Youth for Christ has a presence in our town, both in the schools and at The Spot, where kids can go for fun, for help with homework, for relationship-building. Step Up is a YFC program which links community people as mentors to kids who have been neglected in the life skills department. Kids learn the value of work through programs like this and gain help in breaking the welfare cycle. I know there are other places and people who reach out. I need to learn more about what’s available.
I can also learn the names of some of the kids. Then I can pray for them by name, that they will come to know the love of their Heavenly Father who will never leave nor abandon them. If the door opens, I can befriend and mentor one of these young people. For them, the need is desperate.