By Lesley Simmons
We all suffer from invisible wounds. I was with a group of friends recently, and one by one the women started opening up and sharing about difficulties, several acknowledging that they think they stem from hurts suffered when they were children or in early relationships. You often hear the term “invisible wounds” associated with soldiers suffering from PTSD, but early wounds of not feeling loved or understood or cared for are a different type of invisible wound that can plague many of us in different ways. While my friends and I were talking, I couldn’t help but think about the students in Acts4Youth and their invisible wounds.
Some of the kids look and talk tough, but if you knew their back stories – of having no one to consistently wake them up for school or make sure they have breakfast or dinner, of sleeping on the spare mattress of a non-family member who agreed to take them in, or hiding in a bush to avoid gun fire – you could understand why they have adopted a hard outer layer or why they aren’t always truthful about their home circumstances.
I worry for these students. My friends had at least one parent who loved them, and they grew up in safe middle class neighborhoods, but still they suffer from invisible wounds. How will these children stay strong despite these wounds and despite experiencing poverty, pressure to have early sexual experiences and drop out of school?
The Acts4Youth program staff are a ridiculously dedicated bunch. They care deeply about these students and even spend their off hours with them. Olivia and Tay both individually take several of the girls to church with them and are holding a weekly bible study this summer. Ernest hangs out with the boys on the weekends and takes them to play basketball or to the movies. Kevin invited one of the boys who is talented at basketball to join his son’s team and went out of his way to drive him to and from practices.
The students’ relationships with staff and volunteers offer “confiding relationships by someone who genuinely cares about their welfare with no ulterior motives,” which according to a recent article in the Chronical of Evidence Based Mentoring is “particularly successful in moving the needle on depression in vulnerable youth.” And Acts4Youth classes are giving the kids language to express their worries, skills to regulate their behavior and emotions, self-awareness to define their limits and what they want now and in their future. The after-school programs are introducing them to Christ and the unerring love of the Father for them and what it means to their lives.
Will this be enough? Honestly, we don’t know, but Kevin and the program staff are always striving to figure out what more we can do to support these students and how to give them hope. Their wounds will be there, but we pray that despite them, and maybe even propelled by them, their futures will be filled with achievements and love and generosity of spirit.
Lesley Simmons is Acts4Youth’s part-time marketing communications director. She writes their communications materials, organizes events, and assists with fundraising. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.