Bethesda News

Challenges of Reaching Teenagers

In 2019 we held the Grand Opening of Phase 1 of our expanded Community Center. Last month in the January Newsletter we overviewed one of our new programs taking place in that beautiful new building, the Teen Workforce Development. This month I’d like to dig deeper into that program, look at the need for it and how it’s making an impact on teens in Allison Hill.

According to the National Fatherhood Initiative, there is a father absence crisis in America. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau documents that 18.3 million children, 1 in 4, live without a biological, step, or adoptive father in the home. Consequently, there is a father factor facing America today. Conclusive research data continues to confirm the effects of father absence on poverty, maternal and child health, incarceration, crime, teen pregnancy, child abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, education, and childhood obesity. (Source: U.S. Census Bureau. (2020). Living arrangements of children under 18 years old: 1960 to present. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Census Bureau.)

While the debate rages on as to the underlying causes for why teens are experience these negative effects, including the absence of fathers or men in their lives, these challenges have spurred many rescue missions across America to take stock of what priority they have established to reach children and teens, evaluating their existing programs or launching new ones. Bethesda Mission has made reaching children and teens and supporting and bolstering family structure a priority for 30 years. Compounding this challenge of absent fathers is the effect of COVID on kids and their parents that is acutely being played out in the lives of those in the Herr Street Community.

What a crisis, what a challenge. One of the Community Center’s foundational goals is to provide age targeted programs where positive adult role models can invite elementary age children to dream, inspire middle school students of the possibilities to succeed, and ignite in a teenager specific ways to reach for and achieve a life worth living. In doing so, as these children and teens progress, an underlying objective is met – prevention of these children and teenage boys and girls from becoming residents at our Men’s and Women’s Shelters.

Nashon Walker, REACH Workforce Manager, has been instrumental in the success of our staff reaching children and teens. 80-90% of our Community Center teens are facing fatherlessness. “We are addressing the crisis with relational discipleship We have male figures on staff to bridge the gap kids are experiencing at home,” Nashon said. “We do this through four levels of discipleship – spiritual development, skill development, attribute development, and career readiness. Also our 7 Cs success tools – communication, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, confidence, character, care.”

Nashon is motivated to keep going at this work because this is his purpose and passion. “It’s an amazing environment here. Andre is a great leader with a vision. He allows me to be myself and be creative.” He also cites seeing the lives of teens transformed as a source of motivation. “Our students have access to a gym to be able to train, and our media interns record their athletic achievements to send to colleges,” Nashon said. Two girls in the program received full scholarships because of this.

Maya started coming to the Community Center within the last year for basketball programs and from that is now involved in the teen program. “I loved it here because of the family atmosphere, everyone welcomes you with open arms,” Maya said. Because of the Workforce Program, she now has a resume and interview skills.

Video has been attending our programs since he was eight years old. Now getting ready to graduate from high school, he attends the teen program that is helping him prepare for the future. “I get to meet new people and have new experiences. Nashon is one of my mentors, I’ve learned a lot from him,” Video said.

Building loving, mentoring, discipling interaction with impressionable kids is what our Community Center thrives on, what has been experienced by Video and Maya and many others who have come to 15th and Herr. The teens coming to our Community Center, and their families, are being FIREPROOFED to cope with and absorb challenges they face, to find hope and success, all from a foundation of experiencing the love of God expressed through the mentoring and nurturing of dedicated, gifted adults.

Nowhere have the COVID restrictions been more keenly felt than on the staff at our Community Center. Prior to the pandemic, our vision, programs, and partnerships were growing with great expectation of serving many more kids, their families and adults with life supporting services. Then the shutdown took over. Last summer we finally opened up to run a Summer Camp program with restrictions and to meet with teens in small groups emphasizing workforce development and discipleship. A variety of programs have been held for all ages with limited numbers. We are looking forward to being able to open fully again. What do we do in the meantime?

We go to war. “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.”

We pray. “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”

We engage, seeking deep and meaningful relationships. A vital part of winning this war for the hearts and minds of our children and teens is real communication and quality time with them.

On the facilities front, Phase I, renovation of the former printing company into a gymnasium, computer lab, teen center, and outdoor space, was completed and celebrated in August 2019. Now we are seeking to raise $1.2M to demolish the old fire station and construct a 10,000 sf structure in which our programs for elementary and middle school students can thrive. We envision 2021 being the year to find the resources to complete Phase II.

The Community Center provides access for teens who normally don’t have access to basics like food, love, consistency, a gym, mentorship, and programs. “Knowing that we have partners and donors that care about what we do is so important, their support is vital in changing lives of kids and teens,” Nashon said. Your support changes lives. Please consider renewing your partnership so that we can continuing transforming lives of teens and families and providing a place where teens can feel loved and be a part of a family.


Trusting Him,

Scott Dunwoody
Executive Director

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