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By Mike Roby

“When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices.” Proverbs 11:10 That scripture is true because the righteous of any society shares with their city or village as they prosper rather than hoarding.

Mike plays with the Morgan-Briar Bluegrass Band at last year’s “Evening with Patsy Cline featuring Kellye Cash Shepherd.”

One particular scene of the 2006 comedy, Talladega Nights-The Ballad of Ricky Bobby– was hilarious but sadly realistic. The camera panned on NASCAR Champion Ricky Bobby’s home before his famous Grace. The driveway is full of cars, boats, Hummers etc. As a person who works in fundraising for struggling non-profits I immediately saw what the movie was depicting….Gross Excess. I thought of Solomon’s observation in Eccl. 5:13 “I have seen a grievous evil under the sun: wealth hoarded to the harm of its owners.” At some point I believe we are all guilty of over-indulgence, selfishness, rather than sharing.

I know people who have little but like the widow in the Bible give sacrificially and are full of joy and contentment. I also know successful wealthy people who bless others and find great joy in supporting their church, local non-profits and individuals in need. Without question they live the most fulfilled lives that Solomon also mentioned as he concluded his pondering of life:

Eccl. 5:18 “This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot. 19 Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God. 20 They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart.”

So live, love and be blessed. There should be no guilt for success and prosperity. True fulfillment comes when one takes it to the next level of giving to others. You can take it with you. “Whoever gives a cup of water in my name will not go without his reward.” The only thing we can take to heaven is what we give away on earth. If you are like me, I have more than I can store.

By Paige Blesdoe, LCSW

Paige Bledsoe, LCSW is the Program Director for Eden of Youth Town, a responsive, Christ-centered treatment program for girls, ages 12-17 set to open in January of 2015.

What do you think of when you hear teenage girl?

I think so many things! Girls are silly, chatty, mean, dramatic, fun, moody, beautiful, special, daddy’s little girl, easily influenced, emotional, self- conscience. They are all these things and so much more. I love working with girls. They keep things interesting to say the least.

When I am approached about Youth Town opening its doors to serve girls in January, 2015, I am often met in one of two ways. The majority of people share how overjoyed they are that Youth Town will begin to provide services to adolescent girls, others look at me and ask me, “Are you ready for girls?” The latter question often makes me laugh out loud. My answer never waivers, YES! I am ready for girls. Yes, I am ready for the “drama” that girls can bring. Yes, I am ready for a range of emotions. Yes, I am ready to connect with them. Yes, I am ready to provide the guidance, treatment, support, safety, and love of Christ that so many girls fighting the battle of Chemical Dependency and other struggles have not yet received in their short life. YES! I am ready!!! I am over the moon!

My passion for working with females began when I started my career serving survivors of sexual trauma. This experience ignited a passion within me that could only come from the Lord. Girls are special! They are not like boys! They are different!

What do we know about girls?

Girls are relational. They are created with a desire to connect to others. It is through this connection with others that girls develop a sense of self-worth, whether that worth be strong, healthy, and positive or whether they view themselves sad, unworthy, unlovable, and even bad. Their relationships to their parents, their peers, others, and God help them develop into the women that they become. Sadly, many girls don’t grow up in Christian homes full of love, support and encouragement, guidance, a listening ear, positive discipline, all of which build healthy self- worth. Many grow up in families that are unsafe physically and emotionally; that unfortunately do not teach them how to cope, problem solve, to find their value in their relationship with our heavenly Father. It is these precious girls that are at risk of chemical dependency, trauma, depression, anxiety, and a wealth of struggles. These are the girls we will serve. These are the girls that we will seek to show God’s love! His healing!

So what do girls need to support healthy development? To build a strong sense of self?

1. To know that she is loved and accepted.
2. To be encouraged! Praised! Tell her how proud you are of her- her good decisions, her accomplishments, how she has faced struggles, and worked hard.
3. Listen to her! It is in her daily conversations that you will truly know her- what she cares about, who she is hanging out with, where she is struggling and needs support and guidance.
4. Limits! Teach her where the limits are; tell her your expectations; give her information. Help her learn to make decisions that are in her best interest and when she struggles provide guidance and love through conversation, not just telling her what to do.
5. Teach her through your example how to treat people, how to be kind, assertive, Godly.

Girls are awesome! Girls are dramatic! Girls are worth the connection!

By Randy Church

Randy is the Marketing/Court Liaison at Youth Town. He has served in this ministry over 20 years as a house parent, direct care worker, aftercare officer and camp director. He raised his children the better part of their childhood on our campus and his lovely bride, Lisa, supervises our food service. His servant’s heart bleeds through in the following words.

As a child, I was fortunate, no wait, blessed. Yeah that’s a better word. As a child I was blessed to be raised in a tiny agriculture-based town. The community was really small. Small enough that simple things still meant a lot. The county fair was still our “big deal” every year. It was popular not for the midway games and shows. The carnival rides weren’t the big draw either. It was, in fact, the handmade quilts and preserves. The homegrown fare was such as corn, pumpkins, tomatoes and beans. The craftsmen showing their best in hopes of the coveted blue ribbon and bragging rights for the next year. Another of the competitions that people looked forward to and prepared for was the animal showings. A pig farmer would take his prize hog, clean him, train him how to stand and show him. When the fair ended the farmer would take his prize animal back to the barnyard. What do you think that pig did when he got home? Yep, went right back to the mud. If nothing had changed in the barnyard, he went back to the same muck and mire.

At Youth Town, we see young men, on a regular basis, come from that muck and mire. The majority of these young men make life changing decisions and do all the “right stuff.” We witness awesome young men of God grow in their relationship with a Creator. In this relationship they learn they don’t have to continue to live in the trap of addiction. They can be set free! They see, many times for the first time in their young lives, there is a better way of living. We are blessed with watching these once broken and muddy young men walk out with their heads held high. They leave with good intentions.

What happens to these young men when they return to the same environment? Sadly, some go right back to the same old way of life without the family making any changes while others are staying clean and sober. The difference is change of environment. Many of the staff continue to pray for the guys and their families even after they have gone home.

You can join with us by giving and in praying for the families that need to make changes. Having been at Youth Town for more than 20 years, I have seen my share of well intending young men go home to the same turmoil from which they were delivered. I have also witnessed a greater number go back to the barnyard and not end up in the mud hole. Those are what keeps us going.

One of my least favorite things to hear a believer say is “All I can do is pray.” When we say that we send a message that the enemy hears. That message is that we don’t believe prayer is the most important thing we can do. What we should say is, “I can pray!”

Guess what? We can pray! Partner with us and lift up the families of these great guys. Oh yeah and give! God bless.

By Pepper Pratt, Ph.D.

On their first day, many of the boys who are new admissions to Youth Town believe with all of their heart that it is the worst day of their life. Sometimes, their mamas feel the same way. What they often forget is that there was usually a prayer that was sent up in the middle of a moment when a boy was being loaded into a police car or when a mama was in the middle of the fourth hour of not knowing of her son’s whereabouts. “Lord, please help…if you’ll get me out of this, I’ll do….”

Truth is, we want to work it out ourselves. When we are hurting, we just want the pain to end. However, the help that sometimes comes from the Lord is in the form of discipline and structure. There is a purpose, though. We often hear the following Scripture quoted: those I love I discipline, so be earnest and repent. Unfortunately, we mistakenly allow a misinformed image of a mean-old-man-god just looking for an opportunity to take wayward humans to a celestial woodshed. We associate this kind of discipline with punishment. God’s discipline is His way of providing an environment for us to receive His love. Hebrews tells us that we don’t like God’s structure when He brings it, but is it for our good and His glory!

What is the result? Well, the verse- those i love I discipline, so be earnest and repent actually comes from Revelation 3:19. It was a few years ago I realized a connection between two verses I often heard quoted, but not together. Yes! God disciplines those He loves, but look at what comes next in Revelation 3:20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person and they with me.

Did you catch that? God structures us so he can have intimate fellowship with us! It’s no wonder that the structure of residential treatment ploughs up the ground for the seeds of the gospel to be planted. The wildness of substance abuse and chemical dependency must be addressed, lassoed and brought under control. When this begins, God begins to speak softly to Youth Town boys and families, reminding them of His unconditional, matchless, amazing love!

So, in the past six years, we have seen hundreds of boys believe that their first day at Youth Town was the worst day of their lives. (Youth Town has been here since 1962, but we have tracked spiritual decision more closely in the past six years.) Once adjusting to the new structure of their lives, over 500 boys have given their hearts to Christ, followed in baptism and have enjoyed a new fellowship with the God who made them and saved them and called them according to His purpose. Upon discharge, many more of our boys see that the first day at Youth Town was indeed one of the best days of their lives.

Pepper Pratt, Ph.D. is the Executive Director of Youth Town of Tennessee, husband of Karen and dad to two boys who are both chasing after God.

As a child, many of us were told that if we were ever in the city and got lost, find a police officer. He would help. Jackson’s finest go to work every day to serve and protect, laying their lives on the line, living with the constant tension between serving law abiding citizens and protecting them from those who want what they want when they want it.

Many children today grow up with the belief that officers of the law are people to avoid. The word “cop” has Scottish roots going back to “nabbing, catching or arresting.” So, to avoid the cops means to many kids that they should avoid getting caught. Thus, from this operating system, many youngsters see police officers as an enemy, perhaps dehumanizing them, almost like a video game.

In order to survive emotionally, many police officers compartmentalize those whom they arrest in such a way that depersonalizes them into similar categories. If they are not careful, cynicism can creep in and they can see nearly all people as untrustworthy and possibly up to no good.

Investigators Glenn Buckley and Rusty Ballentine are officers who see beyond the perpetration of crime and have hope that people can change, especially with early intervention. Buckley says, “Rusty and I have always had a passion for helping people take their next step.

Even as Investigators we try to invest in the lives of not only the victims in our cases but also the offenders. We as Christians realize that we mess up every day and that only by God’s grace are we where we are today. Rusty and I have a desire to love people the same way Jesus loves people and that is to meet them where they are and to love them where they are; but to also love them enough to not leave them there.“

The two groups, law enforcement and those in trouble, came together at Youth Town last weekend. These two JPD officers, not so hardened of heart, had a vision to build a bridge with those who have been in trouble. The bridge was made of three days in the woods, teaching boys who are in treatment for substance abuse how to survive in the wild with only the things they possessed on their person.

Both officers identify with the Christ centered mission of Youth Town to help boys out of the captivity of substances through irreversible life change. What they may not have known is the very intentional desire of Youth Town to move more toward a gender responsive approach to treating boys that includes life skills that are unique to (but not limited to) men. Boys thrive on accomplishment and affirmation. The smallest of successes can go a long way toward building confidence that ultimately leads to the hope of a drug-free lifestyle.

So as the Boys in Blue locked arms with Youth Town’s staff, they led the young men, who are residents at Youth Town over the hills, through the woods and by the lake on the property that has been Youth Town’s home since 1962. During the time together, the residents — who are from different parts of West Tennessee and some from Middle Tennessee—learned to build and extinguish a proper campfire.

Although Kumbaya was not sung, there is something about men and campfires and cooking over an open flame that makes for discussion that does not happen in the counseling room. “It was almost more therapeutic than an actual therapy session. The kids talked about their life experiences leading up to where they are. They talked about important occurrences in their life and even how they had hit rock bottom,” said Nathan Judd, Youth Town therapist who participated in the weekend.

The officers taught the boys how to create a shelter from nature—branches, leaves and mud and even live off the land. Surprisingly, even kids from rural towns may not get outside much. But, kids are kids and every kid has a story. “We didn’t know the individual stories of the young men selected to participate and that didn’t matter to us as we hoped that us being police officers wouldn’t matter to them. I would say that it took that first day to build that trust between us and the young men. Once that trust was there you could see the shock on their face, “hey some cops are cool” I heard one of them say”, said Buckley.

Whether it was a first fish caught or simply being in the dark, the boys began to view these officers in a different light. They weren’t cops, but leaders, teachers and potentially, friends. As the officers saw the eagerness of the boys to learn, they quickly became kids in the eyes of the law. Not perpetrators, addicts or even juveniles. Just young men. One of the officers summed it up, “They (the boys participating) were away from their families and friends, had been kicked out of school, and at the beginning of the weekend though not many people cared. At the end of the day they know that there are people that love them exactly where they are right now.”