Blog

From Selling Drugs to Selling-Out for Jesus

May 13, 2017

Kim grew up in the now-beautiful Wynwood Arts District, but a few years ago this area was full of poverty, crack addicts and the homeless. She had gone to a church before, but they told her she couldn't listen to hip-hop and be a Christian. They never explained what salvation was: she thought it was just God judging her.

Soon, one of her good friends became one of the biggest drug dealers in her neighborhood. Kim saw how much money & power he had, and decided to follow in his footsteps so she could help her mom pay bills. Because of a misunderstanding, the head dealer thought Kim was stealing his clients and threatened to come kill her, warning, "I know where you lay your head at night." She said she would be ready for him when he came.

She had a lot a pride (or "heart" as they say in the streets), but deep down, she was really scared. Her friend was worried about her, so she invited Kim to Catalyst go see her boyfriend perform at our monthly Saturday Mic Live rap battle.

At Catalyst, Kim saw people who loved hip-hop but weren't violent.  She felt accepted, like she didn't have to be somebody she wasn't. She started attending Bible study and had tons of questions.  Soon, she realized that she could love God & hip-hop, and that she didn't have to be a violent person.

Now, Kimberly attends Catalyst regularly, volunteering and bring other girls. Joanna, our girl’s mentor, is working closely with her and is in the process of developing Kim into a Core leader. Kim has started writing her own music and even had the confidence to perform one of her songs live at a Saturday Mic Live. 

-Vivian Stigale, Catalyst Ministry Director

 

Ministry Mindsets

May 1, 2017

When I was part of Teach for America, they taught us a simple mantra when we approached students:

  • Student actions come from student mindsets.

  • Student mindsets come from teacher actions.

  • Teacher actions come from teacher mindsets.

In other words, your mindset about yourself, your students, your classroom, and your teaching would have a direct or indirect effect on how you acted; this, in turn, would influence how kids thought about themselves, the classroom, and their work, which would (finally) determine their actions.

And boy, I wish it weren't true.

Over and over again, I have observed that the quickest and most effective way to improve ministry or relationships is to check mindsets and work aggressively on changing them.

Mad at a ministry staffer about forgetting to call a donor?  Before I pick up the phone to lecture her, I have started saying to myself, "I believe this person is a professional.  I believe s/he is good at her job and is here to serve God.  I believe they can and want to be the best they can be."

I've started doing that because I've seen how it dramatically improves the results of our conversations and coaching.  I don't think it is because I say different words; I think it because my mindset unconsciously influences how I speak to this person, how I treat them, and how I train them.

I've seen the same happen with kids in our ministries.  Glenn enters the juvenile prison each week believing the young men and women sitting in front of him are loved deeply by God, have great potential, and can make a difference for good in the world.  I see them sit up a little straighter and smile before he even starts speaking.  Why?  Because something is communicated before he even speaks.  His mindset oozes into every action he takes.

I encourage you this week, before you have a difficult conversation with someone or attempt to change or fix a child, co-worker, or friend, ask yourself what your mindset is towards this person.  Is it one of respect and dignity?  Or do you fundamentally believe something is wrong with him?  Do you really believe this conversation could go well, and that she wants to have a positive relationship with you?  Or have you already decided she is a lost cause?

Mindset can make such a huge difference!  Use it powerfully to affect change!

-Johanna Ralsten-Cox, Ministries Director

 

New Staff at Miami YFC, and a new school!

March 31, 2017

We have a new member of the Miami YFC staff!  Alicia is from Connecticut, but she and her family recently relocated because her husband, a pastor, was called to Miami.

It just so happened the church he was called to is the home church for a few of our board members.  When one met Alicia and heard her story, he said, "You should really look into Youth for Christ."  She did, and we love her!

Alicia didn't grow up in a Christian home, but a local youth pastor was present on her campus.  He coached a few teams and got to know kids.  He would then invite them to his youth group.  Alicia said she went to his group for 4 years before she decided to become a Christian.

Now, Alicia is doing the same thing that was done for her at one of the largest and hardest to reach high schools in Miami-Dade county: Southridge.  She sent me this picture of her and one of her students this past week, and it warmed my heart!

Please pray for Alicia and her volunteer, a local youth pastor.  And have a happy Friday!

-Johanna Ralsten-Cox, Miami Youth for Christ Ministry Director

 

You're Invited!

March 17, 2017

 

Over the Edge was a Smash!

March 3, 2017

On Saturday, February 25th, over 60 people went over the edge to help Miami Youth for Christ STOP youth violence.  AND they raised nearly $70,000!

We want to thank Mike Pappas and Keyes Realty for allowing us to use their building for our VIP party, media day, and event.  And we want to thank all those who were willing to go over the edge to help Miami YFC spread the message of Jesus and the hope for peace that is found in Him.

Want to join us next year?  We'll be announcing our dates soon!  Email [email protected] if you'd like to be on the mailing list to receive updates about Over the Edge and other Miami YFC events.

 

Do you want to be a hero?

February 17, 2017

If you knew Joel, the founder of Catalyst, you know he would have loved to rappel down the side of the Keyes Building like a member of Seal Team 6!

On Saturday, February 25th, you can be a hero - like Joel was! - and help Miami Youth for Christ stop youth violence.  Visit www.miamiovertheedge.com to learn more about how you can rappel or support a rappeller who is raising money and awareness so that we can end youth violence in our city.

-Vivian Stigale, Grants Writer and Director of Catalyst

 

"I saw my father murdered."

February 3, 2017

When Glenn finished sharing with the room of juvenile defenders, he found himself sitting with a small group.  James* had been disengaged, head in his hands, the entire time Glenn was sharing about God as a father to the fatherless.  Now, sitting across from James, he saw the boy's face twist in pain.

"What's wrong?" he asked in his gentle voice.  He reached out and put a hand on James' shoulder.

Suddenly, tears started rolling down James' face.  "I saw my father murdered when I was 8," he said, before burying his face in his hands again.

Glenn put an arm around James, letting him cry, letting him say what he probably had not told anyone for years.  In that moment, Glenn didn't try to remind him what he'd "just said" about God being a father.  Instead, Glenn was that father-figure.  He allowed a kid - a locked-up, messed-up, broken kid - to be real.

This is giving life to someone's story.  This is mentoring.  This is YFC.

 

Would You Go Over the Edge?

January 23, 2017

Miami YFC is proud to announce its latest and most exciting event yet: Over the Edge!  

We've been awarded a special permit from the city that allows us to send 92 people rappelling down the side of the Keyes Building in Downtown Miami.  Each rappeller will raise a minimum of $1,000 to help end youth violence!

The top rappeller will also receive a FREE cruise vacation!  Additionally, other participants can receive T-shirts, GoPro Cameras, SWAG jackets, and other prizes for hitting fundraising benchmarks.

We have a total of 40 spots remaining - so what are you waiting for?  Get the thrill-seeker in your life (maybe that's you!) registered today!  

Visit miamiovertheedge.com to register, donate or read more.

 

Affordable Christmas Store: Why?

December 16, 2016

We wanted to share this letter from Stacy Morales, our City Life KIX Director, about thoughtful giving at Christmas time.  We love the tradition of giving around the holidays.  We pray you will be thoughtful and wise and blessed as you give.

*******

As you know, KIX is not about hand-outs; we are about providing a hand up and empowering people to be successful in the long term.  All the children and youth we serve deserve to receive a gift on Christmas morning, but their parents also deserve to feel the pride and joy of seeing their children’s faces light up as they tear into gifts that they have selected and purchased for them. 

We have found that often kindhearted, generous giving is at first received with gratitude by the recipients and after a period of time, subsequent gifts become an expectation until such time as the gifts become an entitlement.  Some of you have seen this through comments of dissatisfaction from recipients or demands for more or better alternatives to that which has been provided.  This phenomenon has been documented as follows:

Give once and you elicit appreciation
Give twice and you create anticipation
Give three times and you create expectation
Give four times and it becomes entitlement 
Give five times and you establish dependency

I would like to share with you an excerpt from a story told by Robert Lupton, from FCS Ministries in Atlanta, who has been engaged in urban ministries activism for more 40 years and has authored several books on related subjects.  For many of those years he engaged in his ministry while commuting from the suburbs.  He also coordinated many adopt-a-family -type Christmas giving programs where the names, ages, and sizes of urban children were matched up with suburban families who generously wanted to provide gifts (does this sound familiar?).  It was not until he made the move to the city and observed the process from a recipient families’ living room as a neighbor that he truly understood something that had not occurred to him before. 

I celebrated the season as a newcomer to this urban neighborhood, sipping coffee with one of my new neighbors.  Bare floors were swept clean, and clutter was picked up.  The smell of Pine-sol hung in the air.  Front windows reflected light from two plastic candles.  A small artificial tree on a corner table blinked with a single strand of colored lights.  The children, antsy with anticipation, paced from window to window, waiting for Santa’s helpers to arrive. 

When a knock finally came on their front door, their mom greeted the visitors – a well -dressed family with young children – and invited them to step inside.  A nervous smile concealed her embarrassment as she graciously accepted armfuls of neatly wrapped gifts.  In the commotion, no one noticed that the children’s father had quietly slipped out of the room – no one but their mom.

Not until the guests were gone and the children had torn through the wrappings to the treasures inside did one of the little ones ask where their father was.  No one questioned the mother’s response that he had to go to the store.  But after organizing these kinds of charity events for years, I was witnessing a side I had never noticed before:  how a father is emasculated in his own home in front of his wife and children for not being able to provide presents for his family, how a wife is forced to shield her children from their father’s embarrassment, how children get the message that the “good stuff” comes from rich people and it is free.  … Even the most kindhearted, rightly motivated giving- as innocent as giving Christmas toys to needy children – can exact an unintended toll on a parent’s dignity.   

This year we will continue our tradition, following the model of several other organizations that share our philosophy and mission and have successfully provided an alternative for Christmas giving for many years.    Therefore, we will be bring back our Affordable Christmas Store and stock the store with donations from generous donors in our communities.   The toys will be available to parents at very discounted prices (everyone loves a sale!) since it is simply about allowing our parents to feel they earned that gift and can select and give their child a special gift with dignity.

If you would like to make a special year-end, matched donation, visit our giving page.  

 

Gaining Momentum in Miami-Dade Juvenile Facilities!

December 2, 2016

It was a Sunday afternoon. Ex-felons, hip hop artists, and urban missionaries alike filled the hollow halls of Miami Youth Academy (MYA). They had tattoos, gold teeth, DJ Mix Boards, Nikes, Jordans and Bibles by the box load.

Hip-Hop has long been an instrument that has spoken to the inner city, but today the art form was an instrument of hope, guidance, and the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. Our Juvenile Justice partners made provisions for all of the youth detained to be in attendance as redeemed felons and hip hop artist engaged the microphone in a manner that provoked some guards to tears. Youth inched to the edge of their seats to hear more about how Jesus was the answer for men who once walked in their shoes.  Mr. Williams (MYA Facility Administrator) said he had never seen his youth so engaged and attentive.

After each artist had shared, YFC Juvenile Justice Team member Ronnie Lillard shared the timeless message of the Gospel, and urged the youth that if they wanted to change their lives, they could start today by accepting Jesus as their Savior. As the silence settled, 12 young men made their way to the front of the room to connect with Miami YFC staff and volunteers. After the 12 responded, many others trickled to the front of the room asking for prayer and guidance.

Miami Youth for Christ’s Juvenile Justice team has made commitments to these youth and this facility.  We have stepped in and said we are going to continue walking with these young men during and after they’ve served their time.  Please pray for us and our volunteers on our journey to help bring justice, hope and Jesus to the incarcerated youth of Miami. 

-Ronnie Lillard, Creative Media Directory & JJM Staff

 

Part of the Family

November 18, 2016

Jenny, 18, graduated in June and now she’s going through training to be a volunteer with Youth for Christ. She faithfully attended Campus Life, then Deeper Life and then began going to church with a CL leader! When asked how Deeper Life specifically helped her, this is what she said: “What stood out to me in these studies is the fact that no matter who we are, what we’ve done, or where we’re from, we are forgiven and loved by God.”

So many of our students live in broken homes and dysfunctional families.  They believe no one – not even God – can love and forgive them.  At Campus Life, they find a second home and a second family.   Like Jenny, they are introduced to God and their lives are transformed.  They have an earthly, Campus Life, and Heavenly family! 

This fall, we have started four new Campus Life locations!  During kick-off week we had 133 new kids attend our Campus Life Clubs at five different locations! That’s 133 new kids that we are building relationships with.  We mentor them to grow academically, socially, emotionally and to make healthier physical choices.

In the next few weeks, each of the new Clubs will be inviting kids to join the family of God as we share the Gospel. Please, pray each of these new students will continue to attend Campus Life, that their hearts will be prepared to hear the Gospel, and that we will be able to help them feel that they are part of the Campus Life family. 

-April Lovins & the Campus Life Team

 

Next Up: PeeWee Battle at Catalyst

November 8, 2016

On Saturday, October 1st, we hosted a “PeeWee Battle” (competition) for kids ages 15 and under. Pictured above are the 1st & 2nd Place winners with their trophies. We called the event “Next Up” because these kids are the next generation, the future “B-boys” & “B-girls” of the Hip-Hop culture!

When Catalyst started 15 years ago, many of the youth were the same age as these kids. Now, they have all grown up and it’s time to start investing in the next generation. So, we are going to start focusing on reaching kids ages 11-19 by developing an after-school program where we will offer free classes in break-dancing, rapping, DJ’ing, sound engineering, and art! The after-school program will begin once we have our new building. And, the best part is that we will be giving our older Catalyst guys/girls the opportunity to give back by teaching these classes.

We are excited about what God has in store for the future of Catalyst. With God’s help, we will keep Joel’s legacy alive by making Catalyst bigger & better than ever! Please continue to pray for us. 

-Vivian Stigale, Catalyst Team Director & Wife of Joel Stigale, founder of Catalyst

 

"He Thinks I'm Great!"

October 26, 2016

During fitness time, Molly broke another kid’s water bottle by smashing it on the ground! The little girl became very defensive when I questioned her.

As I sat down to talk to her, one of the staff showed me her paper from a previous activity, where we had our children write down positive things about themselves. Molly had written “Ugly, no good, and dumb.”

Fortunately, earlier in the week we taught the kids about the story of Gideon.  Before God spoke to him, Gideon saw himself as weak and the least important in his family; but God saw a mighty leader in him!

Molly had heard this truth, but sadly she had not taken it to heart. I started to ask her questions about what she wrote and about the story of Gideon. She started to look very excited. I asked her how God saw her, and she said, “He thinks I’m great!”  [Orange closing Quotation Mark] [Text Box: Then I asked her how God saw her, and she said, ‘He thinks I’m great!’

In that moment, I was able to relate my story to Molly’s story.  When I was a kid, writing activities were hard for me as well. I continued to tell her all the great things God thinks about her. I told her whenever those bad things come to her mind, she could stop and ask God to help her see what He sees. 

I’m thankful for moments like these when I can connect my story to a kid’s story, and ultimately connect both tales to God’s life-saving story! 

Thank you for making moments like this possible.  You are a blessing to so many hurting and lost kids! 

-Mary Ann Draghi, City Life KIX Site Director

 

“They left me in the system”

September 20, 2016

Last week, our staff member Kristen sat with Julie (name changed) at His House Children’s Home, a “private, faith-based non-profit organization dedicated to restoring joy to the lives of children from newborn to 18 years of age. Since it was established in 1989, His House has been offering safe, caring homes to abused, abandoned and neglected children in South Florida.” (His House website) Miami YFC partners with His House by hosting a high-energy Club each week. The Club time begins and ends in small group and one-on-one appointments.

So, back to Kristen and Julie, sitting across from each other, chatting. When Kristen asked a question about faith, Julie said she wasn’t comfortable talking about God. When asked if there was any reason, the 17 year-old made the matter clear: “The ones who taught me about God are the ones who left me in the system.”

Abandoned by people who claimed to know God. Left in the court and foster care system by the people who taught her that God loved her.

This is the mission of Miami YFC: to find as many Julie’s as we can and lovingly, patiently listen to their stories. Someday, with enough time and care, we believe Kristen or another YFC volunteer will have the chance to tell Julie that though she may have been left by one family, there is a holy family for her. A place where she is loved and never forgotten. A God who stayed in the system with her, whether she realized it or not. A God who desires to give new life to her story.

Every kid. One Julie at a time.

****

To learn how you can help kids in foster care, visit our Get Involved pages and fill out the volunteer info form.

 

Sunday...a Good Time to Go to Jail? (Real Men)

September 1, 2016

Three o'clock on a Sunday sounds like a good time to go to jail, right?

Yet that's where I found myself this past weekend - well, not in jail, but in a residential facility where young men are detained for 6-9 months.

20 of them sat as Ronnie & seven other male performers shared how their lives had turned from drugs, gangs and jail to owning their own businesses, having loving families, and most importantly, lives filled with hope and faith.

When Ronnie asked boys what they were hearing, they said...

-"I hear that my life doesn't have to be about drugs."

-"I hear that there's hope for things to change."

-"I hear that my life can be different, that God cares about me."

All of this culminated in a 15 minute time where boys came forward to be prayed for by Ronnie, his crew, Ely, and two other volunteers (plus me).  Ely's husband then handed out magazine-style Bibles to kids...and their guards!  Twelve boys said they gave their lives to Christ that day.

What's even more exciting to me, though, is that Miami YFC will have a continued presence in this facility.  One young man who spoke to me was so confused and not ready to make any kind of declaration on Sunday.  But I was able to introduce him to Ronnie, hand him a Life New Testament and say, "This is my friend.  I know you have 30 days left in here.  My friend will be here every week until then, and you can come and ask him any questions or just talk to him."  Ronnie spoke with him, found out which neighborhood he'll return to in 30 days so that we can begin looking for mentors and churches to help this young man when he returns to society.

These 8 men and 3 women are the real deal - willing to give-up time, energy and even funds to share hope and love with young men who desire to live differently.  Please join me in praying for these 20 boys and for the staff and volunteers to continue to grow in number and strength!

*****

To support the work of Miami YFC in Juvenile Detention facilities, click here. 

 

 

“The Real Version” – a Memory of Joel

August 17, 2016


As many of you know, this past weekend, my friend and fellow Miami YFC Missionary, Joel Stigale, passed away.  Joel reached out to the hip-hop community all over South Florida.  He was known for being a loving man of God who also didn’t settle for the status quo.
One of my favorite Joel memories happened back in 2006, when I was a 19-year old intern with KIX.  I had driven all the way up to see a Catalyst battle in North Dade.  It was my birthday and – at the time, I thought – my last chance to see Joel before I went back to college.  I was standing outside with Joel, our Executive Director Andy & his two daughters.  A member of Catalyst approached us, and Joel started telling us a little bit about this guy’s story (I can’t remember his name but I remember he was a graffiti artist who used images of babies with alien heads in a lot of his work).  At one point, the artist turned away to talk to someone else, and Andy asked a question about his art.  I can’t remember what the question was, but Joel was like, “Let’s ask him.”  He directed the question to the graffiti artist, who responded with a smile and exclaimed, “Oh f—- no!”  We all chuckled and then went back to our conversation.
A few minutes later, Andy left, and it was just me and Joel.  The artist came over to Joel and said, “Man, I’m so sorry.  They just told me that guy was your boss.  I didn’t mean to curse in front of him.  Man, I’m sorry.”
Joel cut him off. “Dude, I would rather have the real you than some fake version any day. Don’t worry about it.”
When I think about what brought me back to Miami, what made me want to be in this work, it is because of people like Joel who taught me that, as a Christian, I can value the real version of broken, messed-up people over the shiny, fake ones any day.  Joel loved people in all their mess and it’s because of that love that people met Jesus when they met Joel.  It made me rethink everything I knew about how to share God’s love with others.

 

 

“Being Present Is More Than Simply Being There”

August, 15, 2016

 

As we finish up this summer, this reflection from Youth for Christ’s USA’s President (Dan Wolgemuth) came into my inbox.  It was a great reminder of the importance of true presence, and what that looks like.  I am guilty of giving up moments of efficiency for moments of connection.  I hope it challenges you like it challenged me! Being Present Is More Than Simply Being There
Dan Wolgemuth, President/CEO YFC USA, [email protected]

The month of July represents a significant change of pace for Mary and me. Downtime. Reflection time. Study time. During this break Mary and I went to a popular local breakfast restaurant which provided the perfect canvas on which to paint a morning memory. We took advantage of scrambled eggs and biscuits and gravy as our pallet. As we were enjoying our final tastes, a dad entered the restaurant with his young daughter at his side. They were ushered to the perfect two-person table in a quiet corner of the thriving establishment. It was an ideal father/daughter moment if ever there was one. But that’s not what happened. Within seconds of being seated in the ideal memory-creating location, the dad was transfixed to his cell phone. What made this more offensive than a typical cell-phone distraction was that his daughter had nothing in her hand. No phone. No game. Nothing. She sat, staring at the face of a dad who was enthralled with anything but her. She faded to boredom, even as he grew increasingly more unresponsive. This wasn’t a moment stolen; it was a privilege given away. Make no mistake, the message was powerfully clear to me, and to the wanting heart and fragile self-image of this young girl. “My phone and the information or entertainment that it provides are more important than you are.” Relationships are a commitment; a priority setting; a calibration on the transcendent relational realities that while individuals are within my reach, both physically and relationally, I would be wise to steward each moment with intentionality, focus, and enthusiasm. Healthy and engaging dialog doesn’t just happen. It requires commitment and diligence and preparation. Whether that’s with a student, a board member… or your daughter. Stumbling into a conversation will invite a collision of priorities, demands, and distractions. Take it from a seasoned dad who has missed too many “moments”; a dad who squandered his share of biscuit and gravy conversations. Don’t let the latest app, the trendiest Tweet, or the most compelling headline entice you to ignore the precious opportunity that sits across the table. Prepare to engage. Unleash your heart to be involved. Just imagine what could happen if we shared a meal without our cell phone at our side. Relationships on purpose.

 

 

Happy Friday! YFCamp Grace 2016

August 12, 2016

Happy Friday, friends!  Didn’t think we’d make it, did we?

Our KIX & Campus Life teens attended YFCamp Grace two weeks ago.  Two new students chose to say YES to a new relationship with God.  Others recommitted and two students were honest enough to say they did not want to say yes at this time.  About 15 high school students served as volunteers for these middle schoolers.  A few pictures are below, but you can go here to look at all the professional photographer’s pics.  Enjoy!