December 3, 2019

Christmas for SYM Clients


Merry Christmas!

   As the time to share that greeting rolls around each year, I think of the 3,000+ clients our ministry has served since we began in 2008. What kind of Christmases will they have?
   Thanks especially to social media these days, we know more of the answers. Some clients have excelled, and they’ve written us. A few lives ended tragically. Other clients intrigue us – they surface periodically to say “thanks” or share news, infusing us like the episodes of an old-fashioned serial, complete with cliffhanger endings.

   Such a continuing story this year was shared by a client whose street name was “Powder”:

   2012-13, off and on – Powder attended a few of our events back before we had our Drop-in Co-op, and he came to the 2013 Christmas party at All Saints Episcopal. He was using drugs at the time, and he ran around with friends using street names like Merce, Grinch and Bean.
   We hadn’t seen Powder since 2013, then he resurfaced three years later with a Facebook message:
   1 a.m., June 16, 2016 – “You probably won’t remember me. I hung around for a little while in 2012-2013.  I remember speaking to you multiple times at the Drop-in. I don’t know how many success stories you hear, but I just wanted to let you know that I haven’t done dope in 2 1/2 years and I just bought my own house in a suburb of Kansas City.”
   I checked into his records and finally ran into an old photo that summoned memories. What I didn’t know was how deeply we had changed the direction of this young man’s journey. Powder and I had the following Facebook exchange, edited for space:
   Terry: “Well congratulations on all that! … I always love hearing from people who are doing well. You’d be surprised (or maybe you wouldn’t) to know that it’s a whole lot of people!
   Powder: “I was pretty nondescript and tried my best not to be noticed.  If you don’t remember me that doesn’t hurt my feelings, I remember you and the rest of the staff and how much the simple things y’all did for me helped. It made me feel like an actual person.”
   Terry: “I know your face. I don’t yet recall your street name Powder. I’m really glad we were able to love on you a bit and that it helped. What made you decide to retire and get sober and all that?
   Powder: “I just got tired of living that way. I went to jail for a few months, then a psych ward, and then a rehab program. After that I just decided I wasn’t going to go back and live that way again, so I got into a halfway house and got a job and all that.”
   Terry: “Cool. I’m glad. I assume it’s better for you? Doesn’t have to be, but is faith a resource for you at this point?
   Powder: “I struggle with faith and spirituality. I have had a lot of things happen, seen things and whatnot, but it just doesn’t seem to “click.” I haven’t had the spiritual awakening or whatever you want to call it.”
   Terry: “I’d say be patient with yourself and stay in touch with that part of you that knows or wants there to be something bigger than us. It doesn’t hurt to hang around people who are further along than you are, but not to let them tell you what to think. Just to learn and see and feel how it is for them. I’ll be praying for you in that regard. Any other way I can be praying for you? Also, could I use your words to encourage others? I wouldn’t use your name unless you want me to. Recovery is a long road and it’s great for those who feel like it may never happen to them to hear from people like you who were around quite a while but are recovering!”
   Powder: “Yeah sure, I appreciate all your help, past and present.”
   Fast forward three years, four months. I heard from him again:
   11:08 p.m., Oct. 5, 2019 — “Touching base again, Terry. I just want to say again how helpful the Drop-in was to me at a time when I needed it the most. I’m still sober, haven’t touched drugs or booze since January 10, 2014. I’m still bouncing around, but I’m in much better condition than I was back then, physically and spiritually.
   “I have a skilled trade. I’m a butcher. I work full-time and I can’t help but feel like I’ve left that world behind. It’s for the best, but some of the happiest moments of my life happened on the Drag. I’ve noticed that it’s almost like a class graduating: people I knew ended up dead, in prison or clean, and a new generation came to replace our spots.
   “Now I’m sitting on the couch in a home that I ‘own’ and watching cable. I’m not in Missouri anymore. but that’s where I learned to butcher, in a family-owned shop that was looking for some help during deer season. I managed to leverage that into a union full-time job at a grocery store. I’ve tried to settle down a couple times and it just hasn’t worked out. I think I just enjoy being a rambler.
   “I’m still not sure where I stand on my beliefs. I go back and forth a lot. I’d like to settle down somewhere, That’s the big one. I want to continue this trend of “living a normal life” without being too boring. Maybe I just need to find a hobby. I’ll get back in touch with you again when I think about it.
   Terry: “How old are you now?”
   Powder: “I’m headed toward 27, I was 19-20 in Austin.”
   Terry: “You’re right on track. I find a lot of people who hit the road for whatever reason start settling things at about 26 or so.”
   Powder: “That’s nice to hear, honestly. I had a lot of people ask me when I was in high school  and “full of potential” what I wanted to do with my life, and when I would say “ I don’t know,” I’d get the same long and boring lecture about needing to do something important.
   “I wish someone would’ve told me, or I would have known that it’s totally OK to make $35,000 a year cutting meat and going fishing every day before work. I’m never gonna have a lot of anything, but I have enough of the stuff I want and a plan for the immediate future, which is to move someplace that has trout and moving water so I can learn how to fly fish.
   “I just wish I could’ve started on this path five years ago and not be struggling toward it now. I suppose you know what they say about wishing in one hand and doing something in the other. I just have to remember I’m not that old yet, and there’s still time. Pleasure to have met you, Terry.”

Read on… for the follow up story of Powder

https://streetyouth.blogspot.com/2019/12/defining-our-life-purpose.html  

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December 2, 2019

Defining our life purpose


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   Toward the end of
my “conversation” with Powder, I saw words that concerned me yet left me with
hope. He’s still “struggling,” he said, but “I’m still not that old yet, and
there’s still time.” In my final reply, I sought to leave some thoughts that
would carry him over to the next time we connected, or beyond. Here’s what I
wrote:
   “If I had heard
you say that “you don’t know” when you’re 18 or 19, I would’ve responded,
‘That’s OK. You’re not supposed to know yet.’ I think your life has purpose,
but that purpose is probably not defined by what you do to earn money or to
relax.

   “I think that
purpose is probably defined by the relationships you have in your life and what
you do with them: being kind, being patient, seeking peace, instilling hope,
loving others, etc. And I bet you still don’t know all the answers to that
question — and it’s still OK. I’m sorry for the angst and more along your
path, but I don’t even know that you started out on the wrong path. It led to
here, and it leads into the future. So perhaps it was the right one all along.”
   We likely have
this type of impact on our clients with our guidance counseling every day and
don’t yet know it. Our journeys in life are filled with people who matter to us
and people to whom we matter. Sometimes we don’t even know it. This Advent and
Christmas, enjoy the journey and enjoy the people around you. You never know
who you will be making a difference to!
   Thank you for
supporting SYM and being a part of making a difference!

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December 2, 2019

Christmas for SYM Clients


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Merry Christmas!

   As the time to
share that greeting rolls around each year, I think of the 3,000+ clients our
ministry has served since we began in 2008. What kind of Christmases will they
have?
   Thanks especially
to social media these days, we know more of the answers. Some clients have
excelled, and they’ve written us. A few lives ended tragically. Other clients
intrigue us – they surface periodically to say “thanks” or share news, infusing
us like the episodes of an old-fashioned serial, complete with cliffhanger
endings.

   Such a continuing
story this year was shared by a client whose street name was “Powder”:

   2012-13, off and
on
– Powder attended a few of our events
back before we had our Drop-in Co-op, and he came to the 2013 Christmas party
at All Saints Episcopal. He was using drugs at the time, and he ran around with
friends using street names like Merce, Grinch and Bean.
   We hadn’t seen
Powder since 2013, then he resurfaced three years later with a Facebook
message:
   1 a.m., June 16,
2016
– “You probably won’t remember me. I
hung around for a little while in 2012-2013.  I remember speaking to you
multiple times at the Drop-in. I don’t know how many success stories you hear,
but I just wanted to let you know that I haven’t done dope in 2 1/2 years and I
just bought my own house in a suburb of Kansas City.”
   I checked into his
records and finally ran into an old photo that summoned memories. What I didn’t
know was how deeply we had changed the direction of this young man’s journey.
Powder and I had the following Facebook exchange, edited for space:
   Terry: “Well congratulations on all that! … I always love
hearing from people who are doing well. You’d be surprised (or maybe you
wouldn’t) to know that it’s a whole lot of people!
   Powder: “I was pretty nondescript and tried my best not to be
noticed.  If you don’t remember me that doesn’t hurt my feelings, I
remember you and the rest of the staff and how much the simple things y’all did
for me helped. It made me feel like an actual person.”
   Terry: “I know your face. I don’t yet recall your street name
Powder. I’m really glad we were able to love on you a bit and that it helped.
What made you decide to retire and get sober and all that?
   Powder: “I just got tired of living that way. I went to jail for
a few months, then a psych ward, and then a rehab program. After that I just
decided I wasn’t going to go back and live that way again, so I got into a
halfway house and got a job and all that.”
   Terry: “Cool. I’m glad. I assume it’s better for you? Doesn’t
have to be, but is faith a resource for you at this point?
   Powder: “I struggle with faith and spirituality. I have had a lot
of things happen, seen things and whatnot, but it just doesn’t seem to
“click.” I haven’t had the spiritual awakening or whatever you want
to call it.”
   Terry: “I’d say be patient with yourself and stay in touch with
that part of you that knows or wants there to be something bigger than us. It
doesn’t hurt to hang around people who are further along than you are, but not
to let them tell you what to think. Just to learn and see and feel how it is
for them. I’ll be praying for you in that regard. Any other way I can be
praying for you? Also, could I use your words to encourage others? I wouldn’t
use your name unless you want me to. Recovery is a long road and it’s great for
those who feel like it may never happen to them to hear from people like you
who were around quite a while but are recovering!”
   Powder: “Yeah sure, I appreciate all your help, past and
present.”
   Fast forward three
years, four months. I heard from him again:
   11:08 p.m., Oct.
5, 2019
— “Touching base again, Terry. I just
want to say again how helpful the Drop-in was to me at a time when I needed it
the most. I’m still sober, haven’t touched drugs or booze since January 10,
2014. I’m still bouncing around, but I’m in much better condition than I was
back then, physically and spiritually.
   “I have a skilled
trade. I’m a butcher. I work full-time and I can’t help but feel like I’ve left
that world behind. It’s for the best, but some of the happiest moments of my
life happened on the Drag. I’ve noticed that it’s almost like a class
graduating: people I knew ended up dead, in prison or clean, and a new
generation came to replace our spots.
   “Now I’m sitting
on the couch in a home that I ‘own’ and watching cable. I’m not in Missouri
anymore. but that’s where I learned to butcher, in a family-owned shop that was
looking for some help during deer season. I managed to leverage that into a
union full-time job at a grocery store. I’ve tried to settle down a couple
times and it just hasn’t worked out. I think I just enjoy being a rambler.
   “I’m still not
sure where I stand on my beliefs. I go back and forth a lot. I’d like to settle
down somewhere, That’s the big one. I want to continue this trend of “living a
normal life” without being too boring. Maybe I just need to find a hobby. I’ll
get back in touch with you again when I think about it.
   Terry: “How old are you now?”
   Powder: “I’m headed toward 27, I was 19-20 in Austin.”
   Terry: “You’re right on track. I find a lot of people who hit
the road for whatever reason start settling things at about 26 or so.”
   Powder: “That’s nice to hear, honestly. I had a lot of people ask
me when I was in high school  and “full of potential” what I wanted to do
with my life, and when I would say “ I don’t know,” I’d get the same long and boring
lecture about needing to do something important.
   “I wish someone
would’ve told me, or I would have known that it’s totally OK to make $35,000 a
year cutting meat and going fishing every day before work. I’m never gonna have
a lot of anything, but I have enough of the stuff I want and a plan for the
immediate future, which is to move someplace that has trout and moving water so
I can learn how to fly fish.
   “I just wish I
could’ve started on this path five years ago and not be struggling toward it
now. I suppose you know what they say about wishing in one hand and doing
something in the other. I just have to remember I’m not that old yet, and
there’s still time. Pleasure to have met you, Terry.”

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September 25, 2019

Our Newest Hit: SYM Talent Night


Three times a year we re-invent ourselves at SYM by trying new activities that keep things fresh for our clients. You can imagine what a daunting task this can be, after 11 years! (It’s the reason our Drop-in Center is full of clients who are engaged and changing their lives.)

This past May I faced a dilemma. I didn’t have the ideas I wanted to form our summer schedule, but a staff member had brought forward one idea that I couldn’t quite put down: Talent Night.

I could imagine the risks: bad singing, lurid lyrics, rowdy behavior, arguments over style and preference. My head was swimming. Somehow, though, I couldn’t shake the idea, so we gave it a try. And when we try something, we stick to it until the end of the “semester” (in this case, summer). We know our clients thrive on this kind of consistency. Here’s how it went:

At the first Talent Night, our staff provided half the performances, but soon we figured out how to improve participation: stay open only as long as someone is performing. Give everyone who signs up one turn, plus an encore. When it’s over, that’s it.

Amazingly, more and more clients came and shared. We’ve had singing, lip syncing, dancing, original rap songs, poetry, guitar and piano playing. We’ve even had origami and a dog that sings. It adds up to this: every evening now, something magic occurs!

What I saw at one of our recent Talent Nights made my heart soar, and I want to share with you several of the performances that made that happen:


● One of the first acts was a dog that simply howls when he hears sirens. They wail, he starts and pretty soon, everyone howls along with him.

● A new client — who until recently had mostly avoided us — signed up to sing. Like some we serve, he’d had negative experiences with Christians early in his life and was convinced they hated him. But we love him and accept him just as he is. And he sang – oh my, did he sing! Not pop or angry rap. He sang “Faithfully,” by Journey in a stunning tenor voice. The magic started right then.

● The next clients to perform used lyrics everyone could see, and the crowd joined in. Talent Night stopped being about performing and started being about community.

● Next came a young lady who had been spitting mad at us the day before as she struggled with significant issues. We persevered with her, helping as we were able. Her song of choice wasn’t anti-establishment or a “woe is me — my life is terrible” number. It was “Hallelujah,” the standard written by Leonard Cohen. We were using our homespun system – a mic and TV sound bar – but about three lines into her performance, I turned it off. She didn’t need it! Her voice filled the room and the crowd, suddenly riveted, cheered with her. It was magic!


● Toward night’s end, a client we recognized as struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues appeared. He had rarely communicated with us, and he had seemed unable to focus or sit still. When he noticed we were giving performers candy as prizes, he wrote his name and the title of a rap song. To my surprise, he knew every word! He even did a second encore. The audience was impressed, and afterward when I told him I was so happy he came and sang, he replied, “You’re welcome.”

I love the job I get to do every day. It is such an honor and privilege to work for these young people. One way or another, they have been told they are throwaways, worthless and unwanted. They are NOT! They are so precious. And talented!

Thanks be to God we get to share time with them! And thank you for helping make it happen!

Terry

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September 8, 2019

Volunteer with us, and take home a smile!



This is Outbound Engine’s second year to volunteer with us! They are a tech company out of Austin that does automated marketing for small businesses.  

They raised more than $500 around the office, then used the money to buy nonperishables for our food box program!

They brought enough food to make 22 bags of delicious-ness!

When they dropped off the donations, they stayed to help us organize our blanket room, which was a mess!


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September 7, 2019

Our Volunteers Have Impact


Our volunteers have impact!

In-kind donations for the summer were $42,000 compared to $48,000 the year before. However, we’re in record territory for 2019 thanks go amazing in-kind donors who keep thinking of us when they see food or items we could use that are no longer wanted! We’ve received $130,000 in items so far this year!Over the summer, our volunteers contributed 1,000 hours. That’s a bit down compared to the summer before. But how does it all add to impact? We got to serve 59 new clients this summer (up from the previous summer). Our clients hung out with us 5,000 hours this summer (much bigger than last summer)! All of this amazing stuff lead to 253 goals achieved by our clients over the summer to change their lives! Thank you for being part of our team to keep this going!
Here’s a one-person volunteer job!
Before …
… and after
We are getting the Drop-in Center organized. One of our best volunteer organizers, Lilian Seidel, (shown at right) recently whipped our art room into shape! We have oodles of opportunities for one person!

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September 7, 2019

Our Volunteers Have Impact


Our volunteers have impact!

In-kind donations for the summer were $42,000 compared to $48,000 the year before. However, we’re in record territory for 2019 thanks go amazing in-kind donors who keep thinking of us when they see food or items we could use that are no longer wanted! We’ve received $130,000 in items so far this year!Over the summer, our volunteers contributed 1,000 hours. That’s a bit down compared to the summer before. But how does it all add to impact? We got to serve 59 new clients this summer (up from the previous summer). Our clients hung out with us 5,000 hours this summer (much bigger than last summer)! All of this amazing stuff lead to 253 goals achieved by our clients over the summer to change their lives! Thank you for being part of our team to keep this going!
Here’s a one-person volunteer job!
Before …
… and after
We are getting the Drop-in Center organized. One of our best volunteer organizers, Lilian Seidel, (shown at right) recently whipped our art room into shape! We have oodles of opportunities for one person!

via Blogger https://ift.tt/2UCbs6Y

August 26, 2019

Alan Martinez – A Street Youth Volunteer Story



Alan Martinez grew up in Bulverde, a town of 4,630 located north of San Antonio. When he moved to Austin to attend UT, what he saw near the campus gave him pause.

“There were street youths all around,” he recalled, “and this was shocking coming from a small city with no people living on the street at all.” He decided to see how he could help, so he did what his generation has been taught to do – he Googled!

Up in the list came Street Youth Ministry. Alan enrolled as a volunteer, and the rest, as they say, is history. “He became the rare volunteer who is an essential part of who we are and who we want to be,” said SYM staffer Suzanne Zucca.

Alan immersed himself in the organization. He joined group activities involving clients, and he did routine chores many volunteers do around the Drop-in Center, including scrubbing an occasional toilet. He organized a volunteer appreciation night featuring a Christmas karaoke event, and he got everyone to sing!

Next, he went a step further. Acting on a suggestion from Terry, he founded an organization of UT students called “Friends of Street Youth” that took things to another level.

Friends of Street Youth recently conducted a successful clothing drive, launched a pen pal program to benefit the small number of street youth who are incarcerated, and held a panel discussion on ways UT students can help the ministry.

This didn’t happen all at once. Alan started slowly, and he acknowledged some trepidation. His success serves as encouragement for any volunteer questioning his or her involvement.

“I was a bit shy coming to a place [the Drop-in] where everyone there knew each other, since most of the street youth that drop by are regulars, “he said. He approached cautiously, asking basic questions. “The way the clients lit up every time they spoke completely calmed all my fears. I realized that most of them love to talk to anyone about anything, like most people, although they were much more honest.”

Because they are societal outcasts, he realized, they’re less reluctant to reveal their silly sides when meeting people for the first time. That made it easier for Alan to tear down his own walls and talk with them. “The advice I would give to others starting out is to ask them anything about their lives, since most have amazing stories which they’d love to share if you’d lend an ear.”

Alan noticed something else. “I love seeing how happy they are to receive things we take for granted,” he said, like the day he was handing out pancakes and saw “goofy smiles” coming back at him. “Afterwards … I’d grab a few pancakes and sit by them. I’d return the goofy smiles as they welcomed me, and we’d talk about things that probably didn’t matter but made us happy either way. Granted, while the pancakes were great, the best part was how they continued being happy throughout the entirety of our breakfast talk, all of us together, at that one moment.”

By the time Terry approached him, Alan said, “I had gotten to know quite a few street youths and was starting to open up. I wanted to spread everything I knew about their extraordinary talents and stories to the student population.”

He said he especially wanted to eliminate the stigma against street youth around campus, because those he spoke with told him they felt looked down on or simply ignored, and they were hurt by it.

“This hurt me immensely,” he said, “so, I started the org and invited some of my friends to join me. We’ve only started up last semester, but we have a steady population of about a dozen people and are getting ready to recruit more through summer freshman orientation!”

Alan gets excited as he describes the SYM staff he has become to know so well:

Of the leader: “Terry is amazing at speaking to anyone, no matter who they are, and initiating a meaningful conversation that pierces their hearts. The way he cares about all the youths really shows as he tries to engage others into activities, and he genuinely wants to know about everyone that enters SYM.”

Of Suzanne: “She is probably the drop-in’s unofficial mom, what with all of the effort she puts into cooking for the clients and making sure they’ve got everything they need.”

Of Darvin: “His calm kindness is expressed towards every single person that walks through the door, no matter the situation.”

Of Billy: “His outgoing personality makes volunteers and the street youth feel comfortable and able to open up.”

Of Portia and Tondra: “They are both such hard-workers; both work a lot behind the scenes organizing a lot of the drop-in to have a welcoming environment, which I admire heavily about them.”

The compliments are returned. “He is not afraid to put himself out on a limb in order to help the clients, the staff, or so many volunteers that he has encouraged to get involved with our organization,” Suzanne said. “Alan Martinez is a force of good in the world.”

“Because of his vulnerability about his own challenges, clients have found freedom for themselves through his example. He is relaxed, he is humorous, he is always kind, and always ready to do things he has never done before.”

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July 17, 2019

Clients Need More than Housing


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   “We don’t
just need housing,” a client named Curtis told me recently. “We need help
learning how to live in housing.” He was frustrated, but he’s part
of a voice of change in Austin.




 Street Youth
Ministry is trusted, and we inspire our clients. We empower them to make change
— we don’t make it for them. We are an evolving ministry, always looking to
keep things fresh. Being fresh helps attract people to us, but there’s more to
needing to be fresh than that. The landscape and the needs are always changing.
One must listen intently and inquire directly to learn what clients are
coping with and what they need now
. And you must pay attention to the
environment in which they are homeless and seeking help: other agencies, local
and federal agencies, relevant social problems and pressures.


   Curtis was
referring to a new HUD initiative (administered by ECHO with
federal funding) that has provided many clients with free housing for a period
of time. I know its origins well, because helped write the program definition that
got HUD approval and brought the $5.5 million initiative to life. HUD pays only
for housing, so we receive none of the funding and we are not able to be part
of the oversight. However, we refer lots of interested clients into the program
and continue to work with them afterwards.

Curtis was
voicing concern that people who are taken from the streets and placed in
apartments, even free ones, lose their community. They can become depressed and
isolated. In addition, we see clients with stress and anxiety from housing
responsibilities that can seem almost unsurmountable. Many invite their
friends over to re-establish that community, but this can lead to eviction.
Depressed
and isolated people have a hard time with motivation to find and keep jobs—a
new experience for many–so they are often unemployed.  Overall they don’t feel competent at life.


SYM has
adapted to this changing environment by listening to our clients
. We asked
how can we help. Some want one-on-one budgeting help. Some want employment
guidance. We spend considerable time in guidance counseling these days with
people who have housing but aren’t sure what is next. In addition, we help with
groceries once a week (see story next page). And we provide cleaning supplies
once a month. All this allows us to maintain our relationship, even
though the clients perhaps don’t come to our Drop-in Center as often, because
they have an apartment
.

   We have added several
events and activities with a goal of creating a feeling of competency within
our clients: art group, game night and talent night. They can volunteering at
SYM to earn credits so they can purchase nice donated items from our “store.”
(We’ve found this to be a great way to also re-engage clients in a personal
economy and teach deferred gratification.) They can earn participate in our online
learning programs and earn credit for merchandise on Amazon. (This teaches them
the process of saving for larger items and planning purchases.) We have several
events that are great for lonely clients who might need a community: peer
support group, movie night, or game night.

  

Curtis is a
good example of our guidance counseling at work
. He first received
services almost daily about 18 months ago. Then he stopped coming and began
pursuing jobs in security. He got an apartment under the HUD program, pays his
bills and buys his groceries. Recently, he started coming back to us on
occasion for community and guidance. He shared that he doesn’t want to work in
security. It’s just what he found. He wants to start a camp for
disadvantaged children, but he doesn’t really know where to start.


   Curtis has become
our next client intern for entrepreneurship. He will work in our Drop-in like
any intern, but we will also spend time with him teaching him about donors,
volunteers, in-kind giving, program management and so on. We hope that by the
end of the internship he will know if education or more practical experience is
the next step in pursuing his dream!



   Thank you for being a part of all the guidance
counseling and practical help we supply to our street youth clients! It
matters! It works!
  
Terry

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July 10, 2019

SYM expands southward!


We held our first event recently in San Marcos! We are in awe of how God has moved. Two street friends from Austin who are now in San Marcos helped introduce us to five other young adults, and we had a prayer concert! Amazing Grace! And the photo (above) includes a local volunteer as well! God is so good!

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