Posts tagged ‘drop-in’

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!


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April 20, 2019

Our clients mature in amazing ways!

   Bridgette sat, alone, on a sofa in our Drop-in Center, arms crossed, brow furrowed, staring at other clients. Clearly, she was annoyed.I wondered what I had done. As I watched the evening play out, however, I discovered something that made me smile. I’ll divulge that in a sec …
   We have lots of clients in our Drop-in. There are days they can come and go at will, and there are other days when they need to be on time to participate in scheduled activities like art group, prayer time, and peer support group. We met a record number of new clients last year — almost 220 — and they mixed with our existing clients so we served over 650 in all. Not everyone knows everyone else, although we help them form a community. Some are maturing and some are not.
   Lately, we’ve had a lot of new clients come to our center who are 15 to 19 years old. Most are fresh from foster care and usually boisterous. They can be very messy, because they haven’t lived where they are asked to help keep things clean and straight. It’s a challenge for sure to get them acclimated to us!
   We also have quite a few clients in the 22-to-26 age range who have been around for a while. They often have jobs and are living in supported housing that has come their way from grant money that SYM helped bring to Austin (It’s called Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program, if you want to research it). It’s an experimental 3-year grant of $11 million for housing homeless young adults under 26.
   And it’s working: After just 6 months, statistics show 40% fewer unsheltered youth and 25% fewer homeless youth in Austin. Meanwhile, SYM client numbers grew by 40%. Somehow the YHDP grant is actually increasing the number of youth who want our counseling! And that’s a great thing, because YHDP pays only for housing — no services.
   Back to Bridgette: On this particular night, we had a good mix of established clients who have benefitted from YHDP and new ones waiting to participate. The new clients were clique-ish. They arrived as a group, sat as a group, and went outside as a group. And everywhere they went, they left a mess.
   Bridgette was watching all of this. It turns out I hadn’t annoyed her at all — it was the group! She rose from her seat, scooped up the scraps they had tossed onto the floor, then walked outside, only to see another mess on the ground. “This is ridiculous!” she exclaimed as she picked it up. “They shouldn’t act like this!”
   I chuckled as I figured out what was going on. Twelve months ago, she was the one leaving the litter and we were picking up after her! It’s a pattern I’ve learned to recognize: Clients who shed their bad habits become annoyed when others don’t. Bridgette’s reaction was a sign of good things to come, so I welcomed it! She was growing up!
   We know our clients change their lives, get jobs, become more responsible, conquer past problems, and mature in amazing ways.It’s truly a privilege to be their guidance counselors during this time. We believe every homeless young adult deserves one. We’re now expanding our reach southward to San Marcos, but our real plan is to figure out how to train people who already have street youth in or near their lives and want to help!
   And we can’t wait to see how each of these wonderful individuals turns out! .
Terry Cole

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January 21, 2019

Drop-in 4.0 is open and operating!

       SYM intern Tondra Daily shows off a clean and newly re-organized Drop-in Center, with refreshments ready to be served for the opening day celebration Jan. 4. It was a great success!

       It’s our fourth iteration of improving services since we began operating our Drop-in Center in January of 2017. This year we are focused on even more client engagement. We’ve created more space for larger groups and more semi-private conversations. We’ve created a better on-boarding process for individual volunteers, and we’ve installed two workstations for seasoned volunteers to help other volunteers make a difference with each volunteer shift!

      We invite you to took a tour and come check it out!


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June 14, 2018

Street Youth Ministry as featured by Deidox Austin Vlog May 2018


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December 14, 2016

Drop-In Center: what is it, and where will SYM take it?

This is the rest of the “Drop-In Center: what is it, and where will SYM take it?”
This will involve the merging of the Lifeworks “Drop-In” culture with the SYM “Relationship-Based Event” culture. It will be a step-by-step process over the next 24 months:
1. To facilitate this merger, a relationship event will be held every day at 11am in the new space. This is not a come-and-go affair. It is a programmed event with a beginning, middle, and end. Clients who desire to form relationships and build community (as well as have lunch) will have the opportunity to do so during the event.
2. Next, we will transition to a drop-in format from 2 to 6pm. This will be an open time for clients to come and go. Buffet meals will be available at 2 and 5pm.
3. Another critical piece of the transition is the addition of the name Co-op to the Drop-in. This will help the clients understand that they are expected to give back to our community as they receive services. They can give back by helping with setup, cleanup, organization and other tasks. Not all will be able to act as cooperative partners initially, but the message will be that we believe they all need to start moving to that goal.
4. Some unique services of SYM, like access to the Fig Leaf Clothing Closet and the University Presbyterian Church shower facilities, will continue. Other SYM programs like legal support groups and employment support will be fofded into the Drop-In schedule. SYM plans include LifeWorks’ mobile case management staff and group counseling services to continue using the Drop-In location to visit clients and provide services.
5. The transition will open opportunities for additional services and to serve new groups of clients. In January, we will be increasing from four meals per week to providing eight meals per week. We will also be adding a canned food pantry for taking food away when needed. We are forming under an experienced food clinician.

6. Beginning in March, we plan to offer services to Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking victims in partnership with Allies Against Slavery. This will increase the number of clients being served.

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March 23, 2010

Today in Ministry

I recently had request for a description of what I do in a day for ministry. Here was Monday:

9:00 Daily Bible Reading (at home). I read with a group of folks following a reading schedule. We email one another when we’re done to help keep accountability. The group is described here. Anyone can join the group. was founded by a friend of mine. The theme today was God is Faithful.

10:00 Prepared for Bible Teaching on Tuesday. I’m teaching through Matthew 8 this week. The focus will be on the value of faith. I will also help the street youth relate to as many of the people described in Matthew 8 as possible. Some might relate to the leper, the Roman solider, or the demoniacs. (Not that they are any of these, but these men suffer in some of the same ways as many of the street youth.) In addition to reviewing the scriptures and commentaries, I also designed an group session. We will start out by talking about how someone they observed was sick and recovered and how that felt. Then we will share a time we felt really sick ourselves. This will go with the healing theme found in Matthew 8. After the Bible lesson, we will play a memory game with two teams. The game pieces are all items relating to faith. I will ask whoever makes a match to describe someone they know who values whatever the match is. I printed out 15 matching photo pairs with things like prayer, worship, bible… and money, church, running. And we will conclude with a personal time of sharing about the value of faith to them… high, low, strong, weak. How do they take care of their faith? How do they feed it? I printed the lesson plan and emailed it to my helper.

Noon: Had a lunch with my wife. It’s one of the benefits of us both working out of the home! I had a meatloaf sandwich made from marked-down ground beef. We try to use money stewarded to us by donors wisely. After my delicious sandwich, I had my big indulgence for the day: my one cup of coffee. I get irritable after more than one cup and it messes with my sleep, so I enjoy my one good made-at-home cup of coffee after lunch. Mmmmmmm… I checked up on FaceBook and email while I enjoyed it.

2:00 Volunteered at the Street Drop-in Center of Lifeworks (located in the basement of a church on the Drag). Actually I’m an adjunct staff member. This was my first day there in a week because I took Spring Break off from Lifeworks. So everyone was happy to see me again and there were some new folks. I screened a couple of new folks for eligibility. I had to turn one away because he was 24 and was able to help the second with the in-take paperwork. I helped him with food and advised him how to get the bus pass he was seeking. I checked in with a couple I counsel… I regularly ask about their stress and anger levels on a scale of 1 to 10. Both were superb… a very welcome change. I also followed up with a couple of people who I knew were thinking of traveling soon. I tried to follow-up with a very young client, but he was not open to my questions. I tried to follow-up with another young man. He let me know that he was having a terrible day and didn’t want to talk. I respected that and let him have his space. A couple of people started physically play-fighting. I broke that up because the drop-in space has to be safe for everyone. No horseplay allowed. I noticed one young man in bad physical shape. I checked in with him to find out why he was hurting. I helped refer him to some medical advice. I signed one young lady up for dental treatment on Monday. I sat with another young girl who was scowling. Turns out she’s on some medication that is really upsetting her stomach. We talked about what options she might have to help this. I found some saltines for her to take away. All in all, I visited with 19 street youth. Three were new to me. 

3:45 Drop-in clean-up. Each day we spray down all the furniture with bleach water to kill germs and parasites. We sweep the floor and take out all the trash.

4:00 (outside) I walked the Drag from 26th to 19th street. I found my first group in back of a parking lot near 25th. They were talking about one street youth’s birthday party over the weekend. I wished him happy birthday. I followed up with one of these youth about getting an ID. He lacked an address for receiving some important paperwork so I helped him look at his options. I invited them all to Bible study the next day at 2.
I met my next client waiting to cross the light. He’s a very regular Bible reader, but today he was limping. I asked what was the matter and found out that he had gotten a bad foot fungus over the weekend but had begun to treat it. 

I met a trio from Maryland next. They are new to town so I tried to familiarize  them with the rules of downtown Austin (no sitting on sidewalks, no panhandling near ATMs, what aggressive panhandling means). I don’t expect them to follow all the rules, but traveling kids always seem to appreciate someone helping them learn what’s what in a new town. I invited these newcomers to Bible study tomorrow also. 

The next group I met were begging for spare change (they call it “spanging”) at the corner of an abandoned storefront at 24th. I held an impromptu drug counseling with two of these. They have both expressed being sick and tired of addiction. One is taking action to look for a job. The other is thinking of starting over in a new location. I offered options for getting help to both and suggested that both have to start dealing with the addiction… neither jobs nor a new location will be good unless the addiction get addressed. There is no easy path for either of them. However, they can choose which way to go and how much help they accept. Both were appreciative of our discussions. At the same location, I met a young man who I hadn’t seen for a while. He’d been in jail last week. He was drunk and a little out of control. But he was at least talking with me. He has a very big hurt in his life that he needs to eventually deal with. I asked how he was doing… OK. I asked what he’s up to. “What I’m best at,” meaning taking risks and hurting himself. I prayed for him as I stood with him. I pray for him to come face to face with his trouble either working with me or some other person who can offer support. He’s alone with his hurt now… and it’s so much to carry. I reminded them all that they were welcome at Bible study.

The next person I met was one I had seen in the drop-in earlier but who was having such a bad day. He wanted to talk now. I listened to what was bugging him. I was relieved because, even though it was sharply painful for him, it wasn’t severe. We talked about some options he had to relieve what was bugging him. He adopted a plan and set about it. I reminded him about Bible study tomorrow.

This continued as I worked my way down to 19th street. In all I met with 26 people this afternoon. That’s a pretty high number. I gave out nothing today while walking. I do that on Fridays. While it would be wonderful to give stuff out every day, I’ve got a couple of issue with it. First, I’m not buying their relationship and I want them to know that. Second, it takes a lot of time to manage all the material, moving it from donations to storage to loading it and giving it out. I reserve that for Tuesdays and Fridays.

6:30 Dinner with the family. First day back from Spring Break was good for everyone. 

7:30 Responding to emails. A new monthly donor needs to be thanked for letting me know a regular check will be going to Covenant to support my family and ministry. I edited my web site because I noticed some horrible mistakes on the donation drop-off site page. I responded to a donor who wants to drop-off a needed boom-box and to help proofread future publications. I sent thank you notes and photos to the sandwich providers from last week. I uploaded photos from my camera that will be used for an upcoming blog.

8:00 Updated my records for last week. I write down the names of everyone I visit with each day. This helps me learn their names and serves as something I can pray through in spare moments. I enter the records each week into a spreadsheet that updates my web page graphs at far this year, I’ve met 154 new kids and reconnected with 58. I’ve had 1605 contacts so far this year with new and old clients: 143 for witnessing, 28 for crisis intervention, 71 for counselling, and 422 for follow-up discussions.

8:30: Created a welcome email for all those people new to our mailing lists but who haven’t yet received a newsletter. I haven’t sent a newsletter since January, thinking everyone heard quite enough from me in November and December! However, it’s important to keep people aware of FaceBook, the web page with sign-ups, ministry needs, donation methods, etc. I am told over and over again that it is impossible to over-communicate to busy people! The email should be waiting in the in boxes tomorrow morning of the 120 people who are new to Street Youth Ministry volunteer, newsletter, and donor lists since early December 2009.

9:00 Wrote and edited this blog entry.