Summer Livin'!

Running. Eating healthy. Exercising. Getting up sort of early. These are things most middle and high school students have ZERO desire to do over their summer break. Zero. But we somehow managed to get 80 students to do all of those things for four weeks during our Summer Slam program. And we had SO MUCH FUN doing it! We met everyday teaching our students about the importance of a healthy diet, staying hydrated and getting plenty of sleep. 4-H Purdue Extension was a HUGE help in doing our lessons every week. We also made them exercise for 45 minutes each day and journal their progress. It was a lot of work. 

Don't worry though, we also had some serious fun. Some SERIOUS FUN! We played lots of games, did some dancing, did a ton of laughing and took some really great trips. We played bubble soccer and laser tag at Rugged Adventures, went tubing on Lake Manitou, spent the night at Oakbrook Valley and swam at The Waterpark at theMonon Center in Carmel. We want to say a huge thank you to Carver Center for allowing us to use their facility all summer. We also want to thank the Kokomo YMCA for letting us come in and workout each week and to their staff for doing such a great job of training us! Finally, we want to thank everyone that helped make our field trips possible, you all are so awesome! 

Most importantly we got to spend every day investing in the lives of the young people we've come to love and care so much about. They are so great and have so much potential. Thank you for your part in helping them reach that full potential.     

Spring Break in the Metropolitan

As a middle school student, winter is the worst! It’s too cold, and way too long….Spring Break is the light at the end of the tunnel and Bridges wanted to make sure we had something spectacular planned for our dedicated students. So we decided to head to Chicago for the day on Monday and we had so. much. fun.

It was first and foremost a success because we didn’t lose any students in the big city. Not even one! We rode the “El” (Chicago’s subway) into the city, had lunch at Navy pier, shopped our way down the Magnificent Mile, visited the Bean at Millenium Park and finished the day at Giordano’s for some deep-dish pizza. The kids had a great time taking in the city sights- which included a yacht with a helicopter pad, a street performance featuring our very own Alyssa Duranto and the biggest Nike store any of our kids had ever seen.

Days like this remind us to be thankful for people like you, who give to this ministry so that we can give these awesome kids opportunities like the one they had on Monday. They had such a great day! By the end of the trip they were completely exhausted and it was so fun to listen to them talk about their favorite parts of the day.
We might be biased, but we think our Bridges students are pretty special. They are full of potential and we are confident that their futures are bright and that they will do great things. We love to take them on trips like this to expand their horizons and show them different parts of the world. Thanks so much for making that possible!

Uncommon

For the staff at Bridges graduation night at KHS is always exciting because we get the opportunity to see lots of young people receive their diplomas and head to college. Bridges graduates have done some amazing things and have gone some amazing places, but in the past 10 years no Bridges student has had the academic success that Cody Wilburn has achieved.

This spring Cody will graduate with Honors in the top 25 of his class and head to Purdue University for a pre-veterinary/animal science degree. He is our first Bridges student to go to Purdue and the first to go into veterinary school. Since Cody joined Bridges in 7th grade we have only seen one report card that was not straight A’s. Cody has a GPA over 12 on a 12-point scale, because of all the AP courses he has taken. He even “aced” the hardest class at KHS, AP Chemistry!

Cody is a shy teenager who goes about his business quietly. He is extremely mature for a 17-year old and is very responsible. For example, when Cody made his Christmas list out for Bridges this year, where most students asked for candy, chips or earphones, Cody asked for a new wallet. He has been extremely committed to Bridges over the years and despite having to ride the trolley home, Cody rarely misses a day! Rare is a great word to describe Cody. We work with hundreds of young people every year that have the same potential that Cody possesses but it is rare to see students focus and hone in on that potential the way Cody has.

For someone who has had to overcome many obstacles in life so far, Cody has taken advantage of every opportunity given to him. Too bad “Codys” are so rare- we sure could use a lot more!    

 

A Picture of Commitment

As we make our way back to school today to do what we love to do, spending time investing in some terrific high school and middle school students, one thing is going to be a little bit different. This month marks 10 years that Bridges has been doing ministry in Kokomo. Over those 10 years there have been a few things that have been constant, but one of those constants is changing. This is the first time since our very first semester in January of 2005 that we’re starting a semester without Joe Toren being directly involved as a volunteer, board member or staff member. Joe has taken a full-time ministry position at a church here in Kokomo and we’re extremely excited for him and his family for the opportunity, but to be honest it’s a little strange.

Travis and Casey met Joe at Ryan’s Steakhouse (yeah that’s right, Ryan’s) at the Youth Leader’s Roundtable in 2005. Joe was instantly interested in volunteering and saw it as a great opportunity to connect unchurched kids to his youth group. Over the next 10 years Joe was directly in the daily ministry of Bridges in a very hands on kind of way. Originally he served as a volunteer a few days a week. Pretty quickly we added him as a board member as well. Joe didn’t get to serve in that capacity for too long though before we added him as a part-time staff member. During those 10 years Joe served three different schools and programs and was a great asset to each of them. As we grew Joe was someone that we always knew we could count on to plug in anywhere. As kids, volunteers and even some staff came and went, there was Joe, giving his time and energy to see the mission of Bridges fulfilled. At one point we even asked Joe if he would be willing to step up and lead a program. So for the past two and a half years Joe has led our program at Maple Crest Middle School, which was a big commitment.

Our tagline at Bridges is “Bridging churches, schools and communities”. Over our 10 years of ministry it’s been pretty clear that no one got this more than Joe. As a youth pastor Joe saw Bridges as the perfect vehicle to connect kids to his church and even more importantly to Jesus. Because of his vision for that and his commitment to seeing it through we had countless kids get connected to a church and to Jesus because of the relationship they had with Joe.

Joe- We’re really excited for you and your family with this new ministry opportunity. It seems like a perfect fit for you and the gifts and passions that you have. You will most certainly be missed around here and we wanted to sincerely thank you for your commitment to Bridges over the years. You made the most of the opportunities and went above and beyond to serve our students and to show them they were loved. Thank you for that. We love you and we’ll miss you.       

Do We Even See the Hungry and Thirsty?

“Seek (inquire for, care for, demand) the peace and welfare of the city to which I have caused you to be carried away captive; and pray to the Lord for it, for in the welfare (completeness, wholeness, contentment, well-being) of the city in which you live you will have welfare.”

Jeremiah 29:7 was the text we studied a couple of weeks ago as a staff at the 2014 CCDA (Christian Community Development Association) conference in North Carolina. We had a GREAT week laughing, singing, learning, driving (a lot) and resting together.

As a first-time attender, I found myself being struck several times throughout the week by new thoughts and new ideas! The vision of CCDA is simple, yet it is something I don’t feel like I have been fully engaged in. Coming to this realization scared me a little, because I truly feel that this vision should be the mission of every person who calls him or herself a follower of Jesus. CCDA exists to equip leaders to one day be a part of “wholistically restored communities with Christians fully engaged in the process of transformation.”

When I think of Christians being fully engaged in the process of the transformation of their communities or seeking the “welfare” of their cities I think of the staff and volunteers that work with Bridges-People who sacrificially enter into the lives of kids in our community to show them something different, to introduce them to someone who loves them more than they could ever imagine, and to help them realize who they are in Christ.

I am entering my 4th year with Bridges and I have been so blown away by the hundreds of ways in which God has changed me by allowing me to be a part of the mission of this ministry. It’s hard to describe the love I have for this group of amazing, talented, intelligent children that I am deeply connected to. And I can’t help but be saddened by the fact that I never would have met them had I not been introduced to Bridges.

As the week went on CCDA kept bringing up this beautiful picture- not of churches being “in” the community or “for” the community- but a picture of churches being “WITH” the community. I heard stories of churches that meet the physical and spiritual needs of people outside the church walls, people that have to be sought out and found, instead of people who just wander in. I began to question why I hadn’t been introduced to this group of kids I spend time with by the local church instead of by a program with no affiliation to the church.

I love my church and several others in our community! I believe in the value of fellowship with other Christ followers and have seen the church do some AMAZING things to meet the needs of others, but we have so much room to grow! I was really challenged to begin seeking the “welfare” of my city as a church attender instead of relying on other agencies to connect me to the needs in my community.

I was reminded last week of Christ’s intentionality in seeking the lost instead of waiting on them to come to Him and I want to encourage the local church to follow that example! My life was forever changed when Bridges connected me to some pretty special students that have the talent and ability to do incredible things. They just need a little direction which is something that I can offer! I discovered so much about myself and the ways God has gifted me through serving the students at Bridges. I can’t help but wonder what amazing things God could do through a whole congregation if instead of just donating money to a GREAT cause we donated our time and talents to transform our community through RELATIONSHIPS with people who have needs that we can meet. There are thousands of people in our city that are hungry and thirsty for more than just food and water, although those are needs that need to be met.  People are hungry for encouragement and knowledge. They are thirsty for attention. They are looking for support that we as the church can give them! Do we see them?

Be encouraged church! We have the ability to make positive changes in our city, to walk alongside those who need support, and to help create a community that is truly flourishing! We have so many opportunities to affect that change. As individuals and as churches, I hope we take that call seriously. I invest my time and energy with Bridges Outreach because I love my community and I can have a part in meeting the needs of students and their families. My challenge to you is to get involved in a local ministry to do the same. If you are looking for a place to connect in ministry to our community, Bridges Outreach would love to be a resource that can shed light on some specific needs in Kokomo, so please contact us! You can visit our website at bridgesoutreach.com.

-Chelsea Radcliff, @chelsrad