A few weeks ago, my husband and I were taking a walk. And, by “taking a walk,” I mean we had just finished jogging and I was gasping for air while my husband nonchalantly carried on a conversation with our three-year-old daughter.

As we walked past the jail, my very observant and curious daughter noticed the steel plates over the windows and asked,” Daddy, what is that place?”

“It’s the jail, Ansley,” he casually responded.  “It’s where bad people go.”

My husband is a police officer. And nearly every day since she was born, our daughter has watched him as he prepares to leave for work, asking him about his duty belt, the different things on it, and what “going to work” means.  So, when she asked what that place was, we knew she would understand his explanation.  “It’s where bad people go.”

And I let it go. It’s easy to fall into this black/white lifestyle, where the hero is the “good guy” and the masked villain is the “bad guy.” A world where I can tell my daughter “no, that’s a bad guy. We stay away.” But, my husband was not satisfied, and decided to clarify.

“No, Ansley. That’s not where bad people go.  It’s where people who make bad choices go.” And in that instant, I was convicted and humbled.

People know what I do during the school year.  I stay pretty busy, presenting at 10 different schools and various churches.  Often, people ask me if I’m enjoying my “summer break,” assuming that if school isn’t in session, then I have nothing to do. Except, that isn’t the truth. I still teach during the summer, but in a different setting.

During the summer, the Edge offers its mentoring program to local teens in the CAMP program.  CAMP, or Children’s Attitude Motivational Program, is a program offered through the juvenile court system in conjunction with the Army National Guard. It is an opportunity for non-violent, juvenile offenders to start over and potentially have their records expunged.

The eight-week program includes physical training, academic intervention, community service, and, in my opinion, the best part, us!  We get to spend time with the groups, building their character and talking about making healthy choices. It’s really a perfect fit.

In the past few years, though I’ve greatly enjoyed working with CAMP, I’ve often found myself expecting the students to go back to drug use. I expect them to go back to the same crowd, and start making the same bad choices.  There have been a few that I thought were really promising, but, I’m embarrassed to say that many of these students often fell into my good guy/bad guy mindset. Either you are a good guy, or a bad guy.

So you can see how just a few weeks ago, my world was shaken by a simple explanation offered to a three-year-old. And that has made all the difference.

I’ve approached the CAMP programs entirely different this year.  These aren’t bad kids.  These are just kids that have made bad choices. I’ve found myself honestly investing in these kids, cheering them on.  I’ve found myself hurting with them, and in some cases, crying over them.

In many cases, these are kids that have had to grow up too fast.  Kids that have no relationship with either or both of their parents, or relationships that are so unhealthy the drug use was encouraged by the parent. Kids that have been hurt and abandoned.  Abused. But, they are still just kids.

Kids who light up over a silly game.  Kids who still enjoy watching SpongeBob. Yes, they have made bad choices. In some situations, very bad choices. But they aren’t bad people. They have goals. They have dreams.  They just don’t have someone telling them that those dreams can be a reality.

In many ways, these have become my favorite students.  They are learning first hand that choices have consequences. And often times, those consequences are life changing. They want to make healthier decisions. They just need someone to tell them it is possible. They need someone to take the time and tell them they are valuable as people. They are not mistakes. They have just made mistakes.

 

And, here’s probably the biggest reason these CAMPs are my favorite. Because no matter how much I teach them and encourage them, somehow and in some way, they always manage to do the same for me.