RENEW facilitators Adam Rubin, Christina Wehry and Uswege Mwakapango (left to right).

RENEW facilitators Adam Rubin, Christina Wehry and Uswege Mwakapango (left to right).

On July 6th, 2015, RENEW launched our first ever workshop in the United States. After two years of demonstrating success in Tanzania, we decided to pilot our leadership program with youth here in the US. We put it together as a one-week day camp, and held it here in Phoenix, Arizona. In partnership with Arizonans for Children, we had selected 17 foster youth coming from group homes around the Valley to participate in this camp. Aside from being our first workshop in the states, this one was particularly special as teamed up with Christina Wehry, meditation teacher and owner of Happiness Untangled, who joined us to help facilitate the workshop and integrate meditation as another tool for the kids to use in our workshop.

That week was beyond what we could have ever imagined. These kids touched our hearts and opened our eyes. Throughout the week, we took these kids through the process of identifying their purpose and crafting a vision for themselves and their community. We helped them set goals and gave them the tools they need to get there. They became more conscious communicators, and learned how to build up their emotional intelligence and use it in difficult situations. Finally, we asked the kids what problem in the community they wanted to solve, and they came up with an inspiring community service project to help the homeless population in Phoenix. From Monday to Friday, these kids blew us away every step of the way.

After our first ever RENEW workshop in the US came to a close on July 10th, Uswege summed up the experience perfectly: life-changing. Not just for the kids we were working with, but also for us as RENEW facilitators. These kids have been through so much, and certainly experienced more pain in their young lives than most of us have to endure in a lifetime. But at the end of the day, the strength these kids have inside their hearts is a greater force for transformation than you or I could ever imagine. Some of these kids have had everything taken away from them, but you can’t take away their dreams. These kids face pain and suffering every single day, but now they hopefully have the tools to manage those emotions. They can now communicate with empathy, and regulate their frustration with self-awareness. They can make mindful decisions in the face of adversity, always keeping their goals in mind and making sure their actions are aligned with their purpose in life. They can take all the terrible things that have ever happened to them, and turn that into strength to push them forward to reach their dreams.

As one of the girls said on the last day of our workshop:

"I am who I am because of what I've been through, and if I had the opportunity to trade lives with somebody else I would say no. Because what I've been through has made me stronger. I used to think it was a curse, and now I see it's a gift."

It would be too difficult to try and summarize the camp in one blog - every day was uniquely different and incredible in its own way. That's why I'm going to spend an entire week and dedicate 5 blogs to take you through each day of the camp, and hopefully give you some insight into the incredible transformation and growth that took place. Thank you for joining us on this incredible journey, that has taken us all the way from Tanzania in 2013 to Arizona two years later. With your belief and support, anything is possible. #TogetherWeCanBringChange

Thank you to all of our donors who made this possible. Special thank you to our title sponsor National Processing Solutions and the Woodside Community Action Grant for helping us bring the RENEW program to youth in Arizona. We are forever grateful.