On Friday, we walked into The Office Pile (our co-working space where the camp we being held) and we couldn’t believe it was already our last day with these amazing kids. What we had experienced in the last few days had been incredibly moving as we saw these kids open up to us and share their lives through creative expression and self-reflection that was encouraged by the lessons we were taking them through. Friday was certainly no exception.

The night before I had received a very special phone call from Sean Stephenson, a world famous public speaker and one of my personal heroes. I had met Sean back in January and had continued a conversation with him and his wife Mindie Kniss, asking if they could be involved with the camp and maybe share some inspiration with the kids. I told Sean about the kids and what they had gone through, and he told me he would film and send a special inspirational video for the kids. What he sent was not only incredibly inspiring; it was all about Emotional Intelligence and a perfect follow up to what we had taught the day before (I didn't even tell him what we'd taught!)

After the video ended I turned the lights back on and looked around. The kids were speechless. They were moved. His words connected with them in a way I hadn’t seen until then. There was a stillness in the room. Finally, I broke the silence and asked, "how did it make you feel or impact you?" One girl raised her hand and said:

"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 made me stronger."

We were speechless.

After wrapping up the video and the end of our life skills segments, we were joined by a special guest: Kyra Trent of Murals All Ova. Kyra brought paints and canvas to do a creative and fun exercise with the kids, where they got to each paint their own t-shirt designs. Kyra was the one who introduced me to Arizonans for Children, our partner organization for this camp, and so it was really special to have her come and spend some time with the kids, and the kids definitely loved it and had a lot of fun.

After the painting, we jumped back into the kids’ community service project ideas. We broke the kids up into four groups, where each group created their own community service project and then presented it to the rest of their peers. This is what we normally do in a RENEW workshop – and each group gets to decide: what the project is, what the need or problem is that it solves, and which population the project serves. What these kids came up with was simply remarkable. All of the four groups created projects that served the homeless in Phoenix. This is the first time ever in a RENEW workshop that all groups separately created projects that all had the same target population in mind. When we told them this and asked “why the homeless?” one student replied, “because at one point we were all homeless, and somehow we still are.” Remarkable.

These kids brought their ideas together and created a project that provides ‘resource backpacks’ to the homeless, including a map of nearby shelters, clothes, survival/first aid kit, and a handwritten poem from each of the kids that gives the person inspiration and motivation to fight on. These backpacks would be handed out at a community event (another groups idea). This event could be a BBQ at a park in Phoenix that many homeless people spend time at, and would feature motivational speakers to share insight and inspiration. There are still some details that the kids need to continue working out, and we are testing out the feasibility of implementing it and determining a timeline. We will keep you posted on how this inspiring project develops.

Before we knew it, the day and the camp had come to an end. It always seems that right when you’re turning a corner your time is up – that’s just how things normally go I guess. All of the kids went home with their artwork, their meditation blanket from camp, and a RENEW curriculum as well as an ‘action plan’ to help them continue forward with what they learned and integrate lessons into their daily lives. We knew this wouldn’t be the last time to see these kids though, so it was just ‘goodbye for now’. We can't wait to see them all again sometime soon.

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