Come, Experience: A Journey to Graduation 2017
There are things in this life that can’t simply be described. I can tell you about a sunset on a cool evening, but it’s such a highly experiential event, words fall flat. The best I can say for such a situation is, “Come, experience the sunset.”
Such is our success with kids at Amarillo Children’s Home. I so badly wish I could say to you, “Come, experience the process of being successful with kids at ACH.” This process has profoundly been described in the story below (from houseparents Andrew and Sarah Amstutz) as kids “sending sparks flying as they are sharpened.” It is fine-tuning sharp edges as we prepare kids for their next exciting journey into adulthood.
In a world that expects success to be a tidy process of linear progression and consistent victories, this is not what you would experience at ACH. You would experience “sparks flying.” You would experience extreme highs followed often by just-as-extreme lows; celebration and fear. You would experience a strong dose of worry – concern that it is all too much to handle and overcome. You would come to realize that success is sometimes not what does happen in a kid’s life, but what doesn’t happen. You would see that success is extremely hard to define – hard to catch and nail down… like sparks flying.
Success at Amarillo Children’s Home comes from a daily commitment to live life with kids – kids who need to see that their past pain and hurts can be redeemed and restored.
Teaching kids they are valuable is not easy. It’s a courageous calling that requires a community like you to be focused and committed to the process. We are so blessed to have such a faithful community.
Many of you have expressed curiosity about our houseparents. We pray the story below will be a blessing, inspiration and encouragement to you. It is because of you and your faithfulness that these amazing individuals are able to actively participate in their courageous calling.
President Amarillo Children’s Home
A JOURNEY TO GRADUATION
by Andrew Amstutz
When I was asked to share a story with you about being a houseparent, I wanted to write about our journey through last year – particularly regarding one of our kids and his journey to graduation. As I was writing, I realized I couldn’t really separate his story from the story of our entire family.
Our family is not at all normal and probably not like yours: most families have one senior at time, ours had five; most families have parents, aunts and uncles, while ours has houseparents (who are not just substitute parents, but mentors, life coaches and guides), an assistant houseparent, plus other engaged, helpful adults; most families are from the same place while we’re from Virginia and our boys are from Texas; and most families are the same race, while our’s is made up of many. (One of our boys affectionately sings, “Father Abraham had many sons – black and white and Mexican, I am one of them and so are you…” Those certainly aren’t the words I learned in Sunday School, but I don’t think he realizes how much it makes me smile to hear him sing that.)
All of that is important to know, but this story centers on our five seniors. August through October of last year, all of our seniors started off strong: football was rolling along and school and grades seemed to be doing well. However, as fall rolled further by, struggles came to light: our guys didn’t test well or needed more one on one teaching. Grades started to dip and, for some, graduation became a question mark rather than an exclamation mark. Then, like a beautiful cherry on top of an ice cream sundae, our house gave birth to the wonderful bouncing baby named “senioritis”. It seemed fairly early for senioritis to appear, but with four seniors already 18, and 3 getting ready to turn 19, senioritis was born premature, but very strong.
By Christmas break, senioritis was learning how to walk, and, when February hit, so did the terrible twos: we faced tantrums, we faced reversion in behavior, we faced a desire for independence without the accompanying responsibility, we faced sincere questions about whether or not graduation would even happen. At this point, our home faced more friction then we had ever experienced before.
My wife, Sarah, and I know that sharpening a knife on a smooth whetstone is the path to fine tuning, but first you must put the knife on the grinder – taking off all the rough edges, bumps and hindrances. During this dangerous time, sparks are thrown everywhere – quite possibly catching something on fire.
This was a grinding time for our boys who were trying to grow into young men. It all came to a head one Wednesday morning. One of our boys was enduring some consequences from the previous weekend for not communicating with us about what he was doing – he hadn’t been going anywhere bad, but was missing the mark on the communication that is expected in our home. As I dropped him off at school that morning, I gave him another chance to step up to our expectations. Instead, he turned to me and screamed a curse word.
As I drove away, broken hearted, I wondered if our guys were going to make it successfully to and through graduation, and even how we, as house parents, were going to survive. (I learned later that I was the first house parent he had ever cursed at.)
Then… we saw God at work. Thursday night, as I picked this young man up from his job, he asked why I cared about the little things so much. I was able to share how God said to those who are faithful in the small things more will be given, but to those who are not, even what they have would be taken from them. I was able to share that if he could be faithful in those small things, he could and would excel with more responsibility.
He didn’t say much the rest of the way home.
The next night, as I again picked him up, he told me he was sorry. He told me that night at work the Lord had gotten his attention – his manager had repeated, verbatim, what I had said about being faithful in the small things… and it clicked.
He knew this was a tough time in our house with 5 of our 8 boys really struggling with rules or school. He asked how I was able to get up each morning and do what I do. I was able to share Sarah’s and my heart for our kids: how much we care about them and why we are house parents. He told me all houseparents get tested; those who don’t back down, make it – the kids know they truly care. He told me he knew the way he acted affected our day, and he wanted to give us more good days.
This conversation and his leadership and attitude forward began a process of change in our home. Two of our boys whose graduation was questionable transferred to an alternative school with one on one instruction. One finished in three weeks, the other in 4: both graduated. Another who just couldn’t seem to pass the English II EOC, passed on his third try and made straight A’s. One who fought dyslexia his whole life received individual tutoring, held onto a good job, got his license and bought a car in 7 months, graduated with his class and is now attending Amarillo College. Our leader who stepped up, continued to excel and is attending WTAMU. He still comes home to hang out, although I think it might be just for the food.
Sunday, May 21, 2017, we celebrated with our five seniors at a graduation party on campus: five young men who had the deck stacked against them in one way or another from the very beginning; five young men whose graduation was never a given; five young men who sent sparks flying as they were sharpened; five young men who continue to be fine-tuned – having their edges sharpened as they pursue their next exciting journey of college, career and beyond.