The River of Community

A children’s home is like a pond – self contained, calm, and disconnected from the river. For many children, it’s a place of necessary protection from unsafe or unhealthy situations.

Community is like a river, a constant current flowing by countless faces and places. Its path winds us through family gatherings, school assemblies, local restaurants, and neighborhood block parties. Along its banks are different people and life situations, each one building into us through experiences and individual understandings of the world. We learn how to shop at the grocery store and engage with a cashier as we watch our parents make the list and push the cart. We learn to navigate social situations such as meals at restaurants, wedding etiquette, and negotiations with car mechanics. We learn how to invite a friend to coffee, plan a birthday party, and find a church. We are swept up in the flow of community and in time, we learn to swim with the current. 

A children’s home is like a pond – self contained, calm, and disconnected from the river. For many children, it’s a place of necessary protection from unsafe or unhealthy situations. The pond serves a vital purpose of safeguarding and stability, but in time, the child grows, needs to join the river, to return to community, to navigate larger currents outside the proverbial pond. 

For a child who has grown up in the pond of a children’s home, the dive into the river of community can be daunting and impossible to do alone. In the early years of the Hope Education Program in Monterrey, Mexico, Back2Back staff watched as graduating students waded into the river of community. They rented apartments, commuted to jobs, found churches, maintained social lives, and it all proved challenging and overwhelming. Some stumbled, some swam, and some simply turned around and came back to the pond. Students were graduating from the program, but lacked the confidence and skills to step off the Hope Program Campus and into their local community. 

The need for a more formalized program to walk alongside students in this major life transition became evident and the Transitioning to Independence Program was born. Today, the Transitioning to Independence Program is actively walking students into the river of community in Mexico, Nigeria, and India. 

In Monterrey, program coordinator Sara Jensen coaches students as they make grocery lists, build budgets, and apply for jobs. She invites them to coffee and is a safe place to process all they are experiencing in this new stage of life. She has created such a felt safety with them that one student, after successfully applying and receiving a new job, admitted he had no idea how to run the cash register and needed help. Sara and his local mentors got to work on a crash course in cash register skills. When he needed help, he knew there was someone just a text message away who would be there. When he needed it most, his community came alongside him and provided support for the next step. 

As students take brave steps into the river of community, it’s the knowledge  they are not alone that makes all the difference. When asked why it’s so important to have someone walk alongside them, Sara responded “They feel so lost. They feel like they don’t belong. So it’s walking with them and helping them to reenter the community that they are part of. And allowing them to know that they’re not alone.” 

Sara actively works to recruit local volunteers to serve as mentors and a network of connections. Success is measured by a student’s ability to maintain healthy relationships and seek out positive people to be a part of their lives. The goal is to walk students into independence through interdependence with their broader community. 

“We give up when we are alone, not when we are in community and supported by others that tell you, just take one more step, just keep going,” shares Sara. This is the benefit of the current of community, it keeps us moving forward when we are tempted to quit and floats us along when we are tired or worn out.

Today there are over 50 young adults taking brave steps into the river of community and because of Back2Back staff and volunteers, they never do it alone.

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