[story by Bokenkamp director of volunteers Joanna Villareal]
An enthusiastic youth group of 15 teenagers and their chaperones arrived at Bokenkamp Children’s Shelter, literally on a mission. They were from Peace Lutheran, a church in Hurst, Texas, working through CAN-DO Missions, a national organization that provides congregations with opportunities and funds for specific missions – like Bokenkamp. Bokenkamp is a temporary home and emergency shelter for unaccompanied minor refugees who have experienced traumatic separations from their families.
Through short-term mission trips to locations around the United States and the world, CAN-DO’s goal is to ignite a greater passion for missions in its volunteers, as they give of their time and provide hands-on labor. As a result of these experiences, the lives of many youth and adults can be changed forever.
The Peace Lutheran group came on board for a week, ready to work! As director of volunteers at Bokenkamp, I sent them off with a list of projects. They worked so hard and fast, that I thought I might run out of things for them to do! Moving from inside to outside, they painted our science room and a long hallway, organized closets around the facility, and beautified and improved the landscaping around the buildings.
In the evenings, the group got to hang out with the residents, playing soccer and working in the Point Store (a “rewards” store full of fun things for residents). The residents taught them the intricate art of bracelet-making, and they produced some wonderful results. The Friday before they left, they joined the residents for a dance. The whole week was lots of fun!
The most special part of the week perhaps, was when one of the residents decided to share his story with the group. Using direct care staff to translate, he told of long, hot days in the Arizona desert and details of his surrender. The youth went back to the retreat center that night and used this story to reflect and discuss the bravery of that resident. It was a story that shocked them, but also one that helped highlight the work that they were doing here.
Additionally, the younger youth from their church had given 4,000 pennies, $400 in donations, which were used to buy extra supplies that were needed around the shelter. They brought soccer and basketballs with them and bought a radio that was used for the dance on Friday, a volunteer cart for me that they decorated with all of their names, and a utility box to hold sports balls outside. They also donated a variety of items to the Point Store, including toiletries and the ever-so popular hair gel.
On Saturday, as they prepared to depart, one resident spoke out to the group, telling them that they deserved a big round of applause. Eighty kids joined in, clapping so loudly that it brought some of the visitors to tears! The group told me that Bokenkamp and its residents had stolen a piece of their hearts and they would continue to think and pray for the kids when they returned home to Hurst.