reflections from Jessica Pittman, Founder
“Often you learn the most from people you have absolutely nothing in common with.
Although it’s now been a good fifteen years or so since I started working with youth in challenging neighborhoods in Fresno, nothing reminds me how privileged I was growing up than spending evenings at the juvenile justice center. I spend it with these incredible young women who are resilient and strong in ways I hope I never have to be. And so yes, as an adult now I’ve experienced some trauma and have my own stories, but I can never underestimate the value of a safe and love filled childhood. I wasn’t the girl being described to me recently who would sometimes hide in a closet and cry and cry and cry
wanting to end my life before it even began because I didn’t know what else to do after being beaten so many times by my parents. The parents, the ones who define normalcy for a child too often tragically take it away, because it’s all they know how to do as well, and their tears and this fear becomes these kid’s earliest memories. It becomes their reality, their space in which they are trapped and all they want to do is escape.
And so they find themselves locked up, time and time again, and they can verbalize it: all they still want to do is escape. The pain is not immediate and physical now but it runs so deep that it’s part of them and all they’ve really known.
So we did this session called “My Life, My Choice” with these girls for about eight weeks. The title is ironic when you really consider how few real choices these kids have had in their short lives. Where they grew up, how their parents (if they knew them) treated them, if they had food in the house to eat, who came in and out and taught them about exploitation and survival at an early age using a very different language than the way I just wrote it. But we tell them what they also already know; they do have important choices to make, and what they don’t always realize is how much each one matters.
There are these brilliant smiles and sparkles in eyes. There are outbursts of laughter and while often at the wrong moment, completely and ridiculously inappropriate, it’s contagious! It’s a release of this powerful energy of girls who are now being poured into, empowered, and given tools so they can change the trajectory of their future. Let’s be honest: the odds are completely against them. Many of them, stepping out of juvenile hall, are immediately worse off, in more danger, and sent back to the ones whose relationships may seem like love but are toxic.
On the days when I think clearly, I take comfort in the fact that I cannot solve these problems. They are too enormous. I have for two decades wrestled with poverty and injustice and how it manifests in Fresno. How it discriminates. And not just in Fresno but in this huge world…and the more years I live the more questions and the more ideas I have about how we as a church can live our true identity as Light.
So today, I am so proud and grateful to be part of a team that has, after a two-year involuntary break, re-entered juvenile justice center to humbly offer hope.
To talk honestly about the choices kids do have and how they can really use them to their overall advantage, for their future. To look directly into their eyes and say, “you’re too valuable for this, you’re worth more, and don’t ever forget it when you leave these walls”. To write in their journals about what gifts and beauty I have seen glimpses of in a few short weeks and to leave a phone number that if and when they choose to use it, I know they will find help. The help won’t come as a simple solution, but it can be found.”
If you want to pray specifically for this team, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are planning to share specific weekly requests for our next session, and desperately need a team of prayer people to join us!
We are also looking for donations and sponsors for these programs going as well, specifically for our youth programs we need pizza, candy, and snack donations. If you can help or want to know more please contact email@example.com