I'm proud to say I'm a mom of a Youth Venture alum. Not only was this a great experience for my daughter, Elizabeth, it was a great experience for my husband and me.
The LA experience was a great fit for Elizabeth, and I am so grateful for the support of Youth Venture staff who are also friends at Walnut Hill Mennonite Church. When I checked if Elizabeth would be interested in Youth Venture, I discovered that she had been interested the previous summer and just hadn't brought it up, knowing that money was tight. Actually, her response was funny; I hadn't even finished my question—had just finished saying Youth Venture—when she enthusiastically answered, "Yes!"
I want to put in a plug for congregations who are supportive of youth doing this—emotionally and financially. For us, it made all the difference—making Elizabeth's unique opportunity possible. Our congregation, while smaller than many, was very generous. Between the church budget and individuals, they were willing to cover everything. All they asked was for Elizabeth to contribute some of her own earnings. This she did far more than expected—paying for the cost of her ticket and also giving $200 back to the church fund that made her trip possible. Her reason for doing this: "I want to go on Youth Venture again." The church was also supportive in other ways, including an opportunity to share with an intergenerational group during Sunday school. Her sharing and their interest were equally enthusiastic.
While Elizabeth had moments of nervousness before she left—mainly traveling by herself—her primary emotion was excitement. She read through her packet of information from the Youth Venture office in its entirety and shared with us about it. It was obvious that a lot of thought and care had gone into the plans. I had confidence that once in LA, Elizabeth would have good people by her.
I really appreciated the support of staff both before and after. For me, the thing I was most concerned about was her flying all by herself for the first time. Staff offered the welcomed assurance that they hadn't "lost" anyone yet. Once I found out at the airport that I could go through security with her (since she was 16, I wasn't sure what the airline rules were), all my fears evaporated.
Between a few phone calls and photos posted on the Youth Venture Facebook page, it was obvious that she was safe and having a good experience. Not to say that we weren't counting the days until her return. Matter of fact, even though the plan was for me to go to O'Hare by myself to pick her up, my husband arranged to come along. He was so excited to see her, he went to meet her on the way to baggage claim because he couldn't just wait!
It was a wonderful ride home—listening to all the stories. It was a flood of experiences in the urban area, the peace camp, and the people she met. After that initial outpouring, other things came out in bits and pieces in the months that followed. It was obvious that both her heart and mind had been impacted by the experience. Elizabeth continues ties via Facebook with a number of the people she met.
Youth Venture was a great experience not only for her, but also for us—anxious parents who were letting a child go into the world in a new way.