For the past 3 years I have heard the word “Empowerment” used often by various staff members at Mile High Ministries. I liked what I heard, but I realized recently that I had a loose (at best) understanding of what empowerment means in terms of the folks we do life with. I was particularly confused in regard to implementing empowerment strategies with the youth at Joshua Station. While my understanding of empowerment is still a bit foggy, I have been inspired by various people to practice the art of trial and error within the youth program when it comes to practicing empowerment.

Joshua Station has a store. It is actually a closet filled with toys, books, coloring books, etc. These items are in bins labeled with a price tag for the items inside. Each parent would be given an envelope containing $1.50 in fake money to use as a reward for “above expectations” behavior from their children. The store was an instant hit with the kids (and parents) who loved to “shop” at the Joshua Station Store. However, when the person who started the store didn’t have time to run it anymore, my abilities to keep the store running as a brand new youth director proved less than satisfactory.

Recently we’ve been reading and discussing a book by Bob Lupton called Toxic Charity in Staff Meeting. The book is a discussion provoking work to be sure. Lupton is very critical of many of the models of charity offered by Government, large Non-Profits and Churches. I highly recommend the book if you work with a marginalized people in a “charity” setting. Along with several insights, this book has helped me to shape my first “trial and error” project in the pursuit of empowering our youth.

We are going to re-open the Joshua Station Store. If my vision of the store goes as planned (fingers crossed) it will be an empowering thing for our entire community. We will be re-opening the store, only this time I won’t be running the store. I won’t even be managing the store. The store will be run by a mix of employees and managers. The employees will be our Middle School Group (6th-8th grade), a great group of youngsters looking for ways to get more plugged into the youth program outside of their own group time. The management will be our Teen Group (9th-12th grade), a great mix of teenagers who have great potential to be inspirational role models for our younger kids.

While our Middle School leader and I will be overseeing the store, we will be entirely hands-off if all goes as planned. The store will be run completely by our youth. The “pay” for their work will come in the form of a monthly trip to either a coffee house, frozen yogurt shop or other business willing to offer us a deal. Coffee shops and frozen yogurt are not foreign to our kids, but the notion of the trip being something that they’ve earned will be. We are hoping that the satisfaction of enjoying a drink and the company of their peers as well as the youth staff will be a sweet taste to them that will pave the way for the basic desire to work hard for what they want in life.

Today in staff meeting we heard about the founder of Mile High Ministries. We laughed when we heard that he loved failing and seeing other people fail. He was a huge supporter of trial and error, seeing the failures as great educational experiences that give us better insight as we embark on our next project. The empowerment model being used to run the Joshua Station Store could end up being one of those failures (although I hope not). If that is the case then I pray that we will be able to learn from our mistakes and give it another (better) go.

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