Hope on the Hill

HFO Purchases High School House

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When we started HFO 7 years ago we began with elementary and junior-high aged kids. Like a charter school, each year HFO’s scope of work expands by a grade level. For 4-8th grade we have a capacity of 40 students, but each year our high school will grow until it reaches approximately 40 students as well. This past year we worked with 10-15 high school students daily in our small office upstairs above the computer lab. These conditions weren’t conducive to the type of environment that would best serve our students, and we knew that with each passing year this number would continue to grow making the need for a bigger space urgent. Our Board had been considering some intermediate options to sustain our growth until a permanent option was available. Then we heard about one of our neighbors who passed away suddenly. Mrs. Dorothy owned the red house on the corner of Madison and Union. She was a teacher, a member of the Episcopal Church here in town, and had done many mission trips to South America in the past. When her family heard we were interested in another house they wanted us to have the house.

Our purchase of the house was finalized the last week of May. We will begin preparing the house this summer and will have it full of students this fall. We have a vision to pay off this house in a year and are looking for willing individuals to help make this vision a reality. We will have matching funds available to double the impact of every gift made towards our High School house. If you want to make a contribution into this resource that will benefit the lives of kids here in Opelousas for many years to come this opportunity is for you. To God be the Glory! IMG_8671 2

Jonathan Fisher: Homegrown Helper at Hope for Opelousas

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IMG_2379An Opelousas native, Jonathan has been Loren’s ministry teammate from “way back in the day,” and we are so thankful to have him on staff now! Here is a little bit about HFO’s newest addition:

My name is Jonathan, but most people call me Fish. My favorite part of HFO is being able to pursue a relationship with God in my work. By being in ministry, it helps keep that my priority--God reminds me that life is not about money or other pursuits but rather pouring myself out for these kids, helping them learn about the most valuable thing they can have in life: a relationship with Christ. They may not have money or lots of relationships but if they have that, they have everything.

Working with Loren reminds me of a college ministry we started called the Prayer House. We had both just graduated from a Christian rehab in Mississippi called the Home of Grace and wanted to reach out to our college peers. We rented a house near UL on the McKinley St. Strip where all the bars were, and would grill out and talk to people about Jesus. We also had a season where we set up a 24/7 prayer room in the house and had people praying continually. It was a formative time in all our lives, and HFO reminds me of that, pouring yourself out for other people and trying to put others first.

I love HFO because over the last few years as I’ve watched it grow, I’ve seen it not only add kids, but deepen relationships. There is plenty of time spent getting to know the kids, not just in the after-school program, but with Saints games and adventure trips. It is encouraging to see people who care about the community and are giving kids a chance for success who may not have had that without the work being done at HFO.

Over the last few years, I have been a part of HFO from a distance volunteering, doing work projects and attending events (like KAA...YOU KNOW!), but I am so glad to have the opportunity to do it full time. I love working with these kids, and they need a lot of attention. I have a past where I didn’t always make good decisions, so I can relate to what the kids are going through; and having gone through drugs, alcohol, and addiction, I know the importance of having a Christian community for support, accountability, and encouragement. You need to have people who really care about your future to tell you the truth, not just tell you what you want to hear. HFO is community for these kids.

I am excited to see the future of HFO, and excited to be a part of it.

-Jonathan

 

 

Remembering Jaylin

Remembering Jaylin

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With huge and heavy sadness, the community of Hope for Opelousas celebrates the life of Jaylin Levier, and grieves his loss. Also known around our tutoring tables and basketball courts as “Pop,” Jaylin was the kid everybody loved—the staff clowned along with his humor, and his competitive spirit sparked everyone on to better work, better play. It feels too soon to say goodbye, and to be honest, we don’t want to.  It is difficult to try to remember Jaylin’s presence, his spunkiness and sensitivity, when we still feel like we will see his huge smile and soft eyes around HFO.

While it is easy to think of fun times—Jaylin dancing with his cousins, racing to define vocabulary words, cheering on the Tigers—HFO also wants to share some different and very special moments. Times when Jaylin joined in Bible studies and thought deeply about his faith and community that we will treasure, knowing his heart was being pulled toward heaven and he was listening. Just this summer, Jaylin traveled with us to a Christian sports camp, and responded to the gospel message with great intensity. How precious to witness that hunger, joy, and tenderness. Scripture affirms this time of grief, telling us “precious are the deaths of saints;” we are deeply grieving the loss of this incredible life and lift the Levier family up in our prayers. But with equally deep gratitude we celebrate the privilege of knowing Jaylin, loving him, being loved by him, and trusting that he is now laughing and clowning with our Father.

 

Love Changes Everything!

Let the adventures begin!

Day One

 We began hiking as the sun was going down one Friday evening. The tall pine-filled woods brought back sweet memories from trips past. Such memories reminded me that this night would also be etched in my mind for years to come.

 With headlights illuminating the path in-front of us, the “vets” (kids with camping experience) were ready to show the “newbies” (kids who had no such experience) how it was done. As bats swooped overhead, we marched forward and I curiously listened to the trail talk. The majority of the stories these kids were excitedly reliving with each other were from previous ‘Adventure Crew’ trips! I caught a glimpse of the impact these trips have on our students. While it might be statistically immeasurable, that moment reminded me that this work is good.

 After a brief hike into the night, we arrived at our first campsite location. The type of backpacking Adventure Crew practices is called ultra-light backpacking. We sacrifice some comforts while utilizing gear that minimizes the weight we carry. For example, we use open tarps in place of tents as protection from the rain. Unfortunately, tarps aren’t much of a shield against bugs . . .  At our campsite the vets showed the newbies how to set up camp while I gathered wood for the fire—pita pizzas for dinner.

 Taking a kid into the woods for the first time is a magical experience. Their sense of wonder refreshes my own, and reveals how unimpressed I have become by truly amazing things. Ty Thomas found a tree covered in thick neon green fungal pattern that entranced the kids for a full five minutes. Their headlights later illuminated glowing crawfish eyes in the stream—the shells of these freshwater crawfish were so thin you could see their hearts beating. Science class was in session and the kids didn’t even know it!

 How many times have I arrived at a campsite thinking about resting or reading a new book? The wonder of these young people was inspiring and fueled a sense of worship as we beheld such beauty together. Seeing the world through the eyes of a child can help bring our hearts closer to wonder and glory! The more of this gospel-work I am a part of, the more I wonder who is impacted more, me or the kids?

 Another highlight of the night was learning the “Big Foot” call. Kevin Thomas had practiced for weeks in anticipation of his first trip. Quite the expert after hours of documentaries chronicling the Sasquatch, Kevin assured us there were no Sasquatches nearby because they would have certainly responded to his call. His expertise in the matter helped everyone sleep a little sounder that first night.

 Day Two

 As the morning water boiled we shared breakfast, scripture, and student-led prayers of thanks and provision. Our goal for the day was to hike the Kincade Lake Loop before turning back toward our first campsite. This loop wasn’t going to be easy—totaling thirteen miles with many hours between our feet and the rewarding swim hole awaiting us at mile nine.

 Each turn on that looped trail brought in a new view of the lake’s expanse. Families of turtles piled on logs sunbathing would quickly jump into the water as we approached. We surprised wood ducks, egrets, and even two deer that flagged us with their white tails as they leapt from the path. We were nearly halfway through our day’s mileage when Kristina and I marveled at the maturity level of our team. Even though the long hike was grueling, the attitude of the group stayed incredibly positive.

 Arriving at the swim hole meant a well-deserved break for lunch and rest. It seemed as though we hadn’t eaten in days as we all eyed the sausage and cheese, ready to leap on our portion. The younger boys explored after lunch, sure they spotted alligator and bear tracks in the sand by the lake.

 The final push was a gut check for the team. We finished the hike with under an hour of daylight left. With one night under their belts, the crew knew what was expected and set up camp with very little support from the adults. Trevon Eaglin and I prepared a gourmet meal of chicken, pasta, and mashed potatoes. The pots didn’t need much cleaning after dinner that night after being literally licked clean (with a finger)! Even after such an exhausting day, the kids still didn’t want to turn out the lights . . . I guess a few years have finally snuck up on me.

 Day Three

 Sunday morning found us pushing to eat breakfast and pack up camp in under thirty minutes. We managed to make it back to HFO, sort out the gear, snack on some boudin and cracklins and still make it to church on time.

 These training excursions help prepare the kids’ expectations as we head out on longer and longer trips. After two preliminary ventures into Kisatchie Forest, we will tackle an intermediate trip spanning four days and over twenty miles of the Eagle Rock Loop Trail in Arkansas. These tracks serve as preparation for our return trip to Durango, CO this summer to finish the trail we began over two years ago. This will be six days, five nights, and over thirty-five miles in the Rocky Mountain wilderness—an undoubtedly “epic” adventure!

 Like everything we do at HFO, Adventure Crew is another opportunity to walk beside our students. We set big goals, and then prayerfully and lovingly push towards these goals. Seems like a simple strategy, but it’s difficult to accomplish. We often complicate ministry, but this simplicity helps keep our priorities straight—“love changes everything.” The mountains we climb on Adventure Crew will hopefully help the kids see the adverse and figurative mountains of education, difficult home lives, and personal struggles differently. Not as impossible obstacles to accept, but as just another hill to climb as they press on to where the view gets even sweeter.

 Please pray for our Adventure Crew. If you would like to sponsor a student in this program, head to our donation page for more information.

-Loren

You've been left out-

But no longer! We were sadly remiss last semester on taking some time to introduce you to a few of our favorite employees. The ‘Agents of Hope’ interns have quickly become vital members of the yellow house family, and we hope you have not forgotten about them! If you are unsure about what this program is, check it out here.

So today, I am very pleased to shine a little light on the spring 2012 ‘Agents of Hope’. . .

We all get to have a hand in working with these interns—Kristina plans the tutoring expectations and schedules, Loren provides feedback and accountability for the work accomplished, and I (an intern-of-sorts myself) have the great privilege to befriend, mentor, and challenge these incredible young adults in a weekly discussion time. We research college scholarships, learn how to construct resumes, and talk about the truths of growing up. This semester we are also reading a book together, and I encourage you to look into it!  The Kai'Ro Project

 

Briah Mayo:

Last semester we hired Briah’s twin sister, and we are doubly blessed in our “discovery” of the Mayo girls! Briah is a self-titled nerd who also manages to play basketball and stand up to our feisty middle-school boys. I love the gentleness and warmth that Briah shares with us.  Whether she decides to go into nursing or business, I know peers and clients alike will find her a treasure. Next to her tendency for quiet and tidiness, Briah’s dream to try bungee jumping is impressive . . . but I think that field trip will have to wait for a more adventurous chaperone . . .

McKenzie Brown:

I have learned that McKenzie has the gift of curiosity . . . in abundance. I am so impressed by her thoughtfulness and uninhabited questions, which will serve her well as she works to become an electrical engineer. McKenzie describes herself as mystical and quiet, but I will also tell you that she is a great conversationalist with a ready laugh. A member of the OHS dance team, a fan of competition and a hopeful LSU freshman this fall, McKenzie tutors one of our 8th graders with commendable patience!

 Bryan Tyler:

Bryan is a generous young man who shares his thoughts easily and gives great suggestions for local restaurants. While Bryan plans to go to LSUE to be certified in fire safety, he dreams of owning a coffee shop to host jazz musicians and poetry slams. A true high school student, Bryan loves eating pizza and hanging out with his friends in his down time, but Bryan also has a great work ethic. He always seems to be opening doors for me or asking Loren how to do a new task.

 Karlotta Fruge’:

An Opelousas debutante, Karlotta would say that her heart still belongs to her home state of Texas. Karlotta loves her English class and sharing book suggestions with me—a girl after my own heart! She hopes to live in Baton Rouge after finishing college as a “classy” paralegal. It’s no surprise to hear week after week about new school activities Karlotta is involved in, and projects she’s checking off her list. The students she works with have a great example in her organization and studying techniques, which I am sure they are thrilled to try!

Wilbert Rosette:

Wilbert pronounced himself “very loyal” this past week, which does not shock me at all. He takes a beating from our elementary students—answering demands for games of “gotcha,” “Jenga,” and flashcard competitions. The truth is that Wilbert’s willingness and generosity are a wonderful example to our kids. He owns the OHS band family as one of his favorite parts of his home town; it’s no wonder since he plays several instruments and travels competitively as a leader in the brass section. Wilbert hopes to support a family of his own someday by working in non-destructive testing.

Each of these students has a real heart to contribute to the people around them, and a maturity we greatly appreciate. We hope you enjoy getting to know them as much as we have.

-Hannah

One Friday morning...

 

There is nothing quite like an early morning, a cup of coffee in your hand, and thirty teenage girls standing on your lawn. On such a day, we began to chip away at the list of projects attached to our recent property purchase. Before bids for roofing could be compared, before the handicap access ramp could be poured, and even before we could repaint the big empty rooms, some dirty chores were calling across the lot.

And so it was that one fateful Friday, three staff members, one teacher, and a whole crew of high school girls went to town . . .

“The feeling of getting something done to help people in a way that they needed without expecting anything in return impacted me the most.”

HFO has been experiencing the development of a rich friendship this year between the Academy of Sacred Heart and our tutoring program. Every week, Miss Ali Purpera brings several of her students to volunteer—to sit on the steps and talk with our interns, to keep up on the basketball court, and to coax 7th graders into studying for impending biology tests.

“… not really knowing what it was or who was involved. Now I see how much soul there is in this project and helping out that day made me want to do more.”

Ali teaches, along with several other religion classes, a course in social problems. Amid discussions on poverty and economical struggles, Ali includes a day dedicated to working in the community in hopes of connecting her students with some of the topics on a more personal level.

“The thing that impacted me the most was about halfway through the day, I realized that while I usually have a strong aversion to manual labor, I did not have one thing to complain about. Also, at the end of the work, to see that not one girl had anything to complain about either, even though they all had just spent the day working and getting dirty.”

This year, HFO gratefully hosted the work day. For about four hours we cleaned floors, scraped paint, pulled carpet, hacked at bushes, and wrenched old nails, doors, and fences out of stubborn holds.  Who knew that 11th grade girls carry such a penchant for destruction?!

“I had so much fun, probably the most fun I'll ever have ripping up old pieces of a house. Everyone just came together for this big movement, it was amazing.”

In the afternoon, the girls were treated to a lunch hosted by the Opelousas Lighthouse Mission. There we heard about the unexpected situations that lead to poverty, spoke to some heavy demographics in our country, and shared the gospel truth of caring for our neighbors.

“They really opened my eyes to the fact that poverty can happen to anyone no matter the background.”

It is always hard to relate one short-term experience to the reality of another person’s life, but I think that those conversations proved compelling.

“…it helped me realize stability is fragile…”

This day proved to be surprisingly sweet, and not just because we were set upon by a reckoning workforce! We shared our hearts and made new friends. HFO is so grateful for the blessings of that day, and for the chance to work alongside such giving young women.

 “I really hope we do this again soon.”

So do we!

 

 “…the Good Samaritan parable taught me not to judge the men who did nothing because I probably would have responded similarly. It also taught me that service is one of the most central requirements of being a Catholic Christian. Having a lot of faith isn't enough, and service without faith isn't enough either.”