As I have recently graduated, a common thing I've been facing is being asked for advice about high school, about the trips I've taken, and about other parts of the experiences I've had in life. I feel it is important to say, on the back of our most recent service trip to the Appalachian region of the US, that a large majority of the things I've learned in life can be attributed to the experiences that I would not have been priveliged to if not for my youth program through UDLC.
This program grants opportunities to serve both at home and abroad, it allows people who wouldn't otherwise meet to develop life long relationships, and it gives us a safe place to go for advice, for a shoulder to cry on, or just for a couch to sit on.
I am forever thankful for the adults and youth that have been present in the youth programs throughout my last 8 years or so at this church, as I truly believe I'd be a different person if not for their guidance, support and love.
Things I've Learned:
~ Never take things for granted. There are things I and my peers have access to, from material possessions, to opportunities like schooling & work, to having transportation, that many teens in our own country and in others can only dream of.
~ Family is important. This sounds obvious, but, it is insane how evident it becomes after spending weeks in foreign situations. I think one of the most important lessons most of the ASP participants take away each year is to value their family above their material possessions and above themselves.
~ Families can (and likely should) be unconventional. Whether it includes neighbors, friends, church members, pets, or strangers, it is necessary to have a strong support system behind you, every step of the way.
~ Follow your heart, wherever it may take you. If you are called to teach, teach; if you wish to light candles, or bake, or run marathons, do it!; if you feel compelled to travel in a van full of teens for 12 hours, well, you're probably insane.
~ Eat. Eat whatever you want, when you want. Eat with your friends, eat with your family, eat alone. Food can be fellowship, food can be delicious, and food sustains.
~ Drink. Stay hydrated when it's 102 degrees outside and you're nailing things together or putting shingles on a roof or sawing things. Use it as an excuse not to eat. Take the time to experiment with different flavors, then share the best and worst with your friends.
~ Bob Topper LOVES Swedish Fish.
~ HAVE FUN. Sing & Dance. Play a new role. Run in circles. Socialize. Meet new people. Keep in touch. Frolic.
~ Cherish everything. First dances, new friends, relationships, your favorite candy, the last bite of ice cream, moonlit walks, camping trips, bonfires, long car rides, and so much more. Some day, high school will end, you'll have a job, people will have moved on or passed away, and you'll regret moving through life so quickly.
~ Wait before reacting. Some of the worst decisions made are made in anger, despair, or haste. Write down your emotions in a situation, or think about what to say, then don't. Give the situation a few hours or a few days to settle in your brain, then when it's finally time to react, you'll be capable of a mature and reasonable conversation.
~ Make decisions and stick to them. If you don't know what you want, how can you expect to have productive conversations about anything?
~ Learn from everyone you meet. You will learn life's most valuable lessons when you least expect to.
~ "Take things in stride" No matter your situation, always make the best of it.
Again, I want to thank all of the wonderful adults and youth that have helped me through my best and worst moments in my adolescence. Thank you especially to Ray Hopkins for being a mentor, a friend, and even a relationship therapist when necessary. You truly go above and beyond for us, and make this program the best it can be.
<3 Rebecca Jean Kehs (a.k.a. Ke$ha.)