See those young men hanging on the street corner? They're selling drugs. Watch the car pull up and the transaction take place through the passenger-side window. These are the front-line marketing hustlers in a very lucrative community enterprise. See the younger boys who run back and forth into the crack house carrying small plastic bags? They're runners. They're learning the business by watching the hustle of the older ones. They're learning the difference between wholesale and street value of weed, crack, heroine, angel dust, and an array of other mind-altering merchandise. Sometimes they get to cut and package the products. They make a little money but mostly their compensation is the privilege of hanging around with the older guys and, of course, learning the business. Now watch as the construction and renovation begins on the houses across the street and the new neighbors move in. See the dynamics of power begin to shift as concerned residents begin to meet and strategize? Teams of foot patrol police begin to appear, unannounced and at unexpected times. Traffic noticeably diminishes. The drug enterprise that has flourished for years with impunity in this neighborhood begins to flounder. Young dealers are laid off. There is no confrontation, no overt battle lines drawn - just the uneasy awareness that this enterprise will not do well under the vigilant gaze of new neighbors who have come to stay. The kingpin reads the signs, reluctantly resigns to the inevitable and moves out.
What about all the unemployed young people the dealer leaves behind? There are new influences in the community now - like Daryl, the new neighbor who likes kids and likes basketball. He puts up a hoop in his back yard and invites the boys in for a game. He asks them if they want to form a team and play in Atlanta Youth Project's league. The girls volunteer as cheerleaders. Sweat and discipline earn jerseys and starting line-up positions, and healthy relationships begin to knit. Summer comes. "Coach Daryl" asks if any of them have ever been to summer camp. None have. But fourteen teenage boys say they are interested.
Camp - two weeks of high adventure with a high-nutrition diet of personal affirmation, specially designed to nourish attention-deprived spirits. For the first time in their lives, fourteen young men feast on the nectar of unconditional tough love. Their street-hardened outer protections crack and their innermost longings are exposed. They encounter the One who has loved them from the beginning.
Life on the corner looks very different these days. The blatant drug hustling is gone. Children ride their scooters under the watchful eyes of caring neighbors. And the fourteen young men whose lives were changed at summer camp? Some of their stories would inspire you. Some are coaching younger kids in our athletic teams. Several are now in college. A couple would break your heart. But good seeds sewn are never sewn in vain.
Invest with us this summer, won't you? We want every child with whom we are involved to experience the wonder of summer camp. The cost this year for a full summer of activity is $100 per child. Some will be able to pay but most need sponsorship. Will you and/or your Sunday school class or company be the silent angels for one or more of these young ones? I thank you in advance on their behalf.