When I go to the park, I find SO many things, and some of them, I might add, are exceptionally unmentionable. But the mentionable items include a broken tiara, a half finished slurpee, a dime, a broken water-gun, a necklace, and an odd assortment of other neglected, forgotten, or tossed away treasures. Where do these little trinkets come from? Well, most of them come by hand of the Bronx teen, and there are many MANY teens to contribute to the collection.
How the park next to us became dubbed the “teen hangout” I can’t say, but I can tell you that teens swarm the playground like bees on a mission. Although the missions aren’t always the most sincere (like painting the slides and swings or breaking down a bathroom door) these teens are bright, creative, and looking for someone to just listen. And that’s where we come in.
Gabe and I are trying and hoping to become their friends, which has proved way easier than we ever expected. Because of Gabe’s charming smile, skateboard, and skinny jeans…he is an instant hit (although half of this is because the girls are swooning over him). Each week, Gabe invests ten or so hours in teen outreach. Right now, this includes getting to know the kids, finding out what they are interested in, surveying them, and being intentionally “there”. On Fridays, our summer interns help by going to the parks with surveys and asking questions about religious preferences, ideas, and beliefs.
We want to be there for them, investing, building, and allowing change to take place in their lives, giving God ample opportunity to reshape and reform the masses of broken teens that call Bronx Park East home.
Statistically, Bronx teens (aged 15 to 19) hold the record for the highest birthing and abortion rate in The Bronx. Every 65 out of 1,000 babies born here in the city are by teenage girls, ranking highest in all of NYC. Teens also rank highest out of all five boroughs in abortion rates, standing at about 49 teen abortions for every 1,000. This is a number one concern for Bronx teens, but there is also a major drug and alcohol problem. One of the first things teens do when Gabe starts talking to them is try to convince him to buy them alcohol. And filling the parks are tons of teens hiding on rocks or in the miniscule woods, getting high. Although I don't feel particularly uncomfortable around the masses of weed smoking kids, I hope that we can make a difference here, preventing at least a few from digging into the world of harder drugs, crime, and further addictions.
Olivia and I don’t always get to invest in the teens because Olivia is a very busy toddler, running from one place to another and not usually stopping long to chat, but yesterday she provided me with the opportunity to share a brief version of my testimony. While climbing the park rocks (right outside of the playground we play at) there were three teens smoking weed and enjoying summer break. We were able to talk to them for a little bit, in which they noticed my “loved” tattoo written across my arm and asked if it had meaning. Feeling only slightly caught off-guard (not that many people have commented on my tattoo here), I was able to tell them that I used to struggle with self-injury for five years but came out of it through a relationship with Jesus, discovering that I was loved and undefined by my addictions. Of course, they were pretty floored (but that could have just been the weed talking!). Anyway, I hope to see them around! And maybe conversations will continue to go deeper.
These kids are worth getting to know and their excitement for life, regardless of their circumstances, is refreshing and an attitude that only teens seem to have mastered. Pray for us as we continue to part the separation between teens and good role models and pray that Jesus can be our number one focus as we reach into their broken lives.