Over the years Tiqvah has had many amazing volunteers and staff who have been involved in making it what it is today. Some come for only a season, some for a year or two, and even a few for years on end. Today I want to introduce you to an amazing young woman who has had varied levels of involvement but in the end continues to come back to Tiqvah. Why? Because she has an amazing heart for kids and especially those who live in the inner city. I’d like to share the story of our fourth and fifth grade team leader Ms. Stephanie.
Stephanie started at Tiqvah in its very early beginning when she was only 15. Days at Tiqvah back then looked like 10 to 15 kids with a handful of volunteers for the week and no team leaders. The students and volunteers met in the Coleman Community Center and slowly grew in numbers. She recalls that it was evident they were building relationships with the community because each time they would pul out in Big Red, the van, kids would run out from the neighborhood to say hello. In those early days the thing that drew her into work at Tiqvah was the opportunity to build relationships with the kids through holistic ministry.
She knew that these were the things Jesus cared about and wanted to give her time to them as well.
By the time Stephanie was 20 she had been involved with Tiqvah for 5 years in roles including volunteer, enrichment leader, team leader, van driver, and student mentor. She was able to cultivate a mentoring relationship with one student specifically and speak into her life throughout their time together. At this time in Stephanie’s life she also felt the call to share the mission and love of Christ over seas. For the next two years she spent months in Uganda studying abroad and sharing her heart for children with those in Africa. Whenever she was back in the states she still made time to be involved at Tiqvah filling the needs of volunteer and enrichment leader. Multiple summers she was even available to participate in programming as a team leader.
As God worked in her life, shifting opportunities and closing options, Stephanie began to realize that while she had a huge love for the children she had met in Africa she was being called stateside. From a Site Director’s perspective I was overjoyed to be able to work with Stephanie again at Tiqvah and pleased to have her accept the role as team leader once again. In asking her to again participate I knew that she loved our kids but that I was posing a challenge for her too. The age group I was asking her to work with was outside her comfort zone and one that she had not had experience with. But our first to weeks have proved that she is just as skilled with them as our younger students.
I had the great opportunity of getting to ask Stephanie her thoughts on our program and kiddos which I would like to share with you. One of the things that she mentioned as most difficult as a team leader is remembering that our kids are people and people are complex. It can be difficult to figure out the balance between being an empathizer and challenging them to grow.
"We aren’t just there to hug them but to hold them to a higher standard too, but I think that is what gives the job the most purpose too.”
That being said, one of the things she is most excited about is that as a returning member of Tiqvah is that she gets to see who the students she’s had previously have become. She gets to know their likes and their personalities now that they are older. When asked what she would want to share about our students she said, “That our kids are wonderful. They are gifted, strong. and have a unique purpose in God’s plans.” In describing the students she has met in Canton two main characteristics came to mind; hilarious and resilient. One of the things that stands out in working with the older students, for her, is that they are so funny and they make her laugh every day. Their humor even helps them grow in resiliency as she notes, “their families have a lot of obstacles in their lives but they handle them and just keep going.” As a director I see similar resiliency and humor in my staff. In spite of the challenges we face each week they are able to laugh in little things to alleviate some of their burdens.
Over the years it has been an amazing pleasure not only getting to know Stephanie but seeing how God has grown her. She is just own of our four extraordinary team leaders that speaks truth into the lives of our kids each day. Getting to know our staff is just as important as getting to know the students we serve. Our staff is ultimately the heart of our program who makes our work in Canton possible. They have amazing passion for impacting the lives of the students they work with and they see the best in our kids. If you would like to get to know our staff and students better consider volunteering with us!