Jun 20, 2017

'Faces of the Transient Lifestyle'

'Faces of the Transient Lifestyle'
The black-and-white portraits of these street youth -- (left to right) "Blue," "Lauren" and "Otter Pig" -- were photographed in Austin between 2014 and 2016 by Michael Joseph, who since 2011 has photographed train riders and hitchhikers he calls "a loosely knit tribe of travelers" living transient lifestyles nationwide.

A series of Joseph's black-and-white portraits of these travelers — titled "Lost and Found" — is now on view at Daniel Cooney Fine Art in New York City. Street Youth Ministry has served some of these individuals specifically -- and lots of them generally. We invite you to learn more about Joseph's work, using the link below.
Go to the exhibition's web page

Volunteering for SYM yields 'a strong feeling of family'

Volunteering for SYM yields
 'a strong feeling of family'
[EDITOR'S NOTE: in mid-year 2016, we began to urge our donors, volunteers and other partners to share their experiences and give SYM a rating using the Greatnonprofits.org website. To date, there have been 27 entries, among them a gratifying testimony shared by volunteer Rodolfo Aguilar (at right in the photo, with SYM client Jose) and excerpted below. Thank you, Rodolfo!]
Volunteering for Street Youth Ministry of Austin has been a life-changing experience. The way this ministry deals with clients is inspiring, humbling, and motivating. Attending to these clients in a personal level have enriched and fulfilled my life in ways I didn't expect. I realize I can do more for them, and always find myself looking forward to the next time to be of service.

Witnessing the passion Mr. Terri places in every single relationship he builds with his clients, with genuine dignifying care and respect, and incredible patience, I've humbled myself and widened my scope in matters of life in which most people would choose to look the other way. The welcoming ambiance has a strong feeling of family and camaraderie.

Clients spontaneously find a much needed peaceful and safe place that has been set up strategically to reach them at the stage of personal, emotional, and spiritual development they are and scaffold them to higher levels of personal growth without being pushed or coerced.

They start wanting to learn more, seeking and finding that spiritual connection that anchors their sense of being, the realization that their lives are worthy and that they can find ways to achieve their dreams. Possibilities can be in their hands.
Click here for volunteer opportunities

May 1, 2017

ID's Legislation in Texas Needs Help

There are three bills pending for the 2017 Regular Legislative Session in Texas that relate to Identification for clients of street youth. None seem terribly objectionable but without support from the public it's not clear they will be reported out of committee and move forward.

Identification has become quite difficult to obtain ever since 9/11 -- for good reasons. However, as a homeless person, it has become increasingly difficult to get Texas Identification cards from DPS. Our clients often face a very frustrating period of 3 or 4 months in order to get their ID, only to often turn around and have it stolen or lost on the streets. They often face extremely frustrating requirements such as needing ID to get their birth certificate and needing a birth certificate to get ID. Or similarly, needing an ID to get proof of social security ID and needing social security ID to get a photo ID. The only portion of the process that seems easy is, ironically, proof of residency. We are able to notarize for clients a statement testifying that they are homeless.

One proposed legislations would make it simpler for every homeless person to obtain ID. And two other proposed legislations would apply to youth in foster care and homeless young people through age 21 (or possibly 24).

HB 3354 - Was referred to Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee about a month ago – it has not gotten a hearing yet, and if it doesn’t get a hearing in about a week it will be dead.

HB 3561 - Was voted out of committee two days ago – there was a committee substitute, and this language is not on the Internet yet, but should be next week.

SB2107 – Referred to Health and Human Services Committee about a month ago, and has not gotten a hearing yet. The drop-dead date for Senate bills is a little later than house bills.

Street Youth Ministry strongly encourages citizens of Texas to support passage of simpler DPS IDs for homeless and especially homeless youth. If we want our homeless to get jobs, find housing, apply for benefits, they desperately need IDs quickly. So much of the work in social justice focuses on attempting to help homeless navigate the frustrating, changing, and challenging requirements for DSP issued ID. And these IDs are prerequisite for so many programs and opportunities that we all want our homeless to avail themselves of. It only makes sense to take away this barrier for all homeless and especially younger homeless. Many homeless reports giving up their plans to return to normalcy after repeatedly experiencing frustrations and setups in obtaining IDs. 

Please contact your representative to let them know you would like these bills to come out of committee and be approved this year!

Apr 25, 2017

Handling Anxiety as a Young Adult

by Guest Blogger - Noah Smith

Photo Credit: Wokandapix, Pixabay
Even though anxiety disorders are typically highly treatable and are the most common mental illness in the U.S. (affecting 18 percent of the population), only one-third of sufferers receive treatment. In addition to seeking professional care, there are things you can do as a young adult with anxiety to help get your symptoms under control. Doing so will help you to live a more comfortable and enjoyable life.
Risks of Untreated Anxiety
Anxiety is commonly associated with agitation, insomnia, and the inability to concentrate. It’s also associated with an increased risk of heart disease and respiratory problems, as well as irritable bowel syndrome and other gastrointestinal disorders. Headaches, both tension and migraine, are common in people with anxiety, as are allergies, sleep disturbances, and teeth grinding. Obesity has also been linked to anxiety.
Anxiety causes chronic stress, which can compromise your immune system and make you more susceptible to infections. If left untreated, anxiety can lead to a dual diagnosis with another mental health disorder or a substance use disorder. The negative effects of anxiety disorders can interfere with your life, creating issues at work, school, and in relationships. As you age, you have even more responsibilities, which will only add to your stress and exacerbate your anxiety. The earlier you can get a handle on your anxiety, the better.
Healthy Ways to Cope
Keeping your health in order is one of the most important ways to help you have a handle on your anxiety. Maintain a well-balanced diet and do not skip meals and snacks. This will worsen anxiety symptoms. Also, try to avoid caffeine and alcohol. You should also ensure you’re getting adequate sleep and establish a regular bedtime and wake-up time. Anywhere from seven to eight hours a night qualifies as adequate sleep.
According to GoodTherapy.org, “Daily exercise is one of the most effective ways to reduce stress and anxiety.” Aim to exercise four or more days a week. In addition, many anxiety sufferers find relief from practicing deep breathing, meditation, or other relaxation exercises. Try to schedule rest breaks throughout the day, even if you have to set an alarm on your phone to remind you. Whether you take a short walk, meditate, practice mindful breathing, or another relaxation technique, be sure to take a few minutes several times a day for a timeout.
Find a hobby or passion and incorporate time to engage in that activity on a daily basis or as often as possible. Some people enjoy playing instruments, while others enjoy writing. A hike is therapeutic for certain individuals, and others find great joy in a game of disc golf. It doesn’t matter which interest you prefer, as long as it’s a healthy way to have fun and let loose.
Maintaining supportive relationships is an important part of successfully functioning with anxiety. Try to build loving and warm relationships with trusted individuals. This support system is an invaluable resource on your high-anxiety days and during hard times.
Dogs are good for anxiety because they provide structure and make people feel connected. They also boost your mood and reduce stress. Dogs can help you feel a sense of purpose and help you meet new people. If you don’t own a dog and don’t have the time or resources to care for one 24/7, take advantage of the sharing economy (today’s economic system in which individuals are able to share, borrow, or rent services or assets from another private individual). For example, if you’re 18 or older, you can take on dog walking as a side gig to take advantage of the health benefits of quality time with dogs while also earning extra money.
Anxiety disorder is a chronic condition, so there is no cure. It’s a lifelong disease with many ups and downs. However, living a successful and comfortable life with an anxiety disorder is possible. By maintaining a healthy lifestyle and incorporating some coping techniques, you can have better control of your symptoms.

Author: Noah Smith

Apr 5, 2017

Rid of K2, and now a fantastic mom

“Amy” began using drugs as a seventh grader, and when her parents found out, they cracked down hard. She was sent to a special school but promptly got herself expelled and wound up back home, doing Cinderella duties amid mounting verbal and physical abuse.

One day she fled, and her family came after her. “I literally ran through the drag with all my luggage,” she recalled. Thus began a year of living on the streets. Pregnant and addicted to K2, she became a Street Youth Ministry client.

She sought help at a local rehab program, then managed something we’ve never seen a street youth do – she convinced them to offer her housing in a sober facility until her baby arrived. She is now sober, housed, a fantastic mom. She has enrolled in a child care program with the Texas Workforce Commission and is currently seeking a job. She attends worship with her sponsor every week. "I'm a Pentecostal,” she said, “but I go with my Lutheran friend and we somehow make it work."

Amy is grateful for all the help God has sent her way. From the storm came new life!

All our efforts on behalf of street-dependent youth really center on this one objective: we give them hope they need to get themselves off the streets. You can help: Go to donate.StreetYouthMinistry.org

Feb 1, 2017

2016 Highlights in Review

2016 SYM Top Ministry Moment #10

Clients Come Inside to Enjoy Showtime
This summer was quite hot, and we had a wonderful invitation from long-time partner St. Austin's Parish Church to use an air-conditioned fellowship room to give our clients a break. Together, we watched two movies each Friday afternoon and shared snacks and dinner together. It became one of our most popular indoor events! Clients surprised us with their movie choices, such as "Homeward Bound," "Hairspray," and "Daddy's Home!"

2016 SYM Top Ministry Moment #9
LifeWorks, SYM Strategic Agreement

In October, we learned of a new opportunity for a permanent home for SYM. We forged a much-expanded alliance with Congregational Church of Austin to utilize its basement as a new Drop-In Cooperative center, where clients can get safety net services, receive guidance counseling, and learn soft life skills for jobs and apartment living. We also expanded our partnership with LifeWorks, which will provide counseling, case management and group support in our Drop-In Center. The photo shows leaders of the three organizations. 

2016 SYM Top Ministry Moment #8
Computer Lab and Shower Time

Our clients have always wanted access to a clean and safe shower. We were blessed to receive an invitation from University Presbyterian Church to use its fellowship hall, including shower, once a week. We equipped the room with computers so waiting clients can do other things. We also provide access to piano and guitar. Nothing like hanging out after a nice, refreshing shower! In the photo, a client and a volunteer share an interest in drawing.

2016 SYM Top Ministry Moment #7
Darvin Receives his Work Visa

Darvin Tan started with SYM as an intern in 2015, and he discerned that his calling was to stay. However, he didn't have a visa. We applied for a religious work visa for him and, amazingly, received very rapid approval! Darvin is key to keeping our ministry working smoothly. Darvin staffed our annual Turkey Grab, something we do for clients who have recovered from the street every year so they can serve others with a homemade meal. Darvin posed at left with turkey donors from Mothers of Professional Football Players.

2016 SYM Top Ministry Moment #6
SYM Joins 100-Day Youth Challenge
This year we partnered with LifeWorks and ECHO on a 100-day challenge to house as many street-dependent youths under age 25 as possible. Our role was to make sure clients completed the application form and 27 of our clients from the West Campus streets did so! Each youth in the photo and many others were placed into apartments. If they meet the criteria and become able to pay rent, they will be able to remain there!

2016 SYM Top Ministry Moment #5
LifeWorks/SYM Halloween Party

This year, LifeWorks, SYM and University Presbyterian Church combined forces to throw an awesome Halloween party for our clients, complete with costumes, face painting, treats, grilled burgers and hot dogs, and a raffle. We were joined by UT student athletes from many sports. They painted faces, played Jenga and other games, and drew prizes for our raffle. In the photo, a client challenges a UT student to a game of bean bag toss.                                        

2016 SYM Top Ministry Moment #4
Matt and Jared, Super Interns
We were blessed to have two summer interns this year! Jared Dale and Matthew Powell were our high school interns. They learned to interact safely with clients, operate our many events, and master the fine art of logistics!
Read about our internships and pass the word to mature high school juniors. Our weekly stipend is not a lot, but it's enough to keep one from needing a second job.  

2016 SYM Top Ministry Moment #3
A Safer Arrival for Babies

Deon, above, holds one of our newest SYM clients. Her mother got off the street quickly once she learned she was pregnant. When we became aware of high miscarriage and infant death rates among our pregnant clients, we focused on the problem. We raised awareness. We asked them to count the number of months they spent on the street, and work to reduce that number. Several of our clients moved back home, got jobs, and found prenatal care. When their babies arrived, there was room and love for them!

'Giving ... an easy way to help'
“Giving financially to SYM is an easy way to help, since I am not close enough to volunteer. They help these youths go to college with textbook scholarships, celebrate accomplishments like staying off alcohol and drugs. I am impressed with SYM, its volunteers and the street youth themselves for what they are doing.”
-- A donor, posted on-line at GreatNon-profits.org
2016 SYM Top Ministry Moment #2
A Christmas to Celebrate

Our end-of-year celebration of Christmas was fabulous. Forty-one clients and 30 volunteers -- including the happy kitchen crew above -- gathered to celebrate the coming of Jesus. We were hosted by the Daughters of the King from All Saints Episcopal Church. We celebrated a lot of amazing accomplishments by our clients, including moving into apartments, having healthy babies, getting jobs, being sober, going to college and more!

'... a labor of love and faith ...'
“We have been involved with Street Youth Ministry for several years, making sandwiches, and clothing donations and have been watching the dedication that Terry Cole has for the street youth. We get regular newsletters and emails and prayer requests that are evidence of the great labor of love and faith that defines this organization.”
-- Posted on GreatNonprofits.com

2016 SYM Top Ministry Moment #1
'Second Chance' Prom

We team up with LifeWorks to offer a Second Chance Prom each year to all our clients. This is so inspirational for them! They get dressed up, pose for portraits taken by a professional photographer (as above), are treated like prom royalty, and walk taller and prouder for weeks afterwards. Your assistance is pivotal!

'He's everywhere, all the time...'

“You don't really find him -- Terry has a way of finding you. We move around, but no matter where we go Terry finds us and talks to us. He is just this guy walking his dog, like you would see anyone, but then he stops and talks to you and tells you there are ways to get off the street. Even if you don't believe him at first, he is everywhere, all the time, so you can't help but wonder what’s up.”
-- Client, as told to a volunteer

Jan 27, 2017

Being loved by Austin Christian Fellowship

Local ministries supported by Austin Christian Fellowship (ACF) were recently invited to a meeting. There were about 80 people in the room. I have been to local ministry meetings before, but never anything as awesome as this!

First, we worshiped together. Nothing feeds my soul better than a mid-week worship. If you see me and I'm down, invite me to a worship service. Always a pick-me-up!

​Next, Sr. Pastor Will (a pastor in the church... not the pastor of the church) gave us an inspirational message that resonated with, "Thank you!" He provided scriptures that reminded us we are called into God's Holy purpose and that ACF is in partnership with us. He reminded us that we must not be in competition but be brothers and sisters alongside one another. And he reminded us that even though we are just being obedient to God's call on our lives to live in daily ministry, God the Father honors us for doing so. It's a crazy thing to think about.

Will did lay down a few challenges to us: Pray more; Build out faster; Give away even some of our money. Will said he's never yet heard from God, "Hey, that's enough praying. Stop that." Good point. He also said that he's discovered that when we focus on building outward, God focuses on building inward on us so we are able to do what we have planned outwards. Quite encouraging! And then Will said we should all consider tithing even with our donated funds. Finding someone to build into ourselves. Wow! We ask our staff to volunteer 1% of their time at another organization just to learn and give. I've been considering how we could donate to some other-country solution for the equivalent of our clients. But I never considered giving 10% away. What would that look like? How would God respond?

Then we had a really special gift. ACF loves local mission and nonprofits so much they have partnered with Mission Capital to create a non-profit training program for faith-based ministries. Once this program is out of pilot, ministries will no longer have to struggle with translating secular terms and best practices into church environments. And just to get things started, ACF has arranged to give each ministry they support $750 scholarship at Mission Capital for training in 2017! These are just super exciting things.

Finally, they put us at tables and asked us to network. SYM sat next to someone who might be able to find me a mentor (I've been looking for a while). SYM met a group who goes into juvenile detention centers and does prevention work. We've been toying with how to do this, but together I'm sure we'll have a better solution. And we were at the table with a brand new free clinic. We no longer have a free clinic option for our clients so this was welcome news!

It was a fantastic way to love me. I so appreciate it. I repeated much of the content to my staff so they would feel loved. And I'm going to share it with church partners because I've never seen quite this approach. I think it was awesome! Way to go, God!

Local ministry creating a home for homeless young adults

 Jay Wallis, KVUE 8:28 PM. CST January 25, 2017

AUSTIN ­ Mayor Steve Adler and many in the city of Austin have focused on getting the homeless off the streets and into housing. For many of the young adults in our area, this transition can be difficult to handle, which is why an outlet in Austin is providing something unique and vital for the homeless.
Terry Cole is a native­born Texan and attended Texas A&M for electrical engineering. This was his career until 2008, when he was laid off from his job.
"Along the way, I started becoming aware that I had interests in evangelism and mission work," Cole said.
While he held his different electrical engineering positions, Cole had done volunteer work with some of the churches he attended. In 2003, he started to devote some of his free to time to working with young adults who were homeless.

"There were these homeless people who were young and kind of had no one to tell them the gospel story," Cole said.

So after losing his job, Cole decided to make his volunteer work his new career. He created Street Youth Ministry of Austin in 2008, an organization focused on giving homeless people between the ages of 18­30 a place to get what they need.

"We are a faith ­based ministry but more than that, we are faith active," Cole said. "Not everything we do is in­ your­ face faith active. It's all voluntary. We don't make anybody do anything."

Christopher Willemsen was born and raised in Austin, before finding himself in a difficult situation as he entered adulthood.

"Around 18­years­old, I started couch­surfing and was homeless," Willemsen said. "I had a bad background and winded up slipping out on the streets. I had to deal with the drugs or the alcohol every single day."

He is a much different person today, as he is not only involved with Street Youth Ministry but another local ministry ­­ LifeWorks ­­ as well.

"In here, it's real," Willemsen said. "It's almost like a reality check to where in some groups or meetings, you can't open up the way that we open up here."

Street Youth Ministry is also much different than when it started. For the first eight years of its existence, this ministry bounced around from church to church, meeting at whatever location would take them.

"We were like a pop­up ministry," Cole said. "It was really hard for our clients to find us and it was a real nightmare to volunteer for us."

Marissa Bostick started working as an associate missionary for Street Youth Ministry around the time a change came for this ministry ­­ a permanent location. The Congregational Church of Austin has allowed Cole's group to meet during the week in the church's basement.

"This is a safe place where anyone can come," Bostick said. "There's no obligations. We don't have an agenda. We don't want to force you to do anything. We just want them to come and say, 'Hey, we're all here together.'"

When the homeless come throughout the week, Cole's ministry provides many different types of outlets. While some days they will have a Bible study, other days are solely focused on giving people a place for conversation. The basement also has an area of used clothes, books and other items for anyone to take if they need it. There are also couches if someone needs to get some sleep while there is almost always food available in the kitchen.

"Whatever you need, we're just here to help," Bostick said. "Obviously, if you're trying to teach someone about God, they're not going to be listening if they're hungry. It's about taking care of all their needs."

James Benson has been going to this ministry for about a year now, as he moved to Austin from Birmingham, Alabama to start a career in music.

"I've been in music all of my life," Benson said. "I write songs all the time."

While his career hasn't sparked like he thought it would and he now finds himself to be homeless, he said this ministry has helped him focus on aspects of his life other than his career.

"I can't say that I'm the richest guy or the poorest guy, but I can actually say that throughout my day, I'm pretty comfortable," Benson said. "I don't care what I have in my pocket or where I slept the night before, I know God is going to keep a shelter and roof over my head and food in my belly."

Benson also said that the ability to keep making and writing music allows him to stay optimistic.

"To understand that what I write down on that paper and how fluently it comes off my brain through that pen on that paper let me know this is a gift from God," Benson said.

Bil Taban grew up in Sudan, Africa before his parents sent him to America as a child 14 years ago. Bil has fallen on tough times and is homeless, but he still hopes to one day have a career.

"I want to become a successful pilot," Taban said. "I like space. I love space. Everything about galaxies and science."

With the city of Austin emphasizing re­housing the homeless, Cole said he wants to better prepare his members for when that time comes.

"We have arguments or disagreements that break out, and we moderate those and encourage them to reach an end," Cole said. "The problem so often turns out to be living with other people and getting along with roommates."

Benson at one point got in one of these arguments, causing a disruption during one of the classes. He was suspended for 30 days, but he was able to return.

"I was allowed to come back because I was standing up for the right cause," Benson said. "I'm definitely learning how I am needing to act."

"I've learned to have respect for others as I have had to learn and had to grasp throughout the years," Willemsen said. "You can lift up your head. You can choose to be a part of this program. You can choose to come down to Bible study."

While Cole's ministry has many churches supporting his group, he said he is in need of belts and shoes right now. To learn more about this ministry, you can visit streetyouthministry.org (http://streetyouthministry.org).