Jamal’s Christmas Story

H3's Christmas Tree
This Christmas at Koinonia was my best Christmas ever! Not because of the gifts I received, but the thought of other people going and buying me gifts and not knowing who I actually am. I truly believe that you have to have a huge heart to go out of your way and do things for people that you’ve never met before. So this Christmas was really special to me. I will never forget my Christmas at Koinonia because of the people that made this special for me. I did a lot of great things this Christmas. I went to look at Christmas lights and had hot chocolate, dinner with my family at Koinonia, and watched Christmas movies that I have never seen before. I went to the bowling alley and had a lot a fun. I got to get my picture drawn by an artist, I got to create my own cupcake, eat a lot of pizza, take pictures with Santa and his wife. I got a lot of great gifts like pants, shoes, a radio, and a remote control car. I also received a lot of gift cards to target, game stop, and star bucks. My favorite gift was a wallet. Inside of the wallet was a dollar bill that had a little note on it. On the note it said “Merry Christmas! And may this be your lucky dollar.” This may not be special to others, but to me it is because it made me feel connected to this person. I still have this dollar bill in my wallet. It is my lucky dollar now and I will keep it forever. So every time I look at the dollar I will remember my Christmas at Koinonia and my special day, and I will care for others just like others cared for me.

 

H4’s Summer Trip

   The summer break is always a very rewarding time for the young men and women at Koinonia Homes For Teens.  The schedule is filled with numerous activities to teach the value of a fun, safe, and sober lifestyle.Each year the house goes on a special trip.  This year, House #4, went on their annual excursion to Santa Cruz and Monterey.  On the car ride down the boys could hardly wait, but needed a little Starbucks to get properly fueled.  The trip began with a bunch of singing, and a little napping.

Upon arriving in Santa Cruz, the group headed downtown to get a slice of pizza with a free T-Shirt at Pizza My Heart.  We killed a little time waiting to check in at the hotel by checking out a few local shops, and played a little hacky sack.

After getting settled into the rooms it was off to the ocean for some beach time.  The guys spent a few hours riding the waves.  It was here where Joseph found a new level of joy.  With every wave that crashed over him, pushing him underwater, Joseph would pop out of the water with a bigger smile.  For the first time in a long time they felt free to be kids again, not worrying about all the challenges in their lives, but just living in the moment.

That much time in the water made them work up a good appetite, and so we walked a mile to the pier to eat.  We sat outside, and a few of the boys for the first time in their lives ate seafood.  Diego was all smiles as his seafood kabobs arrived, and it didn’t take long for him to finish them off.  Jesse ate a crab melt that he called the best sandwich he has ever eaten; a few others savored the clam chowder.  We were all full, and happy.  And this was only day one.

The next day it was back to the beach in front of the Boardwalk.  Again the boys spent hours in the water, playing Frisbee, and playing in the sand.  Lunch was a huge picnic of cheeses, meats and fruit on the beach, and once again they were content to just live in the moment.  However, you could see their eyes wander to the amusement park, with an anticipation of the fun they would soon have.

At 5 o’clock everybody got their wrist bands and for the first time in their lives, three boys got on a roller coaster, though with some trepidation.  Hearing their screams of joy, seeing the smiles, hearing the laughter reminds you as a staff why you do this job.  The roller coaster was a success but the next challenge was the drop shot which basically is a sling shot that you sit in.  Once again all the boys participated, once again they screamed with joy.  The night continued with bumper cars, dizzying rides, fried food, laughter, and camaraderie.  Again they went to bed happy and a little excited.

The last day everybody filled up on the luxurious continental breakfast before checking out of the hotel and heading down the road to Monterey.  Upon getting out of the van, the boys found some rocks to climb on near the ocean and stopped to pose for the camera.

It was now off to the Aquarium, where for the first time they saw sharks, seahorses, jellyfish, octopuses, otters, and a kelp forest, among other things.  Again the innocent joy of young men who had missed out when they were kids was now present.  They stood in wonder, interacted with hosts asking questions, playing games, and finding time to sit and reflect, and just be present in the moment.

The day was capped off with a feast of epic proportions at Bubba Gump’s.  The popular items were the Jambalaya, and of course the pounds and pounds of Cajun shrimp as the appetizer.  They were full and happy.

The trip home saw a few taking time to rest, a few others talked about the first experiences of each day, and they sang, they laughed, they lived in the moment.  It was a joy to be in the presence of these young men who discovered new things, who pushed themselves out of their comfort zones.  It was an honor to just live in the moment, and create memories that will last for a lifetime.

Monterey
Monterey
 Justin at the Aquarium
Justin at the Aquarium
On the Beach
On the Beach
Double Shot
Double Shot
Ahh . . . Seafood
Ahh . . . Seafood

The Good Life
The Good Life

So Much more than just a Water Fight

Water Fight!
Water Fight!

Every week at our group home we work with the girls cleaning the outside and inside of the van.  One particularly hot Loomis afternoon the girls had some extra time and began spraying each other with the hose and looking for rainbows in the spray.  It didn’t take long before it evolved into a full blown water fight, with buckets and sponges and each girl trying to get control of the hose.  The look of childlike glee on the faces of those teenage girls was undeniable.  Afterwards Cyndal H. soaked to the skin said, “Thanks, I’ve never had a water fight before.”  That’s what we’re doing here, giving these kids seemingly normal everyday experiences, but for them they are priceless memories they will never forget.  By the time Cyndal left our care she had had a water fight, learned how to ride a bike, been to a King’s NBA game and learned what it was like to be a carefree kid.

Jill Bradford
Child Care Counselor
Koinonia Homes for Teens

2014 Day in the Park

Koinonia Homes for Teens’ “Day in the Park” was an exciting event this year complete with special speakers and live music (a special thanks to Mitch and Tharon of Trukidz and the ‘Rey Y Kaye’ Band providing inspiration and entertainment). Our goal each year is to thank all of the wonderful folks who support our young people throughout the year and we hope we succeeded. Aside from hanging out with all of these fabulous people, the day’s highlight is always the great food provided by George Almeida and the Fuddruckers’ catering truck.

Following lunch, we were privileged to honor one of our graduates with a $1,500 Transition Scholarship provided by Dorian McCoy and the Angels in the Alley. Brianna graduated with full honors from the Koinonia Program as well as the Koinonia Community High School where she was asked to give the commencement speech for Placer County Office of Education’s graduation ceremonies. Brianna will be attending college in the fall.

Even with all of that, still to be decided, was which home was going to claim the bragging rights for the next year as the winners of the “Day in the Park” extreme competition. There were races to win, eggs to toss (and catch), and balls to dodge. Only the strong survive and only the best . . . or maybe the cleverest . . . or could be just the luckiest, win! With great prizes on the line, the competition was fierce.

As the day wound down, our time of reflection was full of gratitude for all those who went the extra mile for the teens at Koinonia. The amount of time spent and treasures given to our kids has ensured quality programing and successful transitions. Again, thanks to you all and may God bless you.

Brianna & Dorian
Brianna & Dorian
Watermelon Madness
Watermelon Madness

Watermelon Winner or Loser?
Watermelon Winner or Loser?
 

Mitch, DeAndre & Alexis
Mitch, DeAndre & Alexis
George to the Rescue
George to the Rescue
Brianna's Scholarship
Brianna’s Scholarship
Too Much Fun
Too Much Fun

Intense Competition
Intense Competition

 

Spread Your Love of Reading

Shannon & Girls
Shannon & Girls

Did you know tonight is World Book Night? No, seriously. It’s an official thing. The goal is to get books into the hands of people who don’t regularly read or have easy access to books. It’s a very cool initiative and you can read all about it here.

My publisher thought they’d get in on the action and help spread their love of reading as well. Thomas Nelson is incredibly awesome that way. I was able to partner with them by handing out books. I received my box last week and inside I found 12 copies of my very own, Angel Eyes. After I counted the copies, I knew exactly who I wanted to share them with.

Koinonia is a fabulous group home program here in Northern California. Before my children were born, I worked with them and so I knew that at any given time, they’d have twelve girls in their care. This is a population I absolutely love working with, and when I made the call, they welcomed me with open arms. THANK YOU, BILL! And Steph! And Lacey! And Allison! And Mindy!

I got to visit the girls and chat books. Probably my most favorite thing ever. They asked questions and I pretended to know all the answers. They even let me read to them a bit. It was a lovely afternoon and at the end of it, I got to give away twelve books to twelve amazing girls with absolutely no strings attached. I’m thoroughly grateful to my publisher for making that possible.

So, I was thinking, there’s got to be a way to get YOU ALL involved as well. It’s too late to sign up as a World Book Night giver, but that doesn’t mean you can’t spread your reading love around a bit. The authors at Thomas Nelson and Zondervan are officially celebrating for the next week, so there’s plenty of time for you to participate.

WHAT IF … and I’m just spit-balling here, but what if you took one (or two, or twelve) of your used books and you gifted them to someone who just might have trouble purchasing a book on their own? OR what if . . . what if you decided to start a little book group? You and some friends. You could read together, and chat books together, and invite along a friend who has yet to be bitten by a bookworm. Maybe your habit will rub off on them!

There are a zillion ways to spread a love of reading. If you’ve got an idea or would like to share how you plan to celebrate, leave me a comment. I’d love to know what you’re up to.

And happy reading, friends! Books matter. Words matter. It’s a love worth sharing.

A Capitol Experience!

Just going to the California State Capitol is thrilling enough for two of our Koinonia teens, as neither Natalie W. nor Carl J. had ever been there. But to be invited to speak to a CSECC (CA State Employee Charitable Campaign) group in the Governor’s Conference Chambers was even more exciting. We arrived at the Capitol early enough to browse the displays and artwork. For both Natalie and Carl, the favorite Capitol element was the rotunda but they had fun tracking down the displays for the county they each grew up in.Once we were ushered through the guarded door into the Governor’s Chambers, we were escorted past all the seated men and women, in their suits with briefcases waiting to see the Governor, and were made to feel like real VIP’s. We went through the reception area and into the inner-sanctums, ending up in a conference room at the Governor’s conference table. The meeting was with a number of State Agency CSECC chairpersons and Natalie and Carl spoke on their personal Koinonia Homes for Teens and foster care experiences. Both teens did so well, that within days, they were asked to make additional presentations at several State Agency headquarters including the Department of Corrections, the State Controllers, and the Department of Emergency Services. Great job teens, getting the message out that you are working hard on your future while making a difference!

A Capitol Experience!
A Capitol Experience!

Thanksgiving with the Girls

The day before Thanksgiving was a precious time at House 5. All of the residents and staff were present to share a time of fellowship and turkey. The girls looked beautiful and I’m sure had spent a considerable amount of time dressing up (which they love to do) and the staff were looking especially fancy as well. Koinonia means fellowship and family is the essence of all that we do. The day was rich with that meaning, you could feel it as we bowed our heads to pray and as one of the residents sweetly began to cry because of the significance of everyone coming together on this holiday as a family. (Even though she quickly dismissed her tears as a byproduct of being a hormonal teenager ha-ha)

During the course of our meal we laughed and joked playing “chubby bunny” which involves stuffing marshmallows into our cheeks and we were also all talking about how great the food was! Then we went around the table and shared what we were grateful for, many thoughts the girls shared; Family, Recovery, a second chance, their Koinonia family and of course good food! Another one of the girls became overcome with emotion as she shared her gratitude to be in a healthy place in her life, especially touching since she is not one to easily cry. After we were all almost completely stuffed pie and desserts were served and the day went on with festivity and gladness, having some quality time to relax and later on playing “Just Dance!” on the X-box (I’ll save the funny details of that game for another story!) The girls and staff all had a beautiful time and one to not be easily forgotten. Happy Thanksgiving! 🙂

Thanksgiving Dinner
Thanksgiving Dinner
Yummy!
Yummy!
Blessings All Around
Blessings All Around