by Marie Tingle
Director of Prevention, NightLight Atlanta
NightLight International is a faith-based organization that addresses the complex issues of commercial sexual exploitation through prevention, intervention, restoration and education.
Wendy’s might not be the most likely place…
that you would expect to find the building blocks of an organizational program. But regardless of location, it is the development of meaningful relationships that builds a successful prevention program*, even if it is over hamburgers and a handful of fries. And we know kids love their French fries!
We took a few of our middle school girls out for some ‘girl time’ at their favorite neighborhood dinner spot – a local Wendy’s. As we slurped our sodas, they soon began to gush about boys, complain about schoolwork and gossip about friends. Normal girl talk. But there were some striking differences in this conversation from what we might consider “normal girl talk”. Casually interspersed were concerned discussions about a middle school friend who is actively being recruited by older guys into a violent, local gang; another friend who is constantly bullied for being gay; and a friend who is left to care for her baby siblings, cook and clean while her father is absent and her mother is strung-out or out soliciting. This is their normal. It is neither shocking nor unusual to them.
And so we engage with them in their normal.
We laugh with them about their awkward middle school experiences, encourage them to dream, affirm their God-given identities, sympathize with their hurts, love them in their pain and help them to grapple with the injustices of their world. These children are clearly aware of the darkness in their communities, and they desperately want better. In these small, informal relationships lie the blocks for building responsive programming that meets them where they are and lifts them to transcend their normal.
Our food that night may have been fast and temporary, but the relationships being built are not.
They require time-intensive investment and long-term commitment. And unlike the empty calories of fast food, these relationships begin to satisfy these children’s hunger for deep love as we care for them and as we guide them to encounter the ultimate Source of Love. These relationships are the building blocks of a program – a program that significantly contributes to the lasting change of children, of families and of neighborhoods.
*NightLight Atlanta’s Prevention Program is committed to empowering children to experience freedom from participation in the commercial sex industry, and we are committed to elevating communities to achieve and maintain that freedom.
To learn more or support NightLight’s work, visit www.nightlightinternational.com
Contact Marie: firstname.lastname@example.org
“Look again… Until what takes your breath away is not the gravity of the heartache but the power of God to change it.”
Pricilla Shirer, The Resolution for Women