Often the stories we post on our blog are filled with joy, celebration and warm fuzzy feelings as we reflect on the massive opportunity and privilege we have in doing the work we do. There's a lot to celebrate, but often what we do involves facing up to the harsh reality of life for young people in Leeds and todays story is of that reality.
Katy's has been a regular at an after school club I help to run for some time. Each week she timidly shuffles into the room and after safely depositing her many bags in the corner of the room takes her spot by my side where she often stays talking and sharing about her week and everything she's done. Being in the later stages of her school career she's juggling the pressure of revision, homework and the uncertainty of what comes next. Those conversations, though small, are significant. English isn't Katy's first language and as she also struggles with her speech meaning everything she says takes a little longer to come out. That's sadly not something the average teenager has patience for and so at times you feel like you might be the only person who's listened to her all day.
I'd love to say that's where this story ends but this week Katy arrived in a fluster, she smelt unwashed and look dishevelled, something far from unusual. As time went on it became apparent that the smell was distracting the others in the room, so carefully and with loving kindness the school chaplain took Katy for a chat and the opportunity to use the school showers. I later learnt that for some time Katy has had no hot water at home and so arrives early to school in order to shower and get ready for the day. On top of that, each day the school have been providing her with breakfast and at lunch the staff make sure she leaves with extra food to keep her going at home as it became apparent that there wasn't always a meal awaiting her at home. Such basic things we hope no young person ever has to go without.
I drove home from that session with tears in my eyes, on one hand heartbroken that a young person is living that life but on the other hand, blessed by the compassion and care of the school in all that they do for her and the sense of privilege to be able to be there for her, even just to take the time to listen.
I would love to say that Katy's story is unique but unfortunately it's isn't and this is the harsh reality of life for many of the young people the LFIS team meet day in day out. Each time we chat to a student on a corridor, take time to mentor them or welcome them to a club, we face that harsh reality of life with confidence that things can be better, that there is Hope and that they are worth more than they can ever comprehend to God and to us.