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Finding freedom

"Finding freedom" Continued...

Issue: "GOP idea man," May 22, 2010

But it's that accountability that makes the program effective. Nelson has no plans to dilute the ministry's Christian message to attract government funding: "We need to be an authority, because we're often the only authority in these kids' lives." Whether the activity has career potential or is just for fun, teens get to hang out with their volunteers, Christians who are positive role models: "It's the relationships they build with these mentor figures that are important," Maxwell Clark, a Freedom Quest program coordinator, said. "It exposes them to another world."

With accountability comes responsibility and then empowerment. Teens entirely run the annual farmers market, where they sell the items they've made. Nelson appoints a store manager, cashiers, and salespeople from the kids in the program because "there's nothing more empowering than giving these kids ownership," he says.

The teens must earn their positions by taking a class called "Road to Freedom," which teaches that poverty, addiction, and a welfare mentality are bondages from which Christ can free us. Many of the bondages the class illustrates are things that students see in their own homes every day. For instance, the class warns teenage girls about the dangers of co-dependent relationships, often at the root of teen pregnancy. The guys want sex, and the girls want security. Then a baby is born, the father leaves, and the mother feels hopeless, perpetuating the cycle. "I tell the kids that you can be one that breaks the cycle," Nelson said.

With a Whiz Kidz program, which offers mentoring and tutoring to elementary-school children, Freedom for Youth is trying to reach kids and break the cycle even earlier: "Their minds are processing so much junk in their lives," Whiz Kidz coordinator Melanie Wise said. "The younger you get them, the better chance you have of feeding them the truth."

Whiz Kidz matches each child to an adult mentor. They meet every week to study the Bible and help with homework. Mentors commit to at least a full school year, to be a constant positive presence in the life of the child. "Consistency is huge, because nobody else is consistent in their lives," Wise explains.

Back on campus, the Freedom Quest girls break for lunch, eating hot dogs and macaroni and cheese with cherry cobbler for dessert, all prepared by girls in the cooking class. As they eat, Katie McDermott, a program coordinator, passes around a jar to collect pocket change and pop can tabs for earthquake victims in Haiti. The girls in photography class compare their pictures. Girls in the beading class show off their bead. They're not helpless victims: They can give to those less fortunate than them and can turn a rod of glass into a bead. "We want teens in the program to discover their God-given talents so they can break out of a hopeless thought pattern," Nelson says. "They're beginning to see that God has created them with a purpose and given them unique gifts."
Click here to listen to WORLD editor in chief Marvin Olasky discuss with Alisa Harris the Midwest regional finalists.
To view a video profile of Freedom for Youth and of each of the other 2010 regional finalists and to read profiles of finalists and winners from 2006 through 2009, visit WORLDmag.com/compassion.

Freedom For Youth Factbox

Location: Des Moines, Iowa

Founded: 2003

Size: 9 paid staff; 60 volunteers; 180 program participants each year, 60 of them regular attendees

Annual 
Budget: $450,000

Website: freedomforyouth.org

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