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to be seen, known, valued, and loved

August 2018 | Gigi Nicholas

Have you ever thought about the meaning of the word “isolated?” It was first used in English in 1740, with the meaning “standing detached from others of its kind.” It comes from the Latin word insulatus meaning “made into an island.”


Youth without a stable home often feel isolated. They can feel like an island surrounded by a stormy sea of unfathomable challenges – where to get their next meal, where to get a shower, how to find a job. Young people who are couch surfing, living in a car, or even sleeping on the street can feel completely disconnected from people, especially those who seem to be living “normal” lives. This disconnectedness and loneliness can give way to despair.


At Outreach, all of our actions and programs are aimed at breaking through that disconnectedness by building authentic relationships with youth who are experiencing homelessness. Through these relationships, we help our youth connect with mentors, services, education, and opportunities that can lead to life transformation. Underscoring all of our efforts is our belief that everyone deserves “to be seen, known, valued, and loved.”


This belief goes back to the very beginnings of our organization. Outreach was born when Eric Howard read an article and heard a call. Eric had undergone a transformative conversion experience on July 6, 1994. Two years later, he read an article on youth homelessness in Indianapolis; the article reported that a group was going to study the problem for a year and come back with its findings. To 22-year-old Eric, that made little sense. There was immediate need; he felt called to provide an immediate response. Rather than waiting for the results of an official study, he packed up the trunk of his car with blankets, bottles of water, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and went out looking for youth who needed help. He found them in Broad Ripple - under bridges, in the woods, and in back alleys. According to Eric, “I felt hope in the Kingdom. I wanted to share that hope with them. I wanted to create a judgment-free area where I could engage with them. I just wanted these young people to be seen, known, valued, and loved.”


The time horizon for seeing the results of work with homeless youth is long. Outreach staff and volunteers know that they may never see the outcome of the time they spend building relationships with youth, but they know it is valuable. Eric points to the growth habit of Chinese bamboo: “For several years, bamboo grows only underground. Nothing is visible above the surface. Once the shoots break through the soil, however, it is the fastest growing plant we know of. It grows so fast that one can hear it.” While workers may not see the change in youth they work with today, they can trust in what they see and hear from former Outreach youth who come back to talk with them. Youth have said, “I’m alive because Outreach was there because someone believed in me.” It is comments like these that keep Outreach going, being there to let our youth know that they are seen, known, valued, and loved.

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