BY EMMA STONEHOUSE
I had the privilege of going to one of the taster sessions for next year’s Find Your Fire youth programme which starts in September.
We took a group of eight young people from a local secondary school out of East Oxford and into the woodland: to make dens, whittle sticks, eat a lot of BBQ-ed food and, of course, plenty of marshmallows!
On the surface it was a great time – filled with games, laughs and craziness.
But it was so much more than this.
The Find Your Fire programme focuses on building the confidence, aspiration and resilience of young people in East Oxford. Young people face a wide range of challenges; and an important part of dealing with challenges is developing the capacity within themselves, with the support from their communities and families, to overcome them and bounce back.
Fostering resilience within young people is so important to maintain and build good emotional and mental wellbeing. With half of all mental illnesses (excluding dementia) starting by the age of 14, it is vital that this investment and these capacities are built from an early age.
Throughout the evening there were many highlights – from a very competitive boys vs. girls den-building competition, to whittling sticks for toasting marshmallows, which I didn’t realise could get quite so creative!
But one of the standout moments was when one of the girls, on the way back from the den-building, said her highlight of the evening was going into a forest for the first time in her life, something she has wanted to do since coming to the UK.
All of these new experiences, which took the young people out of their comfort zones, provided opportunities for the young people to increase their self-confidence and prove to themselves their capability, which builds their individual resilience.
But more than this, the trip out provided an equaliser among the group, making social boundaries, language barriers and school social norms irrelevant – allowing a safe community and the start of lasting and positive friendships to begin to be formed, which are so central to young people’s health and wellbeing.
Building resilience takes time and, through the investment and mentoring which the Find Your Fire youth-worker team provide, coming alongside these young people, and providing continuity, stability and a supportive ear; they are able to work to build up their resilience over the course of the year.
They are invaluable mirrors for these young people, reflecting back to them how they are seen by Jesus, with worth and value.
We have seen the lasting impact of the programme from this past year’s intake with one parent almost defining ‘resilience’ in her feedback, saying how her child now “deals with difficult situations better and talks more about it”. This year’s success makes it all the more exciting to see how next year’s intake, the ones I met, develop over the coming year.
Please partner with our work here in Oxford through prayer. Please pray for:
- Each of the children who went to the taster sessions, for blessing over their summer holidays – and that we would see them grow into who God created them to be throughout Find Your Fire next year.
- The youth workers who run Find Your Fire – for discernment and peace in the situations they are faced with.
- A stress-free gathering up of young people who may not have been on the taster sessions but could particularly benefit from the project – that everybody who should be there this year would find their way there.