April 26th 2015
“My heart is shattered. I’ve lost my grandma, my uncle, and my brother. And now I’m losing my mother. She’s sick.” —Natalie, age 16
At first glance, the UrbanPromise Girls’ Group and Girls’ Retreats look like typical “girl” programs—there’s lots of nail painting, hair doing, prank playing, eating, laughing, sharing, and crying. But there is much more going on here. These girls share some very hard realities, and several of them are growing up without their mothers in their lives. The depth of vulnerability and extent of their reliance on one another is both apparent and inspiring.
But they are not alone on their journey. Meet Aleisha Dudley, a 26-year-old StreetLeader alum, whose dedication to Camden girls is an incredible blessing. By now, she has over 60 of them, and it is no wonder that almost half of them call her “mom”. Like Natalie.
Aleisha meets with the girls weekly, and she likes to get them out of the city as often as she can. She wants them to see a bigger world and their role in it. She believes if she can get them to cry, they will release their pain. Together they will find strength in God and in each other. This past weekend retreat was a success on all counts. Yes, there were a lot of tears. And there were a lot of prayers. And even several funny pranks. The girls almost unanimously said that the prayer room was what they loved the most.
Natalie was just one of the girls who had a transformation. She found UrbanPromise last year, and credits Girls’ Group and the StreetLeader Program with helping her find purpose and strength.
“I always longed for something to give me meaning, and I found it in UrbanPromise. Before I came to UrbanPromise, I was depressed, and I fought...a lot. And I was by myself a lot, especially since I live on my own, with just my sister Since I found UrbanPromise, I’ve learned that God created me for a reason. This girls’ retreat gives us a space and a community where we can lean on each other like family; the girls’ group gives me something I can look forward to all week long, and after I’m there I feel lighter, like I’m not carrying my burdens alone.”
On Day Two of the retreat, when the girls were off skating, I took my son to see the new animated film Home. It is funny how art often imitates life. Home is the story of a little girl separated from her mother. Her circumstances are different from the girls at the Retreat—an alien invasion—but she, too, is surviving with the loss and desperate to find her mother. The little girl is befriended by an alien who helps her navigate a motherless world. He realizes not only how important her mom is, but also the emotional state she’s in because of losing her mom, which he aptly names Sad-Mad.
According to Natalie, the work Aleisha does has helped her get beyond being Sad-Mad, and gives her a chance to share, gain perspective, trust, and even dream.
“I now I have a future because of UrbanPromise. Aleisha made me believe that there’s more to life, and that I have a choice. I’m going to be an architect. Thanks to UrbanPromise’s SAT classes, I took and passed the SAT. The college tours allowed me to find my college. The StreetLeader Program gives me money I need to live on. And girls’ group gives me a place where I can have a second chance at just being a teenager! I’ll be the first person in my family to go to college, and I know that’s a tall order for me to fill, but I have to do it so my little sisters and cousins see that they too have choices.”
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