I believe in the strength of youth.

Karen - Olympia, Washington
Entered on November 29, 2007
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: children

I had almost feared the time my children would enter the jungle-like atmosphere of high school. I had visions of foul-mouthed, drug dealin’, freak dancin’, tuned-out, making-out, dumbed-down …….. OK, I basically bought into the stereo typical high school scene.

And, well, I wasn’t surprised. It was ALL there and then some.

But last summer my husband and I were invited to participate in a pioneer trek with a church youth group to celebrate 150 years since the Harris/Willie Handcart Companies came west. It threw my mind a curve ball.

Can you imagine? Over 140 of today’s teens, shedding their i-pods, cell phones, video gear, make up, car keys, and trading them in for pantaloons and suspenders! They donned aprons and hats, boots and bonnets, shoved their personals into two pillowcases a piece and loaded them, along with enough water and gear, into 3’by 3’ wooden handcarts. These kids pushed those steel wheeled, over-loaded handcarts, up numbingly slow hills, murderously steep switchbacks and over large trees that had fallen over the trails. They pulled their handcarts up and down a gully, through a stretch of the Yakima River and up a rocky, slippery stream bed. They covered their faces with kerchiefs when the billowing dust of the flat expanses swallowed the breathable air around us. They made camp on uneven ground under the stars only after having prepared and cooked the evening meal. They arose early cooking breakfast and repacking the handcarts ready to face another day. They talked with each other, solved problems together; encouraged one another. Some overcame personal trials they were warring against. For others, it was just plain fun.

With the barrage of garbage surrounding these teens every day from the media, peers and sometimes their teachers and coaches, they have been figuring out how to stand strong, sorting out what kind of person they want to be in spite of all messages around them. They hadn’t bought into the stereo-typical high school scene. High school had made them strong. The trials of the trek almost seemed like a piece of cake to them.

And to be honest, knowing what they deal with everyday, it probably was.

Just last month I was hauling a cooler full of concessions up the high school steps for a play. Finding all the doors locked, I asked for help from a nearby teen. Expecting a pointing finger and unintelligible directions, this young man searched, found an open door and helped me haul in the rest of my load. I offered some sodas to him for his kindness. He reached his hand in the box to take what he wanted but then decided against it. “No,” he said “I need to do more things like this.”

Cool, huh!