Guest blog by Courtney Jackson, Vida Joven Board Member

“All smiles and eyes filled with wonder” describes the Vida Joven children as they eagerly lined up for a Spring Break outing to “Mundo Divertido.”  This quaint amusement park is just a few miles down the road from Vida Joven.  And a generous donor chartered a BIG bus so that the kids could ride those few miles in style!

All the kids wore bright purple shirts and stood outside on the Vida Joven patio in perfect formation.  Together they waited for house director Sylvia to open the front gate and let them board that fancy bus.  I was lucky enough to join the crew for the day, and even luckier to chaperone the teenage girls!  As we bounded off the bus, the teen girls ran into the park.  The excitement was so high I could barely keep up with them. Racing around the little park, deciding which ride to choose, from the Fun House to the mini roller coaster—this was a Big Day all around!

I can’t tell you how many laps we did on the go-karts, and how many bumper car rammings we endured.  But I CAN tell you that immense fun was had by all! This is the stuff childhood is made of: the laughs, the silliness with friends, the good times.  These are the childhood experiences that every kid at Vida Joven deserves.

Enjoying the day with the teen girls took me back to my own childhood.  I remembered all the times I’d gone to amusement parks with my family, and how much I’d wanted independence but still fell back on my Mom and Dad as a teenager. I knew my parents were there for me unconditionally, even between the awkward growth spurts and inevitable clashes with authority figures as I “blossomed” into adolescence.  Being a teenager is NOT easy!

Think back to your teenage years.  Think of all the physical and mental changes, and the ambiguity of being stuck between childhood and adulthood.  Now, on top of all that, imagine not having your parents in your life.  Perhaps some of you actually know what that’s like.  The teens at Vida Joven certainly do.  My heart goes out to these kids, and one teen in particular that I’ve had the privilege of getting to know: Sara.

Sara is one smart, spunky 14-year-old girl.  She’s so full of life, and also full of questions: Who are her parents?  Why did they abandon her and her gorgeous, sweet, younger sisters?  What kind of life will she have? For teenagers growing up in Vida Joven, these are the types of questions that get asked, on top of all the other drama of puberty. I don’t have the answers to all of Sara’s questions, but I am able to provide hugs, support, and a shoulder to lean on. Sara needs to know she is valued, important and loved! 

In our world today, with all the discussion around women’s rights, diversity, inclusion, and love without borders, we have the opportunity to make a real difference right here at Vida Joven. These teenage girls (and all the younger kids too) need to know that they are loved and that we believe in them.  Their biological families may not care for the kids, for whatever reasons, but we can show that WE care for them!

With Mother’s Day coming up, some of us are fortunate to reflect on having had loving moms.  Some of us still experience the pain of not having felt loved by our moms. Whatever our relationship with our own mom was like, this is a time for us to remember especially the teenage girls of Vida Joven.  Their relationships with their moms are marked by so much pain, absence, and anger.  We are grateful to the staff at Vida Joven for stepping up and providing motherly love and support (albeit tough love sometimes).  And we are so thankful for the generosity and kind hearts of donors like you who give these kids the chance they deserve!

After all, girls just wanna have fun!