It was hard for me not to chuckle. The declaration sounded like something I would have said at his age. We were playing a “Lighthouse family” game of Scattergories, something we periodically do as part of our weekly Lighthouse Connect meetings. We ask everyone to participate, so there were probably 50 students and adults split into four teams. The game is fun for all ages, but sometimes the discipline required to stay engaged (and seated) without a screen is just plain hard for some. This young man was relatively new to the group, had only been coming for a couple months, yet he had been consistently making it clear in his interactions with adults that he expected us to serve him and keep him happy. At the moment of his interruption, I was answering some questions to clarify the game rules for one of the teams. The interaction went something like this:
Student [walking away from his seat] – “I’m bored and done with this game.”
Me [smiling] – “I don’t care that you’re bored. I do care that you finish the game with the rest of us. Please sit down.”
Student [still walking away] – “I don’t care that you don’t care that I’m bored. I’m going to get a snack.”
Me [still smiling] – “Please do not turn this into a battle. I need you to get back to your seat.”
[At this point, I had walked up to him and put my arm across his shoulder, like you would to a friend.]
Student – slowly heads back to seat.
Here’s the thing – I was him. When I was in the 5th grade, I flunked “School Behavior” every quarter, and I sincerely did not care. For lots of reasons. Some of them the normal challenges of boyhood, but some of the deeper reasons were traumas that would take decades to unravel. This had all the makings of a trouble-filled life for me. I can remember when things started to change – it was when I entered the 6th grade with Mr Schwartz. I don’t remember much about those days, but I do remember two things: 1) being in trouble a lot (got paddled multiple times), and 2) being given a reason to care. Mr Schwartz noticed that I was really interested in the single computer in his classroom (this was 1982). He made an incentive plan specific to me where good behavior meant more time on the computer. Many others have mentored and guided me since then, but without question, his sincere interest and investment in me that year changed the course of my life.
My experience (especially remembering who I used to be) helps me have these encounters with students today and not react with some harsh words or immediate consequences. I know first hand that once you’re past the point of caring, penalties and punishment rarely result in the desired change of behavior. So here at the Lighthouse we are all about developing sincere relationships with students so we can get to know them, understand their challenges, and hopefully get a glimpse of what might get them to start caring.
The student mentioned above, he keeps coming back. In fact, I was helping with a school event a couple months ago when he saw me, came running up to me and said, “Chris I cannot wait until tonight, Wednesdays are now the best day of my week since I know I get to go to Lighthouse.” Whew, the tears that welled up told me how much my heart needed that. Even though I’m a guy who loves doing hard things and persevering through challenges, when you’re talking about investing in the hearts of young people, its often hard to actually see results and to know if you’re really doing the right things. Teenagers are fickle and distracted. [Side note – we recently did a survey of our students – out of 31 students who responded, only 5 of them are NOT sleeping with their phones.] Its no wonder its hard to get and keep their attention, and especially hard to actually get to know them. But its definitely worth trying, because these fickle-and-distracted kids are you and me from years ago. They are actually paying close attention, waiting to see who is really going to take time to love them.
We recently started having some weekend activities to help us spend time with students outside of our regular weekly meetings. In November, Marty Holycross and Terry Wilson hosted “Blanket Making” mornings, one Saturday for girls and one for guys, where they taught students how to make fleece edge-tied blankets. Students who came got to make a blanket and take it home. This past Saturday in December, me and my friends Ed Holycross and Gary Smith hosted our first “Tinker Time”. We had collected a bunch of old machines – tape decks, record players, vacuums, computers, etc. – we laid them out on tables and spent 3 hours just taking stuff apart, seeing how it works. We had no agenda, no script we were following other than simply spending lots of one-on-one time with students. These Saturday events were easy to plan and prepare for, since we were just doing things we (the adults) already enjoyed doing and simply inviting students to join us. Its clear from what we’ve heard since then that we need to continue, the students loved these Saturday gatherings. This confirms what I heard my mentor say many times, “Children spell love T I M E.”
Back in October, Mason Wheeler, a young man who has been coming to Lighthouse for about a year texted me with a simple request, “I have a question – do you know anyone who could baptize me?” I told him we could do that at the Lighthouse (he did not know we’d bought a tank for this purpose), and that we could do it the following week. And so we did. His family came. It was wonderful. Mason worked for me during the summer, helping us prepare our property for sale. He’s a great young man who keeps his promises, shows up for work and does whatever you ask him to do. I believe Mason is a natural leader who is going to significantly influence his peers for good as he continues to mature.
These are just some of the things that have happened at the Lighthouse this past year. I hope the included pictures help you get a sense of just how much fun we’re having! I wish I had more to share, but we had the extra personal load of preparing and selling our home and property from May to October as well as the wedding of our son Jordan in September. We believe we are supposed to continue serving students and the community of Bunker Hill, so we’re not leaving. We bought a small property just a mile out of town that we’ll be building on this spring. Yvonne and I are both excited to be staying, this is where we want to be. (Although she will tell you that November – March she REALLY wants to be warmer.) We love the Lighthouse family – the team we serve with and the students we have been trusted with. We still have a lot to do though and we still need more help. If you want to invest in the future and you love kids (especially middle-schoolers) – please consider this opportunity. If you would like to come checkout the Lighthouse and hear more about what we are doing, maybe even visit one of our gatherings, you can contact me directly at chris@LHBH.org and 765-271-6687. I would love to tell you our story. If you would like to help by sending a donation, you can mail it to The Lighthouse, PO Box 336, Bunker Hill, IN 46914. You can also give electronically via the link on our website, LHBH.org
For the time left in this month we are resting and looking forward to enjoying time with friends and family during the holidays. May hope and peace be yours as you do the same in the coming weeks. Merry Christmas and Godspeed to you for 2024!
Chris Edgington, Director
PS: We just had our Lighthouse Christmas gathering last night, it was awesome!
Here are some more photos of fun we had this year: