Verenice (Vere) cannot help but to smile. Everywhere she goes she is grinning ear to ear. Although she was extremely shy as an eight year old, nothing could ever stop her from greeting you with a smile. This was the case the first time she joined the Garnet After School Program and met Vanessa, an ASP volunteer.
Vanessa volunteered for a couple of semesters and then left to Colombia where she did a four month missions internship working with young women in Bogota. The time in Colombia was transformational and awakened a new passion in Vanessa. Upon returning to the States, she knew she wanted to work with youth, specifically teenage girls. She was hired as the ASP Director and was happy to know Vere was still coming regularly to the program.
Although Vere was in elementary school at the time, Vanessa knew the importance of young girls understanding God's value for them before the pressure of Jr. High could steal some of that innocence away. A Bible study was started with Vere and her friends. Week after week, Vanessa would focus on how Jesus valued them in comparison to how the world would view them.
"She was the first one who talked to us about the bible and God," said Vere when reflecting on Vanessa's influence in her life.
A few years later, there was an opportunity to go to The Oaks Winter Camp, put on by World Impact. Designed to minister to urban youth, the camp used stories, teachings, speakers, and games that identified closely with the Solidarity students. Everyone who went to the camp looked like, talked like, and had similar background stories as our students.
The Solidarity students were not “urban kids” forced to fit into a suburban summer camp; instead, they got to experience God’s story through a culture to which they related.
An invitation was made and Vere reluctantly said she would go with Vanessa to The Oaks. Although she agreed to going, Vere was still a shy girl who was reluctant to try anything new.
The first year of camp was not the story of a shy girl miraculously coming out of her shell, making new friends, or taking new risks.
Looking back at her first year at camp, Vere remembered Vanessa encouraging her to climb 40 feet in the air on the ropes course at the top of the mountain.
“Vanessa kept telling me that I could do it, but I was too scared. I was not outgoing at camp. I didn’t want to do it.”
Fortunately for Vere, there was enough of a spark at camp that made her want to come back the following year, and the next few years. Slowly, she conquered her fears of the ropes course, made new friends, and started to discover God in a new way.
Throughout the years at The Oaks, Vanessa saw Vere come out of her shell and really take God seriously. Vanessa reflected on the growth she’s seen in Verenice’s life and said, “I got to see Vere grow in her faith and grow into the woman God created her to be. She has become such a great leader and so brave to speak up when others do not want to speak up.”
Seven years later, Vere has graduated from high school and is coming back to The Oaks as a camp leader. She is a completely different woman than the girl Vanessa first met as a volunteer at the Garnet ASP. Vere is going to Fullerton College, helps lead the Teen Center on occasion, and has been a voice of truth among her peers. While Vere had Vanessa encouraging her to grow deeper with Jesus and try new things, now Vere is in Vanessa’s place being the adult leader.
“Camp this year will be different because I am not going as a student but a volunteer, and I would like to have a similar role that Vanessa played in my life, to be there to encourage kids to be more outgoing and try new things.”
This year, Amanda, Vere’s youngest sister, and her friends are going to camp for her first time. And similar to Vere, her sister is a quiet Jr. High student with a tremendous smile and a slight fear of trying new things. Only this time, Amanda has seen firsthand the change in her older sister’s life due to God’s love, The Oaks, and the little part Vanessa was able to play in their lives. And now, Amanda is excited to experience all of it for herself.