In December, I submitted a Letter to the Editor to let the community know about the financial challenges of Crossroads Youth Ministries. Since the letter posted, many people have responded with tremendous enthusiasm. We are extremely appreciative of the generous nature of people throughout Parker County. We are on the road to stability. Thank you all so very much.In conjunction with the generous giving of our community, many people have called asking about Crossroads and what we did in Parker County. We have become aware that many people do not know we exist. Others have asked why we waited so long to ask for help. Lastly, some people asked what the money was used for since we are a non-profit organization. These are all very important questions that I feel need to be answered. I have decided to write a series of letters to help our community better understand who we are, who we serve and just how we go about doing what we do. I also wanted to explain our motivation for doing what we do. Hopefully, I will answer some nagging questions and raise awareness about the needs of many youth throughout the county.This week, I want to answer the question, "How are we different from other organizations?" To begin with, Crossroads is a non-profit, faith-based organization that serves at-risk youth ages 12 to 18. Our services are free and available to any youth regardless of race, creed, economic/social status, gender or religion. We focus on building meaningful and purposeful relationships with youth through a variety of venues and through a variety of activities. The relationships we build have lasted up to five years with some youth.One thing that sets us apart from many organizations is the fact that we are not confined to meeting youth in just one place or through one activity. We work with youth at school, at our office (house), in their homes, at the park and in their neighborhood. What is important is that we meet them where they are. This also means meeting them on their terms by allowing them to be who they are without passing any judgment. This gives us the opportunity to hear their story the way they "need" to communicate it which is very important to establishing trust and credibility.The flip side to meeting youth where they are is the fact that we also take youth out of their comfort zones in order to expose them to the larger world. Many of our youth are not able to get far beyond their immediate surroundings because of financial or transportation limitations. Taking youth to museums, the cine, parks and other recreational venues is important because it gives them something to look forward to. When youth are stuck in their homes or in a dysfunctional environment, there isn't much motivation to do anything any differently. Getting these youth out of their realm of experience also gives us the opportunity to teach and practice new behaviors and to learn the expectations of the larger community. Field trips serve a larger purpose beyond just having fun. It is easy for those of us who have the financial resources to take bowling, putt-putt and the movies for granted.This past summer, we took several youth to a movie. One of our youth was a 16 year-old high school student. When we had an opportunity to discuss the trip with all the participants, he mentioned how happy he was to have gone with us. When we pressed him further, he stated very plainly that he had never been to the movies before; this was a completely new experience for him.In truth, we have not invented anything new. Mentoring programs have been around for years and have demonstrated a great deal of success. We have taken a working model and added field trips, individual skills development activities and provide a safe place where youth can talk about what is important in their lives. In essence, we listen, laugh, cry and share. Most importantly, we share our humanity with our youth and that means we let the youth know that we are not perfect either and that our mistakes, when approached correctly, can help us move forward.Perhaps another significant quality about Crossroads is unwavering ability to demonstrate grace and unconditional love even when our youth mess up completely. Since we are often dealing with cycles of behavior and thinking, we know that it will take time and commitment to instill a desire to change. We have to accept that there are going to be messes along the way. Indeed, this is the most difficult part of what we do. However, if we are going to be a meaningful part of any youth's life, we have to be willing to walk the journey with them and let them make their own choices while laying out meaningful and logical consequences.Ultimately, it is our humanistic and holistic approach to working with youth that sets us apart. We are farmers and we spend a great deal of time planting seeds and watering saplings. We don't get hung up on mistakes, nor do we set rigid and unobtainable expectations for our youth. We are teachers, human service providers, retired insurance sales people, lawyers, financial advisors, home-makers, truck drivers, pharmacists, firefighters, sales people and hotel managers and we have a heart for youth.Again, thank you so much for your support. This community continues to do a great deal to make our work possible.