By Victoria Lawson | Echo
Every Tuesday evening, Taylor and Indiana Wesleyan students volunteer at ReaLife, a student-led community outreach ministry. Students meet at the top of the Dining Commons at 4:45 p.m., eat a meal together and then take Taylor vans to the Boys and Girls Club in Marion.
Junior and age group director Kayla Liggett describes ReaLife as a place for at-risk youth in Marion to engage in fun activities and small groups, develop friendships and receive mentorship from Taylor and IWU volunteers. ReaLife kids also share meals with their peers cooked on site in the Boys and Girls Club kitchen.
Liggett has been going to ReaLife for three years. Volunteering with ReaLife has played a formative role in confirming her career choice. She now feels like she is more confident in her ability to manage lesson plans, practice crowd control and build relationships with children even when it's challenging, as many of the children who attend ReaLife have backgrounds of neglect and abuse. Liggett has learned to meet these difficulties head-on because she believes the rewarding aspects make it all worth it.
"You have to be prepared to do things like break up fights," Liggett said. "You have to be prepared to cry with kids because their family lives in general are hurting and broken. But you also have to be ready for the joy that comes with watching them make a basket or having an 'ah-ha' moment - you get to be there for that."
Liggett emphasized that the Lord is what keeps ReaLife's mission afloat, and that she feels honored to stand back and watch as he works in the lives of the leaders, the children and their families.
Junior and small group leader Deborah Settles sees some of the homes the children come from as a ReaLife van driver, who is responsible for taking the kids to and from the Boys and Girls club. The children change addresses often - one child has lived in two or three different homes in the past year and a half, and she mentioned living in 20 different homes in her lifetime. She is in 4th grade.
Settles' heart breaks for those kids' situations, and when dealing with behavioral difficulties on Tuesday nights, Settles is fueled by her passion to introduce the kids and their families to Christ's redeeming love.
"Knowing that the kids' actions come from a place of hurt and instability in their lives . . . it's exhausting," Settles said. "(ReaLife is) not necessarily a place you go to get filled up - that's not always what ministry is . . . it's, 'I'm going to serve people and it's going to be hard.' As a whole, the reward is seeing the light in them and seeing the fruit."
Settles has a deep compassion for at-risk youth and has used her experiences at ReaLife to shape her career path as she studies math education. She has volunteered at ReaLife since her freshman year and has served by discussing Bible stories with kids, letting them share about what's happening in their lives and helping clean up after meals.
ReaLife reaches out to four age groups: kindergarten and 1st grade, 2nd and 3rd grade, 4th and 5th grade and 6th through 8th grade. Sophomore Mikayla Clementz is co-director of ReaLife this year alongside IWU student Chase Grainger, and the pair organizes the lessons and activities for these age groups.
On top of lesson organization, Clementz leads briefing meetings for the volunteers, helps facilitate the activity stations, oversees the kitchen for meal preparation, coordinates van drivers with eight different pickup routes, bulk orders supplies through the TWO office and covers disciplinary measures among many other duties.
Clementz talks about ReaLife in classes in the education department and shares her heart for the ministry whenever she gets the chance. She delights in seeing people from all majors and both Taylor and IWU overcoming obstacles with the kids and working together to create a safe environment for them to grow and thrive.
She encourages those on the fence about ReaLife to give it a try even though it's a time commitment and isn't always easy. After a summer away from the kids, coming back and seeing the kids recognize her and remember her name was one of the most rewarding aspects of her difficult job, and she wants others to be able to influence those children and model Christ to them.
"I'm involved in ReaLife because I have a passion to love kids who might not necessarily know what love looks like," Clementz said. "They might have an obscure definition in their mind because of how they've been treated by someone who should love them . . . I want to love them in a way that shows them a little piece of God's love."