As you are meeting more of the great folks we work alongside at Daystar, we would imagine you're getting a better picture of why we love what we do. We get to be a part of this amazing place, to spend our days with kids and families, to bring our dogs to work, and to work alongside remarkable folks. Meet Tommy Hart, a friend and trusted colleague, and one of the greatest discoveries for all three of us. Tommy is going to tell you a bit about the work he does and let in on a hunger that resides in the heart of the boys we love. Lean in to his words as Tommy reminds us of something important about the boys (young and old) in our lives.
For the past four years, the middle of August has been a time of rest and reflection as summer comes to an end and fall approaches. The majority of my summer is spent at Hopetown, our summer program on Kentucky Lake, where we host roughly 180 kids each summer.
I learn so much from spending weeks at a time with these campers, especially the boys whom I am with nearly every waking moment, ranging from ages 7-18. One of the most common things I see and hear at each camp, especially the older camps, is the yearning these boys have for a safe space to ask the tough questions and say, "this is who I really am," , "this is what I wrestle with," "this is what I worry about" and so much more. We talk so much at Hopetown about wanting to be known, truly known, and to be loved and accepted for who we really are. I have heard from boys of all ages, boys with different personalities and interests, from different backgrounds, boys whom many would think have nothing to worry about, say that they want a space where they can talk about these difficult things and be told that they're okay.
This was most evident at our 9th-10th grade camp this past summer when every night after worship, the boys would ask if we could have some "guy time". What this really meant is that they wanted to gather together down in the bunkhouse and talk about all of the uncertainties and difficulties they are facing. They wanted to hear from our staff that this is perfectly normal and that they are not alone. It was usually up to the staff and interns to get the conversations going and often, the campers were very uneasy at first. This was new and different to them and you could see that they wanted to speak up but the combination of fear, discomfort and not knowing what to say often initially kept them silent. Fortunately for us, we had an amazing group of college interns who would share about their experiences when they were this age and as they shared, you could see the campers breathe a sigh of relief…they weren't the only ones. They hung onto every word that was said during those nights of "guy time". It was so evident how every single one of those boys wanted validation and assurance with where they were. Many of the boys wouldn't say a word but they would stay awake and listen. They wanted to be a part of this time even if they didn't know what to say. They wanted to hear that they weren't alone in their fears and uncertainties.
And this is certainly not only true for boys. This past spring, my dad and I led a Dad's Group at Daystar. This group was made up of dad's with children ranging from 3 to 20 years old. I watched as these younger dads hung onto every word as the more seasoned dads talked about the difficulties, joys, doubts and fears that they had experienced in being a father. Every time one of the "older" dads shared these feelings, you could feel everyone else breathe a sigh of relief as they realized that they were not the only dads that have these fears or that make mistakes as a father.
These boys (and men) want to talk, they want to be known. They want to hear from others who have been there that they're okay, that these thoughts, feelings, fears, and uncertainties are normal. However, this is a difficult thing for many boys (and men) to initiate and many times they don't even know that they need it. But after sitting with hundreds of these boys and finally breaking through their barriers, I can promise you that they do need it and want it. These conversations can take place with parents, trusted coaches, teachers, youth leaders, pastors, mentors, etc. With someone that you trust and that your child trusts. But I think that even more powerful than the testimony of mentors is the voices of other children who can respond simply by saying "me too". They need our help to get to this place though; they need us to guide them and provide them with a safe space. And even if you do all these things, you may feel that your son just doesn't care or isn't listening, but I can tell you as someone who has been there and as someone who has heard from many different boys, they are listening and it will stay with them for many years to come.