In my Sunday School class at church yesterday morning we discussed the verse: “If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities” (Luke 16:10).
In August every year, I always reflect about how TeenSHARP (www.teensharp.org) started and how consistency with the “little things” is a major part of our founding story.
At the start of 2008, my wife and I made a New Year’s resolution that we would be more active mentors for my then 13-year-old niece Maija. We committed to bringing her from Brooklyn to our place in Camden, NJ for one weekend each month and my sister welcomed the kid-free weekends.
During her visits, we developed a real relationship (it was superficial before that) with her and subjected her to our onslaught of advising and teachable moments. There was even a time when we busted out flipchart paper and started teaching her the 68-95-99.7 rule and other stats concepts! Those consistent visits turned into her staying with us for six weeks during the summer of 2008 and then doing the same thing during the summer of 2009.
By the time Maija was ready to leave in August 2009, it occurred to us how much we had to offer to kids her age as they prepared for high school and beyond. We also realized how much of a void we felt when she left and when we weren’t engaging with teens. So we decided to book a date to take Maija on a road trip to see Harvard.
Then we figured, if we’re taking her on a college tour, why not rent a bus and take more students! That line of crazy thinking led to an idea for a more structured program at our church where we would meet with students for 3 hours on two Saturdays each month. As graduate students, we knew it needed to be something structured in order for us to be able to fit it into our schedules. (TeenSHARP now meets for a full day every Saturday during the school year.)
So we decided to act upon that moment of inspiration and drove to Barnes and Noble to start mapping out the program. By the next day, we had a name for the program (TeenSHARP — Successful, High Achieving, Reaching Potential) along with a logic model. We emailed our pastors on August 20th, 2009 to get their blessing to start this new program at the church and they were on board.
We started with a class of nine students a month later and incorporated TeenSHARP in 2010.
As we are approaching our ten year anniversary in 2019, I’m reminded how important it is to take the initial step when you hear that small voice calling you to greater service to your community. Then you need to follow through with the seemingly “little things” that– unbeknownst to you– can add up to a greater purpose.
We’ll kick off our ninth program year on September 8th. This year, we will Be serving 185 students in our Delaware and NJ College Ambassador programs and another 200 in our Delaware Goes to College Academy program.
And my niece will be right there with us as she joined TeenSHARP as our NJ Site Manager after graduating from college last year. Nine years in and we’re really just getting started!