On August 18, Inner Hope Youth Ministries will open its second home, providing housing, life skills mentoring, practical support and discipleship to dozens of at-risk youth living in East Vancouver.
Through the years, Inner Hope – developed by longtime East Side youth workers Jenny Shantz and Carla Dickinson – has worked with young people coming from unstable circumstances.
One of the first was Frankie Joseph, who came into their Boundless program at age 15. At the time, he was dealing drugs and attending an alternative high school program due to attendance and behaviour challenges at school.
Over the next two and a half years, Frankie’s heart softened. Jenny says, “we were privileged to witness incredible transformation. Not only did he return to mainstream school, secure a ‘legal job’ and graduate from high-school, he also began attending church and was baptized to declare his love for Jesus.”
She adds that “Frankie has gained a new understanding of his identity, both as a young Native man and a child of the King.” Frankie tells some of his moving story on this YouTube video.
“Carla and I first came to Vancouver to work with New Beginnings Church,” says Jenny. “That is where we built relationships with hundreds of youth. We had been dreaming about the idea of opening a home when a tragic accident reinforced the urgent need to reach at-risk youth in more substantial ways.”
In 2005, a 19 year old girl who had been a regular visitor in their home died in a stolen car crash. In response to this tragic circumstance, Carla and Jenny determined to expand their housing ministry and open a place that could offer more support, drawing in local Christian adults to join them in ministering to these “amazing but vulnerable young people.”
“We wanted this home to be a place of hope and took inspiration from a verse in Hosea 2, about God redeeming those who have been unfaithful to him. ‘I will return her vineyards to her and transform the Valley of Trouble into a gateway of hope,’” Jenny says.
In July 2007 they found a home in the area of Fraser Street and 29th Avenue which the youth affectionately named “The House.” During the following two years, Inner Hope focused largely on providing a supportive home environment for young people – encouraging them to graduate from high school. It quickly became evident that most of the youths lacked the life skills necessary for them to create a stable home or provide for themselves as adults.
In 2009, Inner Hope partnered with World Vision Canada to launch their Boundless life skills mentoring program, which matches young people one-on-one with a mentor to work on practical skills that will move them closer to achieving their personal goals. Monthly ‘FUNshops’ provide a time of group learning where staff and guest presenters teach specific skills in a group context.
In 2011, a number of Inner Hope youth began regularly attending Reality Church, a new church plant in the city. Many of the young people Jenny and Carla worked with had attended church in the past, but often didn’t stay involved long-term.
“We wrestled with the dilemma of finding a church where our young people felt comfortable and didn’t stand out, but had solid biblical teaching and a healthy core of stable families and adults to provide role modelling and mentoring opportunities. Reality Church has embraced our young people, not only welcoming them into their services, but allowing them to serve and inviting them into their lives and homes,” Jenny notes.
Pastor Kris Martens and his wife Susie “have been extremely committed to our young people and regularly encourage the congregation to embrace them as well. Sundays are now the focal point of our discipleship ministry with 20 – 25 youth, children and family members attending church weekly and most of them coming back to The House afterwards for Sunday lunch,” Jenny adds.
With the increase in community programs and staffing over the last few years, more and more of The House was being used for staff work space and support services, leaving house parents with less privacy and time to focus on providing a home for youth needing stable housing.
Jenny says “a local foundation saw the evidence of God’s transforming work in the lives of our young people and provided us with the opportunity to pick a home that would suite our needs for our use at minimal rent.
“We plan to utilize our existing home as a gathering space for community youth where they can be discipled, develop crucial life skills and find belonging in a home-based environment.”
The new home will provide a private residence for up to four young people ages 16 – 24 who desire a Christian home environment and the care and support of a house parent couple.
Jenny adds: “Most of the youth come from families caught in generational cycles of addiction, abuse and poverty. Many live in homes with adults who struggle with addiction; some have spent time in the foster care system and others have been funded by the government to live on their own, even as young as 16 years old.”
Inner Hope offers an alternative, Jenny says, “providing a place of hope and belonging for young people as they transition into adulthood and building relationships that often last for over a decade. The new home is located in the Kensington neighbourhood, just a five minute drive from their current location off of Fraser and 29th.”
The ministry is seeking the support of the local Christian community during this expansion. Jenny points out that “we are taking a leap of faith and trusting that local families, churches and businesses will rally around us at this time to help us develop communities of support for young people in our city facing such great odds.”
If you would like to support Inner Hope, there are a number of ways to get started.