My name is Melissa Martinez, but all "my children" call me Ms. Mely. I came to Star of Hope fresh out of college, looking "only for a part-time job" before saying the big "I do's". Little did I know what God had in store for me here. I started working at our Women and Family Emergency Shelter as a Guest Support Staff. Before I knew it, I was working double shifts and seven-day weeks. I couldn't leave the Mission.
Three years later, I serve as the Sr. Children's Service Worker for the Women and Family Shelter and Transitional Living Center. I am the HISD Liaison and the Biblical Counselor for our children. I remember as a young adult in middle school, my life long goal was to become a Pediatrician because I wanted to "help people and work with kids." Oh, our God is mighty! He has me right where I am supposed to be....
And these are the stories--the happy stories, the heart-breaking stories, the hopeful stories, the can't-sleep-at-nights stories--of the children I work with. These children of God-- and now also children of mine--will captivate your heart and transform you in ways you have never expected before. God has used His littlest to change my life inside-out. My prayer is that their stories will do the same for you.
Melissa (Mely) Martinez
Sr. Children's Service Worker
It's been a long time since I've last written to all of you. Summer is always the busiest of times at the Star of Hope! I've been running around every where with the kids this summer. Some of you may wonder what it is exactly children at Star of Hope do all summer long. Thanks to people like you--donors, volunteers, and staff--summer time is a wonderful time for our kids. A few of the activities the children have participated in this summer include the Donald Driver Football Camp, dancing lessons, and tennis lessons.
So, since I have no time to write about it all, I have asked my wonderful kids to share some of their experiences with you. I hope you enjoy reading how much fun they've been having!
"We went to Football camp at the beginning of the summer. It was a fun place where you exercise all day! You get to run laps, jump over obstacles, jump rope, do push-ups...and take water breaks! The fun part was when we were running. After that we all got in a circle and talked, then we all cleaned up and played tag football. Then, we all got to meet and get autographs by Donald Driver." -- Shane
"Every Thursday Ms. Zoe comes and teaches how to dance. What I like about it is that she teach us how to dance in different cultures. So far, we learned Praise Dance, Hip-Hop, Mexican Latino dances, and African. Although she is leaving, we will still remember what she taught us." -- Little Jonah
"Every Thursday and Tuesday, Mr. Paris and his helper come and teach us how to hold a racquet and hit a ball. We learned how to hit it with our back hand and forehand. We learned how to hit a ball parallel to a wall. We also play games like “king of the court” and “queen of the court”. Mr. Paris said I could be like him, a pro, because I was queen of the court seventeen times! And I do my warm-up with the ball and the racquet really fast. I love tennis. I wish they could come and teach us every day." -- Dasia
We'll write to you again soon and let you know what we've been up to these last two months.
A couple of weeks ago, some of our youth attended summer camp at Stoney Creek Ranch. The experience was such a blessing for all of us! For four days and three nights, kids and teens were immersed in activities that reflected the love of God in their lives.
On the last day of camp , counselors invited kids to come up to the microphone and say something that they learned or liked about camp. This is what they said:
“Thank you for letting me have a fun summer” – Ironesha
“I learned how to have compassion like Jesus did on the Cross for us” – Ryan
“We are so glad we came to Stoney Creek!” – Destiny and Vyolet
“I learned how to swim” – Maryann
“I learned to put everything in Jesus’ hands” – Destiny
“I learned how to play volleyball” – Vyolet
“I gave my life to Christ yesterday” – Telisha
“I learned that tomorrow is not promised, so give your life to Jesus while you still can” – Asia
“We gave our life to Christ yesterday” – Dasia and Danielle
“I learned you can’t turn your back on Christ; you have to turn your back on the devil” – Ryan
I've been debating within myself on whether or not I should write this story. It's a hard story to share, so bear with me.
In my blog introduction, I promised to write all stories—good and bad. And I feel like so far, I have only written the easy ones to write.
There is a reoccurring nightmare I have. It comes to me every two to three months, when I least expect it. It’s about a child I used to have in my class. Her name was Renee.
In my dream, Renee has come back to the shelter with her family. I see her mother, her four brothers and sisters, but I don’t see her. Her mom tells me that Renee is inside the children’s building, waiting for me. She says she’s ready to talk.
I run inside the building, desperate, looking for her. She’s not on the second floor hallway, where we would usually talk. I look inside the two classrooms upstairs—nothing. I take the elevator downstairs, start screaming her name up and down the hall. But the building is empty. And Renee is not there. I start running in circles again and spend the rest of my night in this way.
In the mornings, I wake up shaken.
It’ll be a year in September since Renee has been gone. Renee had a secret she will not tell anyone about. She was close to telling me, but every time she would come down to it—to the night her father took her to his new girlfriend’s house and they ended up in a room by themselves, his body smelling of alcohol—she was never able to tell me what happened next. She said it was her problem, and no one needed to know. She said no one would understand. She said she was ashamed. She had flashbacks about that night almost every day.
I was never able to help Renee. She has never made it back to us. The memory of her frustration, the way she would scream at me whenever I asked her to do anything in the classroom, the fear that paralyzed her every time she tried to tell her story…they are deeply imbedded in me.
And like her, there are so many children out there. Wounded. Alone. Afraid. Don’t let them pass by you unnoticed. The ones that give you a hard time about everything, the ones who misbehave the most…don’t write them off as “bad kids who need to be taught”. They might be another Renee needing to be heard and loved.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be homeless during your birthday? Usually, when I think of my own birthday memories, I think of friends and family together, a nice restaurant, conversations and laughter. But my children’s memories of past birthdays are not so great. It used to be that their birthdays at the shelter would go by almost unnoticed. We would give them a voucher to get a present from our toy room, but that was about all we could do.
That is not the case anymore. For about two years now, a group of teenagers from St. John’s High School comes faithfully at the end of each month. They transform our classrooms into birthday party lands: balloons, crafts, goody bags…even a piñata! The kids come into the classroom excited to see the decorations. They decorate their goody bags and get ready to break the piñata and share candy. Then the birthday kids step up to the middle of the classroom as we all sing happy birthday. Some of the birthdays kids get teary eyed when they hear their name in the birthday song. Some of them cover their faces with embarrassment (they’re so cute!) Then the birthday kids help our volunteers cut the cake and distribute it to their classmates. During the blessing of the food, we all say grace and thank God for the fun, the food, and the laughter of that day.
Yesterday afternoon, as I was making sure to inform parents that we were going to celebrate March birthdays that evening, one of the birthday kids in particular touched my heart. He was a new kid and didn’t know we celebrated birthdays at Star of Hope.
When I told him and his mom to make sure to come to our programs at 6pm because we were going to celebrate his birthday, he said “For real? Man, us birthday kids are going to have fun!”
“...But,” he said to his friends with a look of sadness, “if we were having it at my house, I would invite all of you to come.”
“They can come, Jack,” I clarified. “Everyone is invited.”
His face immediately lit up and he shouted to everyone in the classroom “Hey, you all! It’s my birthday tonight! I want all of you to come!” The goodness and generosity of our kids never ceases to amaze me. Here was this kid who had no idea someone was going to do something special for him for his birthday. But he was not worried about whether or not he would get a present, or what kind of cake he was going to have (as most kids his would be). What he was worried about was being able to share all those cool things with his friends.
Jack had a wonderful time last night. He cut the cake and passed it out to all his friends. When he was done serving his friends, he asked the volunteers if they could help him cut some more pieces. The volunteers told him everyone had been served. “I know,” he said to them. “But I want you to have some too.”
...Best birthday party memory ever.
Last week I was sitting with some of my girls during free time when I had to ask a group of them to quiet down. Immediately, they all pointed fingers at each other, trying to shift the blame on someone else other than themselves. I gave them a stern look and told them, "Now girls, you know we don't point fingers at each other". Immediately, another girl standing near me turned around and said, "That's right. Adam and Eve did that too, and God did NOT like it!"
I know this may just seem like a funny story to tell. But actually, for our children, this is a big success story! I had told these group of kids the story of Adam and Eve months ago, and it was huge to see them remember it and apply it to their everyday lives.
Keep praying for our kids! God is doing wonders in their young hearts!
It's Spring Break, and the children are having so much fun! We have had so many different activities this week: a game day, an afternoon of dancing and worshiping to Gospel rap, a movie night. Tomorrow, we are all heading over to Women and Family Emergency Shelter for a big festival--popcorn, and hot dogs, and snow cones included!
Today, the children and I went outside to enjoy the beautiful day God created for us. The sun was warm, and there was a nice breeze running through the courtyard at Star of Hope's Transitional Living Center. The children asked me if they could play with chalk, and they all expressed themselves in such beautiful ways with it! The Bible says that "out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks." I think that this is very true. And if out of the overflow of the heart we also write and draw...well, look at the amazing things that are stored in our children's hearts!
The true beauty of this job is that you get to love others. Unconditionally. Like God loved us. Love like this though, always comes along with pain. Because in loving, we must give of ourselves; and in giving of ourselves, we suffer and hurt and get disappointed. It is hard to love others and expect nothing in return. It is even harder to love knowing that you will never receive that love back.
I’ve been trying to counsel a girl that is suffering a lot. Her name is Kristy*. She gets in trouble in school all the time: she hits other kids to the point of injure; she yells and curses her teachers out—she was abandoned by her mom a couple of months ago. I know and see the other Kristy that no one else in school gets to see: the girl that is longing for someone to love her, that hurts every time she remembers how mean and abusive her mother was towards her, and whom, she swears, she will never be able to forgive.
One afternoon, Kristy and I were talking about what it means to follow God. She had no idea what it meant to “accept Jesus”. We talked about the things that are right and are pleasing to God. We talked about the things she had been doing that did not align with God’s Word and what He expected from us. We shared things that we both knew we struggled with. We made a chart out of them and promised to hold each other accountable for putting our old-self “dead” and replacing it with our new selves. Our resolution looked something like this:
- Old Self: Lies—Replace with New Self: Being Honest
- Old Self: Being Argumentative—Replace with New Self: Being Submissive
- Old Self: Acting Out in Anger—Replace with New Self: Having Self-Control
Kristy understood how to replace lies right away. Almost every kid knows the difference between lying and telling the truth. She had no idea, though, what to replace being argumentative with, or what being submissive meant, or what self-control looked like. We talked about it for a long time, and she looked enthusiastic to begin this new journey and become someone new for Jesus. I was excited too.
Last week Kristy slipped back into her old ways and reacted in anger when a group of kids started to pick on her at school. Kristy was suspended for two days.
And this brings me back to the thought that prompted me to start writing this: I cannot imagine how much God loves us, that we sin against him once, and again, and again, and He is still there. He doesn’t give up on us. As humans, it is hard for us to love in this way. The minute we get hurt, we shut down doors; we remove what is hurting us or making us uncomfortable or scared; we send it away. I pray that God infects us with His love in such a way, that we are willing to love like He loved us. That we are willing to forgive despite of what others’ actions are, despite of their responses and their faults, and their wrong doings.
I ask that you join me in prayer for my friend Kristy as I meet with her today for the first time since her suspension. Pray that I am able to share with her the love that God has for her no matter what she does or fails to do. I believe that only then, will she be able to heal from her old wounds and find true joy and peace in His love.
*Kristy’s name has been changed