Reaching A Community And Chasing Dreams
Joel Lowry is a current Surfing The Nations staff member who not only serves as a leader within the internship training program but has also taken charge of leading the community impact department. This man’s heart for the community of Wahiawa and desire to build genuine relationships with every individual he encounters has already shown to have a profound impact. Last Saturday, Joel and a small group from the current internship went up to Leilehua Highschool to hang out and connect with some of the guys from the local sober living program. Many of the interns shared stories from the day and how much they enjoyed engaging with those in this community through sports, specifically basketball and football.
Before joining Surfing The Nations, Joel was involved with a group of guys who routinely met with recently released prisoners in Houston, Texas. Every day a bus of 75 to 100 men would be placed on a large greyhound bus, given only a red, mesh bag with a pair of old clothes and $50 cash in their hands. These are men who had just been released from prison, many of which have spent at least twenty years or more behind bars. They are dropped off at the bus station where many individuals with different motives awaited their arrival. Many of the people awaiting these guys are ghosts from their pasts, eager to jump at any given chance, to pull them back into the life they once knew.
“Our crew would be the first to greet them. Upon introducing ourselves, we gave them new bags and clothing, in hopes, it would allow them to feel clothed with dignity and not walk away weighted with the shame or judgment that old, red, mesh bag represented. Exchanging the mesh bag for the new bag and clothes was essentially the act of leaving behind who they once were and grabbing hold of who they were going to be. We then gave them the opportunity to make a phone call so they no longer felt overwhelmed and stranded. It is after building a level of trust with these men that life-changing conversations would take place. The most important part of this whole process is talking with them about their dreams. My favorite question to ask is, “What was your childhood dream?”. This question sparks within them a desire to want more for their lives than what they have come from. These men were in prison and previous offenders, but the guys standing before me now are free and served their time for the mistakes they’ve made. They have an opportunity to write new chapters of their stories, develop passions, and ultimately choose the path for their futures. Their identity is no longer defined as a prisoner but as a free man. I maintain this mindset while serving here at Surfing The Nations and with every individual I encounter.”
Joel Lowry: Rediscovering Dreams
It is my deep desire for others around me to feel accepted, loved, and valued regardless of their past or appearance. My heart is to make an impact in our community and take time to genuinely get to know those I live down the street from. Last week we had an incredible opportunity to meet with some men from the sober living house just up the street. I decided that for community impact, the group of interns and I were going to Leilehua Highschool to play basketball with some of the guys in the program. We began walking down to the park and approached a group of about twenty sizable men. They were already engaged in a game of their own, so we weren’t really sure what to expect. Would they be cool with us joining or be interested in connecting with us? I was unsure of what this outreach was going to look like but we decided to approach them anyway. Mike, a current intern, walked right up to all of them and said, “Hey guys, lets play a game!”, which really broke the ice and made everyone else feel comfortable. They welcomed us to join in and were really inclusive of everyone the whole game. It didn’t matter if one was female or not as good as others on the team, every individual was totally engaged and had a blast playing together.
There were two guys who decided not to play, so I struck up conversations with them. One of the guys was a 22yr old local who has just joined the program for the next three months. He opened up about some heavy experiences that have had a pretty big impact on his life, one of which being the passing of his brother. After talking with him about some of his experiences from the past, I wanted to focus on what he wanted for his future or things he dreamed of achieving. I asked him, “If you could have any job in the world, what would it be?”
He immediately responded, “To be honest, from the time I was seven years old I’ve always wanted to be an oceanographer. I have a passion to learn and teach others about the ocean.” I found his dream to be very intriguing and followed with asking why this is something he passionately wanted to pursue. He replied, “Because in the ocean that’s where I feel safe and calm. It’s where I don’t have to think about who I am. It’s where I am that determines who I am in a way, you know? You see, I love snorkeling, surfing, paddle boarding, anything with the ocean is where I feel at home.” My immediate response was to ask why he hasn’t followed through with that passion or dream, and in that moment he realized that there really is no reason not to. I loved that he really didn’t have an answer because that meant that there isn’t anything hindering him from actively pursuing it. It was obvious this is a deep desire he has and it was awesome being able to encourage him to charge after it.
Jack Reid: Football with the local boys
Arriving at the park, I approached a group of guys that were all between the ages of thirteen and twenty-two. They were a group of local guys, and I wanted to see if we could try to get a football game going. There was also a group of younger kids standing off to the side watching us throw the ball around. I wanted them to feel included too so we invited them to join us, but they seemed somewhat hesitant. I explained that it would just be a game of two-hand touch and we had plenty of spots for them to jump in and play. After a little coaxing, they finally ran out onto the field and we began splitting up teams. There ended up being a total of fifteen guys playing and the older guys were really inclusive of the younger ones. I was excited about this outreach because I wanted an opportunity to meet and connect with more people in this community. I really look forward to seeking out more opportunities like this.
One thing that stood out to me specifically was how Mike, another intern, immediately took initiative to approach the group of guys in the local sober living program and ask if we could join their basketball game. I thought it was really cool for him to do that.
Mike Svengren: More than a game of basketball
No one really knew what to expect once we got to the park. Approaching these guys we had never met was seemingly intimidating to most of the team and you could sense a little bit of skepticism. They already had their own small game going so they weren’t necessarily trying to engage with us right away. I could tell everyone seemed to feel a little lost and out of their element so instead of us just standing and watching them play, I began shouting, “let’s play a game!”
No one acknowledged my first attempt to join or get their attention but after a couple times of asking, they told us to come split up with them into teams. After trying to initiate a game, one of the guys, Reed, chose team captains so we could assemble fair teams. It was quite fun when we started and we actually played for at least half an hour. Everyone seemed to really enjoy playing and any previous reservations or timidness no longer existed. It was obvious that they wanted to engage and genuinely enjoyed playing with us, especially Reed and one of the other guys. It was cool to see how inviting they were and there was no major competition. Everyone felt very included and that they held a valuable spot on their team. We enjoyed playing together so much that I offered for them to also join us later that evening for a game of football. It is definitely something I look forward to doing again soon.
Jesse Pitman: Connecting with our community
Reed was awesome and had a massive grin on his face when introducing himself to us! He was initially the most intimidating dude but is easily the friendliest. Reed was very inclusive and shared the ball even though he could’ve easily dunked it the whole time. After a bit, everyone introduced themselves and we started getting into the game. For the next hour or so, we played non stop. Even after the game, we talked some and they were genuinely nice guys who were pretty easy to connect with. They didn’t treat the girls who were playing any different, complimented us if we did something cool, and had great attitudes. There were definitely some guys who kept a little more to themselves but everyone was extremely friendly, especially Reed. It was really cool hanging out with them and I hope there are more opportunities like this again. I didn’t have any expectations leading up to this outreach but I also wasn’t expecting the guys to be as friendly and welcoming as they were. It was just really good and we had a lot of fun playing basketball with them. It’s awesome getting to connect with these guys and I’m always down for any kind of outreach similar to this. Regardless of any mistake these guys have made in their lifetimes, they have huge hearts. Not once did I ever try to think about what their past experiences may have been like, it was about playing a game of basketball with a group of cool guys. It would be cool to get to know them more and have the chance to develop lasting relationships.
* Feature Image photo credit: Candie_N