When I was in high school, I had friends who tutored out of their apartments with the O’Keefe Family Center where I was introduced to BCM as a partner organization. My family started to volunteer with VBS and Bible Clubs because the kids we were tutoring would attend Bible Club. After finishing college, I joined BCM as a VBS volunteer, then interned at VBS, worked in development and eventually ended up directing and developing Leaders in Training (LiT), the new high school program.

Hiking during a LiT Retreat

One of my favorite memories during my time at BCM was getting to see LiT students connect with one another on one of our weekend retreats. Even when it was difficult, students chose to share their experiences of hurt and ways they wanted

to see God at work in their lives. It was hard to hear the ways our students were hurting or felt like God wasn’t listening, but a couple of our students pointed out that God was at work through LiT and was able to use difficulties to help us grow. They initiated a time of affirming one another and the whole team. It was a special and encouraging time for the group.

Recently, I’ve been seeing God at work through LiT students and their desire to engage with difficult topics. Before COVID, students asked to learn about self care, and it's been incredible to see them return to this topic and encourage one another during this pandemic. Even as parents lost work and students experienced significant loss and change as schools closed, students requested to learn about the Black Lives Matter movement, mass incarceration and racism. In navigating cultural differences between students and volunteers in the past, the LiT community has been able to provide safe spaces for students to process and acknowledge their experiences of racism. Through listening to volunteer perspectives and making space to share their own, our students have helped the program acknowledge the real hurt and trauma racism has caused. This has helped deepen relationships at LiT and has challenged our group to learn more about systemic racism and actively work towards a goal of anti-racism.

Through all of these conversations and challenges, our students have continued to support and affirm one another, as well as myself and their volunteers. On days when it’s been easy to be discouraged, our students have pointed out ways God is present in LiT and in their relationships and growth. In all of the ups and downs, it’s been such a blessing to be a part of building this community with volunteers and students. They’ve made affirming and listening to one another a value for themselves, and seeing our students model this love and care gives me a lot of hope for what God will do next.

My introduction to BCM was during my senior year of college. I spent my spring break in East Palo Alto volunteering at BCM alongside a group of classmates. I truly had no idea that this one week had anything to do with my future, but by the time I graduated from college I had applied for and accepted a role as a Fellow at BCM. After the Fellowship, I joined BCM’s staff as the Program Manager for Streetworkz, the middle school spiritual program. Within that first year, my students and the beautiful EPA community had convinced me that I had found my new home.

EPA Fellows Yosemite retreat

God has done so much in my life through my time at BCM. Some of the things that I now consider my core values and passions began as seeds that were planted and watered at BCM: a commitment to social justice and taking action against systemic racism, education inequality, mass incarceration and harmful immigration policies. While it is overwhelming and heartbreaking to look at our communities and recognize the enormity of the world's brokenness, I’m grateful for the ways God has allowed me to learn how to pursue change. My sheltered, privileged, sanitized faith was forced to transform into a kind of faith that can face the real world and choose to take action in the midst of injustice.

I often have to remind myself that it’s not my job to worry about the results; it’s my job to love my students and trust God with the rest. But every once in a while I am given the gift of seeing results. During a particularly difficult time in her life, one of my students came to me to share her frustrations with some friends at school. Rosie* was upset that her friends were gossiping about her. She vented about the situation for several minutes and then let out a big sigh before saying, “I guess I shouldn’t want bad things for them. I should just let it go instead of getting revenge. Like how we talked about at know, forgiveness and being like Jesus.” Quite honestly, I was shocked! I was not expecting that level of self-reflection. I knew Rosie was dealing with a lot, and would not have blamed her for being angry or bitter towards her friends. Instead, I got a glimpse into what God was doing in her heart. And apparently she was actually paying attention at Streetworkz!

At the beach with Streetworkz

I have so many memories with students and staff at BCM. There are the fun events, the exciting moments in students’ lives, the silly games we get to play. But some of my favorite times with students are seemingly mundane ones. Over the years, I’ve spent many hours driving students to and from program or picking them up from school. Those drives were such sweet (and loud!) moments of everyday life and conversation. Students would jump in the car and tell me funny stories about school. I’d listen to them encourage each other in one sentence and teasingly insult one another in the next. Once a group of students said they wanted to buy a car for a homeless man that we passed on the street. And then 30 seconds later they were complaining about how much they hated their teacher. It was like a front row seat to the spectrum of humanity’s capacity for both generosity and selfishness, love and hate. All in the backseat of a minivan.

I think that’s one reason middle schoolers are awesome. As adults I think we often convince ourselves that we’ve matured beyond that awkward phase of insecurity, uncertainty, selfishness and silliness. But my students help me remember that none of us knows what’s going on, and yet we all have enormous capacity to love one another, if we let Jesus show us how.

*name changed

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Molly, a rising senior at Menlo-Atherton High School, has always loved working with kids and it’s been a big part of her summer plans each year.  Back in January 2020, she was considering what to do this summer and was hoping to do international missions work, particularly someplace where she could work on her Spanish language skills.  As she was asking around at her church (Menlo Church), someone recommended she reach out to BCM.  Through Covid, God eliminated any opportunities to go abroad and Molly signed on to help with KidSmart Summer Bridge at BCM.  She was truly a Godsend and an answer to our prayers at BCM!

Molly felt very welcome her first week, but it was also a steep learning curve, as she was new to BCM, the schedule, the layout, the students and the staff.  Not to mention learning how to run in-person programs safely during a pandemic.  If you've ever met Molly, you’ll know she’s energetic and a go-getter.  She jumped right in with both feet, helping with core academics, serving snack and lunch, monitoring masks and teaching outstanding science workshops to our elementary students.

Molly is passionate about environmental science and sustainability, and teaching science workshops at BCM this summer gave her a first-time opportunity to integrate this passion with her love of working with youth.  She had the students learning about the human body and thermoreceptors as well as creating model oil spills with vegetable oil, water, clay and toy animals.  They had to figure out how to clean up the oil and learned that even the best solutions have consequences.  Molly was fascinated by how the students interacted with science – their opportunistic approach, their perspective on the content and their optimism further fueled her passions for both science and youth.

God was also at work in other ways.  One of the students was very closed off at the start of the program; he didn’t want to work and wished he was at home playing video games.  Through the positive and engaging approach of the staff and volunteers, this student opened up and became confident.  He began to show initiative in the classroom and chose to take responsibility for his own learning. “It was amazing to see this transformation happen in front of me.  I knew it had to be God at work,” Molly observed.

Another student entered the program having trouble making connections with others but by the end he was thriving.  Molly reflects, “There are so many negative aspects to the pandemic, but the individualized support and attention this student received as a result of smaller group size was just what he needed.  Because of the current restrictions, God put us in small, contained groups and I was able to see that you can make an impact no matter the situation.  When a leader takes the time to sit and listen deeply to a student, the student realizes that what they have to say is important, that they are important.  The transformation I saw in the lives of these students is significant.”

As Molly prepares to enter her senior year of high school in the midst of the pandemic, we trust God will continue to give her eyes to see Him at work and opportunities to use her positive, contagious energy to do good in the world around her.  We are grateful for her willingness to serve at BCM this summer despite Covid challenges, and for the important role she played in bringing hope and a future to our students.  

Photo credit: C Mitchel


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Phone: 650-327-1139

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Mitchel Chang

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