The Dream Team

After teaching at Aliquippa Impact’s summer camp for 3 years, both Rebekah Thompson and DeVonte Thorne stepped into leadership roles – Rebekah as assistant site coordinator and DeVonte as head site coordinator.

Both DeVonte and Rebekah have attended Toccoa Falls College. DeVonte, originally from Georgia, studies youth ministry there. In previous years at AI’s summer camp he taught 3rd and 4th grade classes. Rebekah, originally from Virginia, just graduated from Toccoa Falls College with a degree in Counseling Psychology. Rebekah has taught a class of first and second graders and a class of third and fourth graders at summer camp.

Earlier this year, DeVonte received a phone call about Aliquippa Impact’s summer camp head coordinator position. Devonte says, “That was really unexpected, but at the same time I was ready to do it. I’ve been there for so long – I know what day camp is supposed to look like. Day camp is really mapped out-you just need somebody to coordinate it and make sure that it is running smoothly. It’s not extremely difficult, but if you are not used to it, it can seem chaotic- like what is going on?”

Although she enjoyed her time there, Rebekah was not expecting to return to camp. She was expecting to look for a full time job after graduation. She says, “Aliquippa Impact called me up and asked if I wanted to be the assistant coordinator along with DeVonte as the head coordinator. We had worked together for 3 years and I loved doing day camp. I thought – It’s a risk, what if I accept this and I get offered a full time job and I can’t take it? I prayed about it and decided to do it.”

This summer’s theme was the Olympics. The kids were taught a variety of lessons, including Arts & Crafts and Dance & Drama. DeVonte says, “We try to not make it seem like school as much as possible because they don’t want to be in school all year ‘round.” The summer program teachers introduce children to development assets, building blocks needed to become model citizens. Devonte says, “We try to show them what empowerment looks like, what support groups are in their lives – outside of their mother and father – who is around them and supporting them. We help them to see that they have more support groups than they think they do and more resources than what they are used to.”

One of the first lessons Devonte learned in his youth ministry classes was make sure to have a team of people who have your vision and the vision of the church. Make sure they are willing to sacrifice and put in a lot of time and hard work. This summer he learned how important a committed team really is. Devonte says, “I am more of a relational than an administrative guy. Rebekah and Gerrin – they are relational as well – but they are really into administrative work. So getting paper work done or making sure permission slips are printed out – they did a great job with that. They got stuff done without me having to ask them. They always have my back and I always have their back. It was great. They called us the dream team I guess because we got everything rolling.”

Rebekah and DeVonte were responsible were supervising a staff of 11 college students. Rebekah comments, “We’ve had just such a great team of college staff and one of the things that I’ve learned a lot about this summer, being in leadership for the first time, is supervising them and working with them. I’m used to working with the kids, but this was my first time really being in a supervisor position with my peers. We’ve had a couple Thursday’s this summer that we were supposed to go on a field trip, but the bus didn’t show up to take the kids. The staff just stepped up, got creative, and pulled activities out of their back pocket so to speak. Just spontaneous things to keep the kids entertained. I was so proud of them.”

Both DeVonte and Rebekah have been inspired by Aliquippa Impact’s ministry. Rebekah says, “It’s definitely been something God has used personally in my life to change me and show me more of what grace means. I just love that they are all about hope. I think one of the things that has been most impactful to me about this is they are an ‘incarnation ministry.’ The idea is when Jesus came; he actually lived among the people he served. That’s what most of the employees of Aliquippa Impact have done -they’ve moved into the community they are serving. They care more about the community they are serving because it’s their community. I think that’s just so cool.”

Likewise, DeVonte admires Aliquippa Impact’s relationship with the community. He says, “The people that work at AI love the people in the community and the community has this respect for AI that is shocking. I love the progression – the relationships that have been built are really authentic because they started from a minimal foundation.  The only thing that they had to go off of was the Lord and the passion He put in their hearts for the people in Aliquippa. I still see that. I see a hunger to walk with people and to not be afraid what people around them or other communities around them may think. I want to be a part of that – it’s kept me coming back to the community.”

Rebekah recently moved to Aliquippa to be a part of the community. In the fall, she will be teaching a preschool class at Crestmont Early Learning Center and working with children with Autism at Family Behavioral Resources. DeVonte will be returning to Toccoa Falls College where he will finish his Youth Ministry degree. Please pray for both as they begin new adventures.

Life is Not Easy, You Have to Work For It

“Yeah it’s pretty wild, it’s pretty wild,” chuckles Ted Todd when he describes his 3rd and 4th grade Sunday School class. The class is made up of 13 kids, mostly boys. He continues, “But I really enjoy being with kids. I really like helping people.”

This is one reason Ted decided to become a mentor with Aliquippa Impact. He learned about the mentorship program 5 years ago when he joined a bible study at Crestmont Alliance Church. Ted was invited to the study by Nick Lagios, Ted’s boss at Drever International furnace company and also the leader of the study. During one of the studies, Nick’s wife, Norma, an Aliquippa Impact board member, asked Ted if he would consider becoming a mentor. She knew that Ted was good with kids. After some prayer and consideration, Ted accepted Norma’s invitation.

For the past 3 years Ted has mentored Curtis Flowers, now an 8th grader at Aliquippa Jr./Sr. High School. When asked what Curtis’ favorite classes are Ted laughs. “Well, he doesn’t have any favorite classes at school. He really does not like school. But that’s something we are working on-his mom and I, people from his youth group and cohort. We are all encouraging him.”

Curtis may not like school, but he is very passionate about football. He is on the 8th grade Little Quips team, which won the Valley Championship this year. Ted says, “He’s really proud of it-the sweat shirt and the jacket-he’s really proud of all of that.” Curtis’ passion for football has had a positive impact on his schooling. Ted explains, “It really helped him to be on that team. It’s acting as an encouragement for him to first do well in school so he passes and can go on to be a Freshman next year and play Freshman Football.”

When Ted is not cheering on Curtis at football games, the two do a variety activities together. They cook dinner at Ted’s apartment, go to the movies, walk around the mall, and take bike rides. During the week Ted lives in Center Township to be close to his workplace, but on weekends he returns to his home in Ohio where he lives with his wife, Becky. Every two months Ted brings Curtis with him to Ohio. There Curtis helps Ted with odds and ends around the house and barn. Working with Curtis is one way Ted hopes to teach him responsibility. He says, “Life is not easy, it is not given to you. You have to work for it. So that’s what I encourage him to do.” The more time Curtis spends with Ted, the more he learns. Ted says, “He’s getting more friendly with the horses and he loves the cats. He’s developing into a hard working kid.”

One of Ted’s favorite memories is taking his father and Curtis to a Pittsburgh Pirates game in the summer of 2014. Ted says, “During the 7th or 8th inning Pittsburgh was getting beat and the game was really boring. My dad was falling asleep and Curtis was not too excited. I decided, ‘Okay we’re going to leave early. We’ll beat the crowd.’ We got two blocks away and turned the corner. Fireworks went off. Boy, I tell you, the noise really scared Curtis. He took of running. I said, ‘What’s wrong Curtis?’ He said, ‘I didn’t know what it was. I thought I was getting shot at.” Ted told Curtis the noise was fireworks going off because the Pirates had made a home run. Ted chuckles,“To see him take off running when he heard those fireworks, oh it was funny, it was really funny. I just laughed.” On the way home Ted turned on the radio. The Pirates had won. Ted told his dad and Curtis, “That’s it guys! Next time we go to a ball game we are going to stay until it’s over.”

Meet Gao Foua Jordan

“I always say this-I married into Aliquippa Impact,” Gao Foua Jordan says with a laugh.

Gao Foua’s husband, John, met Aliquippa Impact (AI) founder, Joel Repic, during their Freshman year at Toccoa Falls College in Georgia. Hearing of his friend’s new ministry, John decided to work at Aliquippa Impact’s day camp program in the summer of 2006. A year later, John married Gao Foua and they moved to Aliquippa. Gao Foua says, “We were more up here as volunteers when it started. Aliquippa Impact had very little budget, it was just kind of like an initiative at first. There were really no positions. We just came because we really felt that the Lord was calling us to Aliquippa.”

A few years into the summer program, Joel Repic asked Gao Foua to take the position of Mentor Program Coordinator. Gao Foua says, “When the opportunity opened up, obviously our heart was already for the city and for the people so I took it.”

Aliquippa has been home to John and Gao Foua for 8 years now. They reside in Aliquippa with their 2 children. John serves as Aliquippa Impact’s Cohort Program Coordinator where he oversees the cohorts in the community. Cohorts are made up of 8-12 students guided by an AI staff member. Students and leaders work together to achieve to achieve set goals.

While John oversees the cohorts, Gao Foua oversees the relationship between mentors and mentees. Her job is to enroll both students and adult mentors into the mentoring program. She says, “I make sure all the adults are safe for the program. We work very close with Family Guidance. They help us implement our program here. I do all the paper work in enrolling and then I get to match the kids with an adult, which is the fun part. The mentors usually send us reports of what they are doing. At the end of every match year, we do a celebration and we take them out to eat.”

Gao Foua takes into consideration both the mentor and mentee when creating a match. She asks the mentors what age group they feel comfortable with and what activities they enjoy. Gao Foua says, “Usually we know the mentee pretty well because they are from the community. The enrollment process with the mentor is usually really long and in-depth because we want to make sure the mentor is safe. Sometimes it’s like 6 months to a year before they become a mentor. We get to know the mentor pretty well in the process.” Oftentimes Gao Foua can sense when a mentor and mentee will be a good fit from her time spent with them. Other times she asks people who know the student or volunteer if they believe the two would be a good match. Gao Foua adds, “A lot of prayer goes into it, too. Really it’s like putting two strangers together and we just hope it works.”

After each year, if a mentor wishes to continue, he or she will sign a new friendship pack up until the child graduates from high school. Gao Foua says, “We’ve had multiple returning mentors, which is great. I think mentoring works because the kid wants to be in it and the mentor wants to be a mentor.” She believes mentoring is very beneficial for students. She says, “I hate to compare kids, but just bear with me. Really we’ve seen kids with mentors have a lot more-I don’t know if you would say self-control-or they just made different decisions than their friends have. So that’s one thing that is really telling of how much mentoring works.”

Meet Andrea and Jay Dillard

When Aliquippa Impact’s summer program was just beginning, Joel and Chelsea Repic were in search of volunteers. They asked their college friend, Andrea Dillard, if she would be interested in teaching. Andrea accepted the invitation in 2007 and taught social studies, vocabulary, and other academics to the 5 and 6 class. Later, in the summer of 2009, she served as a camp director, checking in on teachers, speaking with parents, and performing other administrative duties.

Andrea describes her experience with Aliquippa Impact as life changing. She says, “It was the first time I saw how powerful God is-I saw the Holy Spirit move in people. It was like the hands and feet of Jesus to me-just a really practical way to serve people.”

Now Andrea and her husband, Jay, live in Atlanta.  Andrea is a 6th grade language arts teacher. Her past experiences have fueled in her a passion for educational equity. She seeks to provide equal opportunities for students who live in poverty. Jay is a marriage and family therapist. He works at a private practice as well as a non-profit counseling service called, Formation Counseling Service. The organization partners with churches to bring counseling services back to the church.  Jay works with clients who may not otherwise be able to afford counseling and professional care.

Even after her camp experience, Andrea continues to keep in contact with Joel and Chelsea Repic, Steve Rossi, John and Gao Foua Jordan, and others. They tell Andrea and Jay news about the program and about Andrea’s former campers. Andrea and Jay support Aliquippa Impact by donating monthly and praying.  Andrea says, “I told Jay how much AI has meant to me and has really made an impression on how I approach people-even how I approach my job now. I work in the inner city of Atlanta and it has helped me understand people in a way that I didn’t before.  All that to say, I really believe that everyone at Aliquippa Impact is doing God’s work. I believe that God is working there and that the people who are called there are not called to glamorous type work. I know it’s a lot of hard work. So I know what the money is worth going there.” Jay agrees, “I’ve gotten to know some of the leaders there and I trust them. I believe they are kingdom-minded and I feel very comfortable putting resources there. The authenticity of the people working there is something that really stands out to me and makes me feel confident, encouraged, and excited that God is using people that are real and honest. Whatever they are thinking or feeling they are not afraid to say when things are hard. They are not looking to glamorize things. That stands out to me.”

Looking back, Andrea remembers that although change happened in people it was not always immediate. She says, “There was a young man-at the time he was 18- and his name was Abdul. It’s really amazing to me how everyone embraced Abdul-no matter what he did, no matter what he said. He became our friend that summer and he just hung out with the staff. I remember all of us praying for him very often. Even in the summers after we prayed for him. And Joel has always kept me up with what was going on with Abdul. “Abdul became a Christian years after summer camp. Andrea says, “I realize that the summers I was there I did not see a lot of quick change, but Abdul becoming a believer- those stories continue to live on. That’s what I love hearing about and that’s why I love supporting Aliquippa. They are doing the really hard sowing and not always seeing a whole lot of reaping. So when they do see reaping it’s amazing, and spectacular, and very miraculous. You can see the difference in individuals. It may not change an entire city overnight, but you saw in specific people each summer that God was moving in their hearts. “