Destinations, Feature Trips, Social Work, South Africa, twoOregonians Tour the Cape

Social Service Excellence: Kidstop At-Risk Youth Program

October 10, 2012

I think we found our favorite nightclub in South Africa.

After witnessing effective education and empowerment initiatives in action among men and women facing challenges of poverty and HIV/AIDS in George, South Africa, we followed our friend Laurie, an American rooted in the community for 22 years, into the nearby townships.

Rain fell on the streets of Thembalethu and Borcherds; gray skies collapsed on ramshackle structures.

Stories cried out from under every surface.



Colorful houses dotting the hillsides of Peru. Our visit to the far outskirts of Lima, where the forgotten live together under extended-family roofs and break backs and bread and experience more profound senses of “home” than you or I might ever know…


We pulled into the parking lot of an old nightclub where razor wire stood juxtaposed with welcome signs, and Laurie gazed out over the surrounding streets, pointing to neighboring homes where at-risk youth struggle to find their own foundations.

Late-afternoon sunshine pierced through the brooding clouds, and Laurie led us into the building to witness their after school program in action.


The after-school drop in center is provides youngsters and at-risk youth in the community with “two nutritious meals, clothes, life skills training, literacy classes, counseling, spiritual input and loving care.”

In a reclaimed nightclub.

I loved it!

Cornelius, a young leader and role model at Kidstop, speaking to the group of drop-in kids

Their mission is straightforward: community workers visit the neighborhoods daily, building relationships with kids on the street, inviting them to the drop-in center. They identify youngsters who have fallen or are likely to fall through the cracks at home and in the schools and make the way to link them with reading and writing programs, social workers, community resources, and they facilitate strengthening family ties whenever possible.

Wonderful staff and volunteers like Betty juggle responsibilities of preparing meals and loving on the kids

Cornelius finished his lesson for the kids and soon there were shrieks and laughs and pounds of running feet.

We weren’t there to volunteer or offer an outsider’s helping hand. Ted and I simply observed with open eyes and listened with open ears, excited to hear stories from a community fully engaged in helping its own.


More Flashbacks.

Kids running every which way, strewing bicycles and skate boards and scooters around the apartment complex parking lot, blowing bubbles and yelling names, crying over bruised feelings and smiling over first-time visits to vegetable gardens. Our life at the transitional housing project before departing Oregon to see the world…


Okay, yes, we were there to observe…but with all the excitement in the room, we couldn’t help but say hello and play for a bit!

We shared the camera and swapped names and smiles.

We heard stories of progress and change, stories like the one of this fellow below: an at-risk child who grew up to serve as a gifted adult helping children navigate the very same road he walked…

The girl second from the left? Jacqueline. Tall and thin, bright eyes. Pink shirt, pink headscarf, pink cheeks. Two siblings in tow. Seventeen years old: a ninth grader. Since connecting with Kidstop, she’s returned to school and is working hard, carrying burdens on her shoulders, but now sharing the load with people feeding hope and love into her life.

Truthfully, we were in and out of these kids’ day in the blink of an eye. We didn’t have time to really connect with more than one or two, but I’ll treasure this picture, knowing it represents legitimate, deeply invested work of local leaders serving to meet the needs of youth in their own community.

In the previous post, I mentioned the quote:

“We know the problems. We need to spend our time talking about the solutions.

No matter where you are in the world, these are the solutions to the problems.

The brilliant light-bulb over the head is not about givers moving overseas to solve foreign problems, it’s about women and men planted in their own communities, willing to give their concern and affection, willing to love and serve their very own neighbors.

For more thoughts on social work at home and abroad: What to Do with Open Eyes

This post is part of our €œtwoOregonians Tour the Cape series featuring quintessential and offbeat South African experiences, one-of-a-kind accommodations and beautiful B&Bs, respectful wildlife programs, social service projects, and landscape photography from the South African Cape.

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  • Reply Hogga October 10, 2012 at 11:00 pm

    Incredible… so glad there are people like that out there making a difference!

    • Reply Bethany ~ twoOregonians October 12, 2012 at 10:24 am

      Hey! Thanks for reading. It really is so encouraging to find stories like these around the world…

  • Reply Heather October 12, 2012 at 9:04 am

    Sometimes I really miss those constant knocks on our door for tennis rackets, friendship, and reassurance that someone cares. It’s good to see hope growing, even if it’s just for a moment in a strange place :)

    • Reply Bethany ~ twoOregonians October 12, 2012 at 9:54 am

      Me, too! I hope that some of the seeds planted during those hours and days and weeks and months with all the kids and their families will somehow manage to take root and grow. I find myself returning to the memories frequently… It feels like forever ago and yesterday all at once : )

  • Reply Susan Buck October 16, 2012 at 2:42 am

    Sis, your poignant closing remark reminded me of a time when I was struggling with thinking maybe I missed God’s plan because I was still home in the Willamette Valley and not “on the mission field” as dad and I imagined when we married. A few days later a little girl’s mom told me about how, that same night I had been lamenting, her daughter had been so “funny” including me when she was praying for missionaries because the girl considered me a missionary to home school families. I cried and thanked God and I’ve never forgotten how our first call to serve others is our neighbors, close to home. You put it beautifully in your post, too. I really needed that reminder today. Thanks for thoughtful, balanced, hopeful yet challenging commentary, AMEN!

    • Reply Bethany ~ twoOregonians October 16, 2012 at 7:02 pm

      Thanks, Mom. I’m glad you appreciated it. I was really convicted when I looked over my shoulders at the transitional housing project in Portland and realized we were *already* living in the crazy world of travel to foreign cultures – it just happened to be a single zipcode away, and not across the border… : )

  • Reply It's The People. - twoOregonians January 7, 2013 at 12:23 pm

    […] many names and lovely hearts from our visit to Kidstop: Katie, Phulama, Nadia, Leisle, Betty, Judy, Cornelius, Greg, Jacqueline… Jacqueline in […]

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