With so much negativity and violence going on in the world, I thought it would be an opportune time to take a look at someone who is making a positive change. According to the results of this year’s Best of Lancaster survey, that person is … JOSE JIMENEZ
“This is not a stepping stone to a greater thing. This is the greater thing.”
Jose Jimenez, Director of Teen Haven
HELP & HOPE
Jose Jimenez arrived in Lancaster when he was 8-years old. His mother and father were transplants from Massachusetts. On their second day in Lancaster, Jose’s father was arrested and incarcerated on drug charges. Jose and his mother were now homeless and turned to the Water Street Mission; Jose, then a third grader, found solace in the Mission’s youth center. “I grew up here at the youth center. It was an influential part of my life through my childhood and teenage years,” says Jose, who recently celebrated his 35th birthday.
He considered Teen Haven his safe place. “This was home,” Jose says. “The youth center is home.”
His father bounced in and out of jail. In fifth grade and living in a house, Jose’s life was twisted again when a police raid turned up drugs. After six years in prison, his father returned for Jose’s junior year of high school, only to be sent back almost immediately for another five years.
Jose’s mentors from the Mission were the ones who congratulated him on getting his driver’s permit; they were the ones who attended his graduation. “One of those counselors was Jack Crowley. Today he’s the president of the Water Street Mission,” Jose notes.
After he graduated from McCaskey High School in 1999, Jose returned to the youth center for what he imagined would be his last time, but instead he was offered a summer job. Fifteen years later, Jose is now the director of Teen Haven, the Mission’s program for middle and high school students. “As a kid, I was able to see what adults did well and what they did not do well,” he explains. “I was definitely a hurting kid.”
INVEST & INSPIRE
“Ninety percent of the kids who come to our door come from broken homes,” Jose points out. “There’s not a lot of hope.”
In an effort to instill hope, the faith-based, nonprofit organization offers a variety of programs for students. During the week, the center holds Life Club in the evenings. Tuesday Night is boy’s night when more than 50 students typically come to the center. “All they want to do is play basketball,” Jose observes. “We believe this is a safe place for them. When we talk, we talk about life and what really matters. We share the Gospel and have a heart-to-heart with them.”
Wednesday is a co-ed night of middle school students. On Thursday, high school girls arrive for Café Night and other themed events. “We spend most of our time investing in young leaders. Our primary focus is leadership development,” Jose remarks.
The Restore Leadership program offers 30 to 40 students per year the opportunity to work closely with a counselor and the Teen Haven team. Most of the team members are alumni from the program, helping to mold the future members of the adult community. The program enables participants to develop hope and discover self-worth. “We first focus on their worth, their value, their purpose” says Jose.
This approach allows the kids to focus on what they want in life and avoid “mixed messages,” which they may get from pop culture and peer pressure. He aims to create trust and provide a safe, fun atmosphere so everyone feels like family.
The program’s name, Restore, comes from the book of Isaiah in which God promises restoration.
“The home is broken – for whatever reason – and we need to restore that,” says Jose, who relies heavily on his own faith to perform his tasks at Teen Haven. “Through my faith, I am able to love. Love all people,” he states. “I’m able to love people who are broken, who are hurting. My faith is the center of what I do and why I do it with so much passion.”
CROWNS & CASH
“Every child needs a father in their life,” Jose emphasizes. The Princess Experience, which is aimed at girls ages 14 and up, does just that, if only for one magical night. The focus of this 5-week course is on self-worth, self-value, and the love of a father. Near the end of the program, participants go shopping for dresses to wear to the Princess Experience Ball. As part of the experience, the girls are whisked to a salon for hair and makeup. They also receive tiaras before heading to the Eden Resort via limousine. At the Eden, they are met by their fathers or father figures.
“There are times when a girl does not have a father,” Jose explains. “One of our staff members will step in and be the representative for them. It’s a surprise. It’s just something amazing that takes place here.”
The $6,000 event is paid for through private donors. “Water Street does a great job of sharing the stories of our successes,” Jose notes. “People see the value of what we are doing here.”
Beyond Teen Haven, the Mission aims to provide “life-changing care to homeless men, women and families in Lancaster County” through hot meals, support and shelter. The Mission serves 400 meals each day. A drop down bar on the Mission’s donation page (wsm.org/make-an-impact/donate) allows tax-deductible contributions to be marked for specific Mission work, like Teen Haven.
“My heart is for these young ones to grow and become great leaders,” Jose says.
Just like he has. The turning point for him came when he was 17 years old. He could choose to be bitter and blame his parents for his difficult childhood. “Or, I can be better,” he says. “Even at 17 years old, I said to myself, ‘I’m going to be a great father one day.’”
Jose has achieved that goal. The husband and father of two children is “dad” to many more. “I am a family man. My goal is to be the greatest father,” Jose elaborates. “These youngsters need to see what a healthy relationship is … my job is to model what it is to be a father.”
Teen Haven. 210 S. Prince St., Lancaster. 393-2716. Teenhaven.org.