Monday, December 29, 2008

A Vision for Changing the World One Neighborhood, Family & Young Person At A Time

The Hope of Development

I hope you have had a great Christmas and that this finds your heart full of hope for the coming year.

One of the inherent messages that runs through the Christmas and even New Year’s holidays is the necessity and promise of change. To go a step farther, the two holidays fill most of our hearts with the hope of positive change. Whether we focus on the birth of a Messiah who comes to deliver us from our weaknesses and pain or the birth of a brand new year with 365 days of brand new opportunities, we are touching the idea that things are going to change…and for the better.

The idea of positive change for me is wrapped up in the word “development.” Our modern English word “development” comes from an old English world “desveloper” with the prefix des meaning “undo” and the veloper part of the word meaning “wrap up.” When you combine the two meanings, the old word suggested the idea of “unrolling” or “unfolding.” The word “development” has come to mean the act or process of developing, growth or progress.

What I most like about the idea of development and this concept of growth is that it indicates hunger for change and a willingness to admit that things can and need to get better. I find this concept of positive change attractive because so much of what we see around us is not attractive at all. From my perspective, we do need things to change and grow.

A World That Needs Development

We live in a world that is full of promise, potential and beauty. It is however imperfect and is infected with significant threats, most of which proceed out of simple human selfishness. Everything that has life in it grows. In a positive environment, things grow into what they were made to be. In toxic or negative environments, things grow in malformed or unhealthy ways. They grow into being damaged.

Young people today are growing up in communities that are a mix of both positive and negative ingredients. While there is so much good in the world, the majority of young people are growing up receiving less than they need in order to be developed into healthy adults. There are no perfect families in perfect communities producing perfect young people with thriving hearts and lives. Sadly, more and more families and communities are damaged and therefore produce underdeveloped or damaged young people. Damaged young people grow into being damaged adults who become damaged/damaging parents and community members. Those who grow up without receiving all that they were made to receive grow with a hole in their heart that causes them pain. Their pursuit of filling that hole and ending that pain many times drives them to use, consume and abuse others. They become negative youth developers.

The world is full today of negative youth developers - damaged parents & communities, drug addicts and dealers, gang leaders and members, seductive teenagers wooing insecure other teenagers into high risk behavior, pedophiles, greedy marketers, negative media sources, pimps, negligent caregivers, child abusers and on and on and on and on. Every corner in every neighborhood of every city across the globe reflects this reality even as you read these words. Sadly, their existence ensures a damaged next generation that will go on to do even more damage. Things are going to get worse unless we do something today.

On the other hand, imagine if we could twist the situation. Imagine if damage could give way to development.

Imagine if our cities were teeming with well-developed young people coming out of loving, healthy families. The socio-economic impact would change our communities and world on levels that we cannot even fully grasp. Young people with full hearts, educated minds and active hands and feet would walk out into forming healthy families, healthy neighborhoods and healthy communities. They would become amazing employees that would together build world-changing companies, governments and employers. They would turn compassionately to reach out and extend their hands to those hurting within their communities. As a result, poverty would be dramatically lessened and the cycle of damage creating damage would be replaced by health producing health. This is the vision of development that has to drive us. Certainly, we will never see this happen on such storybook levels as in the words above, however, the more we fight towards that end, the better things will be.

So How Do We Do It & What Do We Do?

A beautiful dream or vision that cannot be realized is, quite honestly, a nightmare. No one likes to be teased. Development, though, is not a pie in the sky painting of an unreachable reality. It is an very possible process of growth that can be engaged today.

The word “development” first requires us to admit that we are not where we can be. This is easy to nod our heads to but harder to walk out. Governments must admit that they are doing things wrong. Elected officials must acknowledge ignorance which requires risking vulnerability. Fathers & mothers have to face their fears that they are not perfect fathers and mothers. Pastors and priests, social workers and social scientists all have to admit that they do not know yet as much as they will need to know to walk forward. Each of us has to open our hands and let go of the truths that have brought us this far in order to grasp onto the truths we will need for tomorrow. Humility must replace insecurity and pride.

The process of development then asks us to do an even more difficult thing which is to work hard, open our hearts and look for the real answers required to bring about real and lasting development. We cannot be lazy and we cannot settle for quick, shallow answers that win funding or impress voters. We must look for answers that produce results.

I would ruin this piece if I were to try to end this with some kind of detailed prescription for all that this process will take. I do not have these answers in their entirety. No one does. This process will require collaboration and a process of discovery. I will, however, go so far as to give some things that do appear to be parts of the equation.

We will need to learn and turn to develop young people if we are to develop our communities. Young people are malleable and can be developed more easily. Just as a child can learn new languages faster than an adult, so can they learn new behaviors more quickly and more profoundly. This is not to say that we cannot or should not develop older individuals but just that developing people when they are young is and always will be the best time to develop them.

We will need to learn from those who are currently being successful at developing young people. This will certainly be controversial but we will need to stop trying to develop young people from an institutional, programmatic approach and transition into a relational, community based approach. Gangs, dealers and extremist groups get this. We must get it more deeply than they do and replace them.

Recently, I asked for a meeting with a drug dealer in downtown San Jose, Costa Rica. I told him that I led a non-profit organization that worked with young people and that I needed his help. He was an expert at reaching young people in San Jose while I was a novice, in comparison. I wanted him to talk to me and teach me so that I could help them and I told him that maybe I could even help him in the process. He sat down on a bench in front of Costa Rica’s National Theater and spilled out his techniques. He told me that on weekends in downtown Costa Rica, his group would fill a hotel room with massive quantities of drugs and then invite the street kids in for a weekend of free drugs. At the end of the weekend, the street kids would walk out of the hotel rooms as addicts and soldiers who would then go out and work for the dealers, selling drugs for them in order to feed their own newfound habits.

I hope this story scares you as much as it did me. It also shows you why sitting and waiting at a youth center will never match what these dealers and other predatorial groups like them can accomplish as they GO TO the young people rather than waiting for the young people to COME TO them. We must develop teams that can go and work in neighborhoods rather than sitting in our offices and expecting young people to come to us.

We must build developmental gardens in every neighborhood of every city of the world. Young people are a product of the relationships they experience over the course of their lives. Good, healthy relationships produce healthy young adults. Negative, unhealthy relationships produce unhealthy young adults. A young person who grows up with two loving parents in a healthy, caring family that includes supportive siblings and extended family in the midst of caring and relational neighborhoods, school and community environments will grow up to thrive.

Unfortunately, it is only a very, very small percentage of young people in today’s world that will grow up in such an idyllic situation. Our fight in the midst of a broken world full of broken relationships and broken people will be fighting to do everything that we can to improve the relational gardens that young people grow up in.

Providing neighborhood classes on parenting as well as providing mentoring, tutoring and even sending in outreach teams that can connect and build positive relationships with young people and families in every neighborhood of every city across the globe is a first step in beginning to rebuild the relational gardens that young people are growing up in. We can no longer let the drug dealers stand on our corners and sit in our parks without having individuals capable of building positive development relationships there as well. It is humorous but true that it may be that the first people we should be developing are the dealers on the corner. By doing so, we eliminate them as a threat while also possibly equipping them to join us in the fight to create positive development.

I will stop here and look forward to your responses. In reality, we face a battle between self-interest, ignorance and apathy on one side and care, compassion and health on the other. You yourself will have to decide which of these will motivate you and on which side you line up. I hope that we get to fight together to walk out these words and many more that will proceed out of this conversation.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

How The Ball Rolls...

I have said quite a few times over the past six months that I believe that August 2008 to about February 2009 are a crucial time period for Boy With a Ball. I don't even know that I can quantify why in any kind of coherent way. It just seems like so much of what we have dreamed of prior to this is culminating in this moment for the organization and that so much of what is happening is laying a foundation for our dreams for tomorrow.

Boy With a Ball exists to develop young people. Young people across the world are pliable and waiting to be developed. Sadly, the predators and parasites of the world are the ones who are doing 90% of the developing of young people. Big charities like Big Brothers/Big Sisters send a suit-wearing businessman into a barrio or neighborhood for an hour once a week and then congratulate themselves while the drug dealers, gang leaders, pimps, pedophiles, bad parents and deviants hang out in every neighborhood of every city all day, all week, all year long.

Boy With a Ball exists to develop developers of young people. We develop teams that develop teams and the result is a mass grassroots movement of youth and family development sweeping across a city and transforming it.

This year has included the launch of a new website, the massive advance and development of our team in San Jose, Costa Rica, the training and relaunch of our team in San Antonio, Texas, the establishment of our international or global team and much more.

We began a corporate partnership with the Intel Corporation earlier this year and they are designing a web-based database for us that will be a massive help in allowing us to conduct our evaluation and measurement of how the young people and families we work with are being impacted.

Please take a minute to drop by the website at and tell us what you think.

Beyond Good Intentions...The New BWAB Video

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Changing the World is a Little Complicated

Making a difference is popular these days.

Everyone seems to want to save the earth or travel into another country for a week to "change someone's lives." I can identify with that desire completely. Maybe you are like me and you have walked out of a movie theater after watching some actor save the day or the world and you have wanted desperately to do the same.

What is surprising is how complicated actually trying to make a difference really is. I was walking through a squatter's settlement here in Costa Rica the other day and thinking about how really making an impact in someone's life requires so much more than most of us are prepared to give. It doesn't happen in two hours and, most of the time, there is little to no popcorn. This kind of work requires a significant cost including faith & hope.

Helping people requires time, vulnerability, failure, repetition, consistency, patience, endurance and a tremendous amount of hope. To help someone else change always requires change in me first. Lasting change requires small almost unnoticeable movements that no one else applauds or celebrates in the beginning. It requires the faith to believe that you are investing your life well over a long period of time in which you will see little to no positive results and usually just the opposite.

Walking Together into Making a Lasting Difference

I am not writing any of this to discourage you but actually to encourage you. The truth is that the desire in our hearts to help make a difference is not only noble but necessary. We were made to love, to care and to live lives of consequence. One of the greatest benefits in this journey will be the growth accomplished in our own hearts as we transcend our individual needs and learn each day to serve and love better.

One of the reasons that Boy With a Ball exists as a not-for-profit youth, family and community development organization is to provide people like yourself with the opportunity to make a difference by walking with us as partners in our work. Many of you have built beautiful lives in your hometowns, accomplished great things in the business world and then invested portions of your earnings in our work to help street kids and teen prostitutes in downtown San Jose, Costa Rica or gang members in San Antonio, Texas. Thank you for your help and for you faith and hope in our work to reach and equip young people and their families to be leaders capable of making a difference. I could not do what I do on a daily basis without you doing what you do daily. Together we are making a difference that I very much believe will endure.

The Brand New Boy With a Ball Website (

With all of that in mind, we have spent much of the year working with Canadian Web Designer Glenn Horning (thanks Glenn) to redesign Boy With a Ball's website in a way that would allow you to stay up to date on a weekly basis with what is happening within Boy With a Ball's teams. Please take just a moment to check it out today and then pass through the site each week to stay in contact with those you are helping us reach! In it you will find news, tools, photos, video and much more to keep you in the loop including an update on information for the Next Conference which will be held January 1-4, 2009 in San Antonio, Texas. Get in there and see how you like it all and fire us an email with tips and thoughts on how we can make it better.

What Could They Be? What Could We Be?

Developing young people would seem to be the easiest sell in the world.

Who wouldn't want to help a child or adolescent become all that they were made to be? What parent wouldn't want to see their own child fulfill their potential? What school administrator or teacher wouldn't want the same for the young people they care for?

The list goes on...what government officials and workers, aunts & uncles, police officers, social workers, politicians, grandparents, pastors and priests, siblings or local merchants wouldn't want to see the young people in their community thrive? After all, these young people are the future of all that we are currently building and fighting for. They are our progenitors, our legacy. Why wouldn't their development be important to us?

When you add to the equation that young people's vulnerability and the negative forces within our societies are currently wreaking havoc on the next generation, the question becomes even more poignant. Why wouldn't we care to help those who are hurting?

Even more crucially, why would we allow the future to be attacked and disabled without fighting for them? Why would we stand by and let the future of our communities be shaped and discipled so strategically and destructively by the drug dealers, the internet predators, the media profiteers, gang leaders and even by poverty itself?

Martin Luther King Jr. used to frequent the Edmund Burke quote saying, "All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."

Finding the Answers

Perhaps the greatest reason that we are currently being defeated in the battle for developing young people is less our apathy and our indifference than our own fear and confusion. We just don't know what to do or how to do it. We feel weak and without the capacity to help.

What if we could change that? What if we could commit one to another to do the work, to join hands and to find the answers we need to win the most important battle any generation can possibly face: the fight for the generation who will come after them.

Our Part in the Fight

Boy With a Ball exists as a non-profit organization to help families, schools, churches, governments, neighborhoods and young people themselves find these answers and put them into action. Our belief is that we can transform our countries, one young person, one family, one neighborhood, one community and one city at a time.

Our work in San Jose, Costa Rica and in San Antonio, Texas is helping us develop a deeper and deeper understanding of exactly how young people and their families can be developed most effectively.

Recently, Boy With a Ball began a formal partnership with the Intel Corporation. This partnership is a living one that will continue to grow as we identify more and more ways that our two organizations can work together to help equip communities to see their young people overcome high risk behaviors and thrive. We are thrilled to see what will come of this synergistic endeavor.

One important aspect of this push to see young people across the globe transformed is to see people like yourself drawn into the work. Please contact us at for ideas on how you can get involved within your own community or globally. I would like to thank all of you who have continued to invest in the young people Boy With a Ball is currently reaching and equipping through your continuous financial support. We could not do what we do without you.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Boy With a Ball's New Website - An Important New Tool

Working in community development involves a whole lot of bridge building. First of all, you have to walk into a community and do the ethnographical work of getting to know the people, the place, the strengths and weaknessess, assets and threats. All of this builds a bridge of understanding that can provide a basis for what comes next. Second, you have to find a way to build a bridge into these people's lives. This involves finding a way to be allowed to be present.

Sometimes we try handing out suckers in areas full of children, providing tutoring where school dropout rates are high or handing out coffee and cookies in downtown San Jose, Costa Rica where the community is filled with sex workers, addicts and homeless individuals. In San Antonio, our teams head to the basketball courts all through the weeks.

The next bridge to build is one that allows deeper relationships to form. This bridge is made up of mutuality, empathy and trust. As this step occurs, mentoring and small groups are built to serve as bridges that allow us to equip and educate the community members to be leaders capable of turning around their own neighborhoods.

One final interesting connection to bridge is between the world at large and the community we are developing. This has taken us a while to "get" but nonetheless we are getting it.

With that in mind, please take a moment to head to our brand new web site at This exciting new tool is a bridge between you and those we are working with. In the future, they will need you. They will need your prayers, your resources, your friendship and your ideas if they are to see their communities transformed and developed.

This website will be updated weekly with new photos, videos, podcasts and more and will even include a Boy With a Ball store in weeks to come.

Go ahead and walk across this virtual bridge and get to know these amazing people.


Monday, September 01, 2008

Back One Year Later

Well...almost a year went by without us making a single entry on this blog.
What a year it has been. As an organization and as a team we have seen more growth and development in our impact then we could have every imagined.

We do realize, however, that this has made us pretty bad bloggers! As a result, we are making some changes. On Wednesday, you will see our new web page spring up at our old address: This site is a big step forward in keeping you connected to all that is happening in our teams here in San Jose, Costa Rica as well as on the Southside of San Antonio, Texas, U.S.A. This site will be constantly updated to provide almost a newspaper-like feel that allows you to flow as part of the team.

Alongside this effort, this blog will now become a regular tool that we will use to do the same work as the website. We are even bringing in a new intern to head the effort.

So please help us by getting in here and asking questions, making comments and spreading the word about Boy With a Ball and our work in reaching and equipping young people. We very much need you.

See you in the next few days!

Jamie Johnson
Executive Director
Boy With a Ball