(VO) She doesn’t stick out. Gray hoodie. Backpack. High-tops. You probably wouldn’t be able to find her in the afterschool crowd at Frederick Douglass High School—unless you really knew who you were looking for.
(VO) Fortunately, someone is always looking for Kya Holmes.
(NAT) “Hello there!”
(Kya) Not everyone has someone that can look after them. But to me, Mrs. Pascha is like my second mother.
(VO) Today—a Tuesday—Kya will tell Mrs. Pascha how her history project is stressing her out.
(NAT) (Pascha) Y’all are going to knock it out. (Kya) Hopefully. (Pascha) You will. You will.
(VO) And she’ll tell her how four of her classmates were arrested for rape.
(NAT) (Pascha) Oh! I’m sorry. I know y’all hear and see enough.
(VO) Sitting in afterschool traffic on Fulton Avenue in West Baltimore, this is what Kya and Pascha do. They talk about their neighborhood… and they talk about everything but their neighborhood.
(NAT) (Pascha) … those boots are cute!
(Pascha) I loved growing up here. But I know you can’t choose what home you’re born in. You can’t choose what country you’re born in. You can’t choose what neighborhood you’re born in. And West Baltimore—it’s not an easy place to be. It’s not.
(VO) “Stories of Hope” is a podcast about people who meet needs, build relationships, and change lives.
(VO) In this episode…
(Pascha) Their worth is based on what they look like… how much they weigh… how many curves they have.
(VO) … the lies little girls hear…
(Pascha) No. That’s not the way God sees you.
(VO) This is the story of what happened when one lady decided girls in West Baltimore needed someone to tell them the truth.
(Pascha) When you think about seeing yourself the way the Lord sees you and knowing how much Jesus loves you—when you can’t see that around you, imagine it.
(VO) This is Stories of Hope. Today’s episode: Imagine Me.
(VO) Third period at Calverton Middle School is as peaceful as any place in West Baltimore will ever be. The classrooms are full, but the hallways are empty. So empty in fact, that when Pascha Lee passes one little girl clutching a hall pass…
(NAT) (whispers) Hello…
(VO) … a library whisper feels appropriate.
(VO) Pascha is not a teacher. She’s a 30-something pastor’s wife who just happens to have her own bejeweled and bedazzled, Skittles-colored classroom at a public school.
(NAT) (unlocking door) (Pascha) Welcome to the Imagine Me room—yay!
(Pascha) It’s in the school, but it looks nothing like a classroom, and that’s the goal. It’s like this escape. The walls are pink, purple, green, and yellow. And then you have a sofa. And oh, the carpet—it’s yellow, pink, purple, and orange. And then you have bean bags—green and purple bean bags. So, it’s just cute. It’s super girly.
(VO) Even before the lunch bell stops ringing, they are lined up at Pascha’s door.
(NAT) Y’all alright? Y’all sad?
(VO) One dozen teenage, middle-school girls.
(NAT) You ok sugar? You sure?
(VO) They come here one day a week to get some love…
(NAT) Kayla—your hair looks cute Kayla.
(VO) … and learn some lessons about life and other important things.
(NAT) Ok, let’s do our journal time!
(VO) This is called Imagine Me.
(Pascha) The name really summarizes what the ministry is, because growing up in Baltimore city, you have to imagine a lot. And it shouldn’t be that because you’re here, this is all you know and this is all you will know. God created a big world and I don’t know it exists unless someone shows it to me.
(NAT) (Pascha) We’re gonna finish our vision boards…
(VO) Today, they make posters—each one a riff on the theme—“what I want to be when I grow up”. And while the girls sit at tables or sprawl out on the floor—surrounded by scissors and markers and waist-high stacks of old magazines…
(NAT) Oh—look at that! Pretty, pretty!
(VO) Pascha works the room like a proud parent.
(NAT) (Pascha) Charlese is excited about these photos—why are you excited about these photos? (Charlese) Because I dance at the Baltimore City School of the Arts. (Pascha) So her dream is to become a professional dancer—and what are you going to do now that’s going to help you accomplish that goal?
(VO) Every week, every girl at Imagine Me must answer that same question. Then—and only then—will they move on to what’s next…
(NAT) Think about that as you’re creating your bridges…
(VO) Women from a nearby engineering firm show the girls how to build a bridge out of toothpicks…
(NAT) After you’re done building your bridge, we’re going to test it and see how strong it is.
(VO) … and then they show them how to power a clock with a potato.
(NAT) (girl) It works! What?! (laughter)
(VO) Female engineers who make miracles with potatoes and toothpicks are always star performers at Imagine Me… but the best miracles don’t happen inside Pascha Lee’s rainbow-colored public school classroom.
(Pascha) We understand we can’t proselytize at the school, but God is creative. He creates these atmospheres that draw questions—questions and “hmm’s”.
(VO) The best miracles happen when one lady and one Imagine Me girl sit together in afterschool traffic, or get their nails done, or paint pottery… and talk about nothing and everything.
(NAT) (Pascha) Oh, this is cute, it’s like a cabinet thing (Kya) Oh yeah, that is cute…
(VO) From seventh grade to adulthood, every one of the twenty to thirty girls enrolled in Imagine Me is paired with a lady from a local church. Pascha has mentored Kya Holmes for seven years.
(Kya) I always wanted to have that place where I can go and talk to someone about anything that was going on with home. So, in sixth grade, I started in Imagine Me. And I feel like I have grown so much just by being in the presence of Mrs. Pascha. The bad things, the good things, she’s going to hear it. It can be personal stuff, it can be college stuff, school stuff, home, anything. She’s going to hear everything.
(NAT) (Pascha) Is she going to prom? Are you going to prom? (Kya) Yes I am. (Pascha) Are you taking Talik?
(VO) When you hear everything, it’s easier to bring up important things. That’s what happened several years ago when Pascha invited Kya to the church she and her husband were starting.
(Kya) I kept saying “I’m going to come, I’m going to come.” So, one Sunday, I went up there. And after the service had went on, they have this section at the end where they speak, like, “If you’re ready to give your life to Christ, this is the time for it.” And I’m like, “Why wait? Why not do it right now—this is what I want to do. Why not change your life right now?”
(Pascha) It makes me emotional thinking about it. Her friend Shae who is an Imagine Me girl, she comes—she accepts Christ, and they get baptized. Then comes Kya’s mom—she accepted Jesus Christ as her Savior. Then comes Kya’s dad. He accepted Christ. Then her friend—her name is Miracle. Then comes Miracle’s father. Then comes Miracle’s brothers…
(VO) It kept going—on, and on, and on. Kya Holmes—the girl who’d still probably never stick out in the afterschool crowd at Frederick Douglass High School—made a decision that set off a community-wide chain reaction.
(NAT) Alright, I can’t let you all see Mrs. Pascha cry so we’re going to get in our prayer circle and do our circle time…
(VO) Years later, that chain reaction is still going strong every Tuesday at Calverton Middle School. Listen and you can see it.
(NAT) Father, in the name of Jesus we thank you for this time, we thank you for this day, and every hand and heart that’s in this circle…
(VO) When sixth-grade girls and middle-aged mentors hold hands and pray, everyone remembers they’re doing just what Kya Holmes did seven years ago. And now they don’t have to imagine quite so hard to picture what a little girl from West Baltimore might grow up to be.
(NAT) Continue to encourage and inspire and remind them that they are fearfully and wonderfully made. And we pray that we leave here encouraged and inspired to see what the end is going to be. In Jesus’ name, Amen… Amen!
(VO) This has been “Stories of Hope” from Send Relief. Today’s episode… Imagine Me”.
(VO) You and your church can meet needs, build witnessing relationships, and change the lives of young people living in communities like West Baltimore. Go to send-relief-dot-org to find out how. To learn more about what Imagine Me does and how they do it, you can visit them at imagine-me-mentor-dot-org.
(VO) And join us in two weeks for another episode of “Stories of Hope.”