Dani Kocur is in her sixth year on staff at Fortress. Her passion for seeing our kids grow and thrive spiritually began during her tenure as a summer counselor at Camp of the Hills, and that passion has only become stronger as she serves at Fortress.
As an administrator at Fortress, I mostly work behind-the-scenes coordinating events, communicating with volunteers, and overseeing our programs. I love being in this role, but I still cherish those rare moments where I get to work directly with our kids. That’s why for the better part of five years, I’ve readily volunteered to run our reward store, lead summer worship, and drive our kids down to Camp of the Hills. These small roles give me the opportunity to see the big impact we get to make in the lives of the at-risk kids we serve in the near southeast side of Fort Worth.
One of our kids’ most anticipated activities each year is spending a week in the beautiful Texas Hill Country outside of Marble Falls. Camp of the Hills is a ministry dedicated to revealing and glorifying Jesus Christ by providing life-changing experiences for inner-city children. I had the pleasure of serving as a counselor there for three years before I came to Fortress, and I saw first-hand how a week at camp can be so powerful for a child. Now, I am blessed to see the impact it leaves on the hearts and minds of our kids after they return home.
We have one young man at Fortress who is tough. He’s not mean; in fact, he’s got the sweetest heart. But he does have more energy to spend in one day than most people can muster in a month. I’m not saying that we look forward to putting him on the bus to Camp for one week out of the year, but it does happen to be a lot quieter in the building the week that he’s gone. His name is very well-known at Camp for the same reason it is at Fortress. For the last three years I’ve gotten a phone call a couple of weeks before we’re supposed to bring the kids. “Is our friend coming this summer?” the camp director asks me, followed by, “We’ve been praying for him by name. I know exactly which cabin he’s going to be in. His counselors can’t wait to spend time with him.” Then, for that one week, that boy gets more attention, more love, more patience, and more one-on-one time that we could ever possibly give him full-time at Fortress. And for the rest of the year he asks, “When do we go back to Camp?” He encounters the love of Jesus there in a way that cannot be replicated. He is INSPIRED to be all he can be by those counselors who prayed for him by name before he arrived and continue to love and pray for him long after he leaves.
The reward store at Fortress is such a small part of our program, but it is one of ways I see the most growth in our kids. Every two weeks, they get a “paycheck” from Fortress for going to their classes and completing their work, just like they would for a real job. Then, like they would in the real world, they visit the Bank of Fortress and have the opportunity to either spend or save their paycheck. We offer little items for purchase, such as small toys, candy, books, and school supplies. Most of the kids can get two or three of these items with every paycheck. But we also have bigger items for sale, including scooters, sports equipment, art sets, and electronics. The most popular things we offer are the field trips, which include trips to the movies, out to eat, and even an outing to see a Ranger’s game.
Because most of our kids are growing up in generational poverty, they just don’t have the opportunity to learn how to save. When your family is surviving day-by-day, why would you even consider that as an option? The reward store allows us to introduce this concept to our kids and to incentivize it in a way that is realistic. Every time our kids put their money into their Fortress savings account, they earn interest, and we talk about how their money grows and grows. Our older kids even do the math on how much interest they’ll earn by saving! In 2015, an impressive 94% of our kids chose to save their entire paycheck at least once, and 32% of all the money earned was saved for a bigger and better reward. Most impressive this past year was 3rd grader Omar who saved virtually all of his paychecks; he ended up getting to go on every single field trip we offered last year! He was INSPIRED by the new concepts he was taught in the reward store, and as a result he has begun to develop healthy lifelong habits.
If you ever have a chance to join us for worship at Fortress (every Thursday during after-school and every afternoon in the summer), I can guarantee it will give you a tiny glimpse of what Heaven will sound like someday. Our kids LOVE to sing, and they do so beautifully. During worship, Zac sits in the back and lays down a beat on the floorboards. The littlest ones sway and hum in the front, barely able to keep up with the words on the screen. A little giggling here and there, but mostly innocent hearts worshipping in a way that seems both naïve and unimaginably authentic at the same time.
The first time I understood what worship really is happened on an otherwise unremarkable summer day when I watched a young girl, eyes closed, face scrunched up in deep thought, cry out the words: “And if our God is for us, then who could ever stop us? And if our God is with us, then what could stand against?” This little girl’s life was in upheaval. She was living in circumstances she neither chose nor deserved, and she had no reason to have faith or hope in a fair and loving God. And yet she praised Him with abandon. She was moved by the Spirit, INSPIRED by the inherent goodness of her God.
These are only a few of the big impacts being made in the little moments at Fortress. How many more kids like these could we INSPIRE this upcoming year? A sponsorship of $70.91 a month (or $850.92 annually) allows a Fortress child to have a mentor, an after-school snack and dinner, Bible lab, summer camp, art class and reward store. Our kids count on Fortress, and they deserve every opportunity we can offer them. Help us make more of these little moments possible in 2016.