TJ Fletcher is our Community Relations Director, managing all of our programs at the Dream Center and finding new ministry partners who can serve the community we love. She is a proud Canadian, is married to her husband Kyle of 7 years, and has 3 boys, Cash, Caleb, and August. TJ’s story is the first of a series of blog posts where we not only introduce you to our staff but share why we are part of the dream.
The words that changed the course of my life and gave me hope for others:
“You’re going to have to work harder than anyone else and you don’t get to feel sorry for yourself.”
I was 15 and making poor teenage choices. Seems normal enough right? Except I didn’t have that liberty. I had no parental support. My sister and her roommates were my primary guardians so I wouldn’t end up in foster care. I had fooled the school system since 3rd grade, pretending I was my sister’s age so I could go to the same school as her and not be labeled as a homeless teen. I had an after-school job to pay rent and buy groceries, not for fun money like most teenagers. I lived on next-to-nothing and would eat tuna sandwiches for weeks at a time.
I often felt like no one cared about me and that I wouldn’t make it. My friends were my family. My heart and my mind were a minefield just waiting to blow if the wrong person stepped too close. I had baggage for days that I carried around with no clue how to get rid of.
So, when my youth pastor took me for coffee and sat me down to say he had heard I was partying and hanging out with questionable kids, he told me I needed to stop right away. The words he said impacted me so greatly that I’ve never forgotten them.
He told me that YES, my life sucked and it wasn’t fair but what was even less fair was that I had no time to feel sorry for myself. If I wanted to make it out, I had to work harder than anyone else around me. As the words sank in I kept thinking about how unfair it all was.
I was tired of being an adult. So tired. I just wanted to have fun and not worry about people hurting me, being hungry, or how I would succeed.
He told me that he would do whatever it took to help me get out, but that I could never be a victim. At the time I was really mad at him; I mean my life was awful and there he was telling me, “Too bad, you better suck it up buttercup.”
But he was right.
When you grow up in poverty and crisis and have secrets a mile wide before you even finish high school, you can’t afford even one slip-up. You start out on a slope and there is no net at the bottom to catch you.
The kids we work with at the West Nashville Dream Center have so many disadvantages just like I did. Before they are out of diapers they are subject to a path of giving up and allowing themselves to be victims. They are climbing up a slope of neglect, poverty, racial prejudices, abuse, lack of education, hunger, lack of resources, fatherlessness, and all sorts of trauma.
This is why I am part of the dream.
I know they can climb up that slope if they work harder than everyone else. Even though they deserve to feel sorry for themselves, if we can teach them to power through those thoughts they can make it out and see their full potential. I imagine being at the bottom of a mountain, rocks, and mud everywhere. All you can see is the distance and the work it will take to get where you want to be. But if you fight through the hard, you get to the top and your eyes are opened to a valley of beauty.
Potential is kind of like that. If our kids can fight up the mountain, their eyes will be wide open to see how much more potential their life can hold. There is nothing like winning to make you think you can win bigger and better the next time.
I love the song by Need to Breathe called “Hard Love.” It reminds me of how hard we have to fight for these kids and help them get back up again when they fall down.
We get back up together.
Trading punches with the heart of darkness / Going to blows with your fear incarnate / Never gone until it’s stripped away / A part of you has gotta die to change
In the morning you gon’ need an answer / Ain’t nobody gonna change the standard / It’s not enough to just feel the flame / You’ve gotta burn your old self away
Hold on tight a little longer / What don’t kill ya, makes ya stronger / Get back up, ’cause it’s a hard love / You can’t change without a fallout / It’s gon’ hurt, but don’t you slow down / Get back up, ’cause it’s a hard love
You know the situation can’t be right / And all you ever do is fight / But there’s a reason that the road is long / It takes some time to make your courage strong
When the wolves come and hunt me down / I will face them all and stand my ground / ‘Cause there’s a fire burnin’ in me / They will see my strength in this love I found
TJ recently received certification from the Katyn Purvis Institute of Child Development in Trust-Based Relational Intervention and plans to implement these tools at the Dream Center in the near future to further help the kids we serve find hope and healing. If you have questions for TJ or would like to talk more about how you can be part of the Dream, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.