#misfits, adolescent, church, community, organizational strategy, purpose, students, systems, team building, Uncategorized



Showing appreciation for others is a big deal. Whether it is a pat on the back, a high-five, or an award, valuing the work that others do is important for an organization to flourish. These tokens of appreciation go a long way in building relationships, rapport, trust, loyalty and investing in the emotional bank accounts of your team. Many people have the misconception that appreciation is linked to finances. It can be, but demonstrating appreciation goes further than a buck or two.

Appreciation, and honoring, people doesn’t just go from the bottom position of an organization to the top. It has be invasive of the culture in which you are a part of. How you appreciate the low-rung on the ladder speaks volumes to those looking to be a part of what your organization is doing. Here are few things to think about in showing appreciation to those who are getting their hands dirty with you to improve the lives of youth.

Make it personal

Finding out what your youth workers love to do in their off time is a great way to show appreciation. Maybe it is letting them leave an extra hour or two from work, or getting them a movie ticket, or putting the playoffs, or the big match, on  in the meeting room. When working with volunteers, I often ask them what their love language is so that I can best show appreciation. Some of the things I have done is babysat the kids of the leaders so they could do a date night with their spouse, we’ve done giant dog piles, talked them up in a big meeting and or simply wrote them a thank you. Look for ways to honor the people that are working alongside you in a way that makes it personal to them.

Make it fun

Fun is a core value that can change the atmosphere of your organization. Making the way you appreciate people fun is part that. Rent out giant soccer, get lunch catered, buy a dozen donuts, or have a wacky clothes day. Do a big awards ceremony for your staff and volunteers (watch the Office episode about the Dundies for inspiration). When fun is involved in how you appreciate youth workers, it creates excited, generates momentum and establishes culture.

Make it part of the culture

When you begin to show value to the people that are part of your team it becomes a catalyst for great things to happen. People get more excited for the work they do, they begin to form bonds between one another and are willing to go that extra mile. When you lead by appreciating others, that same attitude spreads to others  and builds momentum for a great environment to be a part of.  Make appreciation a part of the culture by doing it routinely and publicly.  Before you dive into staff meetings, take a moment to recognize people and for others to do the same. Throw a party!

Do the people on your team feel valued and cared for? How do you know? What can you do today to help show them that you appreciate all the they do to impact the lives of youth?

Partner Up!




Someone once told me that “if your dreams don’t require you to ask for someone else’s help, then your dreams aren’t big enough.”

You should want to, and have to, partner with people to accomplish the purposes you have for your group, the youth you work with and even for yourself personally. Finding those partners can be hard, especially finding people whose purpose and passion go to the same beat as yourself. They are out there though, simply waiting for you to say “hey.” Here are some ideas that I have used to created networks of people and organizations to partner with.

Find/Build a Network

Most cities have networks and organizations that all have a similar goal: to see youth succeed. Start by joining one of them. Share your ideas, what is working for you and see what other organizations are doing in the community. See where you can step up to help others and create partnerships with specific organizations to help you meet the needs of your own. In the rare case that a network doesn’t already exist, build it. Find the niche that you are looking to fill and connect with others through word of mouth, research and reaching out.

Who is Running With You?

Who are the people that are keeping up with you, or even in front of you, as you champion for youth? Find those people and buy them coffee. See what they hope to achieve in their work and encourage one another along the way.

How can I help You?

Partnerships are about give and take. Make sure you are giving just as much as you are asking of others. Step up for others, be professional, help others to win in their projects and programs and soon you will be too. Don’t expect others to show up for you when you’re consistently too busy to step up yourself. Have a mindset of helping others succeed and you’ll find that your own success is coming along as well.


As you work there will be opportunities for various events or programs that you won’t be perfect for. It may not be the best fit for a variety of reasons. However, I bet you know someone that would love that opportunity. When you partner with people you help set others up to be successful, you make introductions for others that help them open up new doors in their work and lives. After all we are all on the same team.

Partnering with people can be so much fun. You’ll find some new friends, achieve amazing things and have fun along the way. Look out for one another, support one another and always be looking for ways to help someone else out.


#misfits, adolescent, community, purpose, students, Uncategorized


The way we think about youth today matters. People are inclined to either view youth as an asset or as a liability.

This thinking can be considered to be either from the perspective of strengths or deficits. This small difference can change how we interact, serve and work with youth. It can be a challenging concept but think about the past week, how have you seen the youth you work with? 

Seeing youth as assets, and creating environments and conversations based on the strengths of the students allows youth to find a greater joy, peace and sense of self then just looking at their deficits and the things that are not working for them. Even the things that youth lack become an opportunity for better relationships, growth and learning than simply a problem.

If we ask people to examine our own lives they are sure to find deficits, things that are missing, ways that we have failed, and our less honorable moments.  A different, strength-based, approach creates a sense of personal accomplishment, looks at the relationships of youth and allows youth to develop in a way that helps them build grit in order to overcome the challenges of life. This distinction is the lens in which we choose to see the world.

When you choose to interact with youth, and even their families, through the lens of their strengths it changes the attitudes and perspectives of those involved. There is now hope where things once looked bleak. There is new life, because someone has decided to look for the strengths where others missed the opportunity. Youth are able to engage in the world around them in a positive manner, they can see what is going well for them, they feel competent to accomplish tasks and meet expectations, and allows the relationship between adult and youth to be a positive one.

There are three basic ideas when we shift perspective to the strengths of youth:

  1. All youth have strengths
  2. All youth can be motivated by a caring adult
  3. Just because something is not a strength, does not mean it is a deficit, it is an opportunity

Here are some great questions to start asking youth in order to look through the lens of their strengths:

  1. What is working well?
  2. If you said one good thing about yourself, what would it be?
  3. What do you like most about your friends? Why?
  4. How do you think your friends would describe you?
  5. Who is someone you look up to? Why do you like them?
  6. What do you do to blow off steam?
  7. What is life like when you are most at peace?
  8. What gives you energy?
  9. How have you overcome the challenges in life?
  10. What is one thing you can do that would help improve _______ in your life?

Youth are more capable then we realize. However, during life it takes caring adults to help show them their strengths, not just berate them on failures. The conversations you get to have with youth as you walk through life with them helps to reinforce that they belong somewhere, that they are significant, that they have something to offer the world, and they are worthy of love.


Hitting the Curve



The ability to roll with the punches that life throws at you is an undervalued skill. When trying to undertake some venture there will ALWAYS be curveballs. I think of the movie ‘Major League’ and slugger Pedro Cerrano. He could crush the fastball, but whiffed at hitting the curveball.

For many of us we are able to hit the fastball well, the expected things that come up, the things we have planned for. What sets people apart is the ability to hit the curveball, to adapt and crush it even when the our perfect plans seem to fall apart.

I have experienced so many curveballs in my life, from the day to day to major life shifting ones. I don’t hit them all, but I have come up with a “go-to” strategy when something does come up.


   Breathing is a huge thing for me. It helps me to get rid of any extra emotions. Those pent up frustrations, worries or anxieties that can hit like a 250lb middle linebacker. Simply breathing helps me to refocus my energies into what I can control.

The Questions

   After I have refocused I go through a series of questions. These questions help me to bridge between my feelings and the next step. They are something like this:


What can I control?

Why does this change the plan?

Why am I______ (frustrated, anxious, disappointed, etc.)?

(Then, I take a moment to reflect on this quote from the wise man, Mike Tyson: “Everyone has a plan, ‘till they get punched in the mouth.”)

What is the biggest win I can still accomplish?

What do I need to do to accomplish it?


New Game Plan

    Then I begin to piece together the fragments of my former plan, assess what resources I still got and look for a new game plan that accomplishes the most possible outcome. I freak out sometimes, and I don’t always get it right. You won’t either. Learn from the past mistakes to help you plan for the future. Be flexible, learn to adapt on the fly and roll with the punches. Soon, you’ll hit the curveball.




Community is vital for our live to thrive. We need people to walk through life with, laugh with, cry with and challenge us to be the best version of ourselves. It can be messy and there can be tough conversations. Yet, through the highs and lows of community we can firmly say, “worth it.”

I get excited for opportunities to spend time with people who have similar life trajectories, values and passions. I also love spending time with those that vary from my own, but there is something wholly unique about dreaming and planning with people who are on the same page as you are. 

For me, community happens at the Orange Conference.  I get to spend time with people who make me laugh, grow and scheme about how to take over the world. Orange offers a place for people who value young people, parents, and entire communities to come together in community. 

Every year, I mark this conference as my go too event. I take off work, hustle rides, and do whatever it takes to get me a seat there. It is at Orange that I met a group of people who understand the value of relationships, who wanted to champion for the lives of young people and who strive to leave the neighborhoods they are a part of better for having been there. It is where I felt that I belonged and could add into the conversation that I have aligned my life around. 

There are plenty of opportunities to find community. There are meets up with Orange Leaders to help think through curriculum and strategy, games to play, amazing coffee to drink, and Chick-fil-a lines to wait through (seriously, all worth it). Follow people on social media and arrange a hang. I would love to hang out!

Come to Orange Conference this year, lets laugh and dream together. You were made for this, lets add your voice to community that is changing the world. 




I used to teach middle school. Really, the only reason I am still not a teacher is that whole teaching part, I simply loved spending time, talking and influencing the students. They would always come to me with problems they were facing. Even the petty relationship drama at middle school feels like mountains to kids. I loved laughing with them and giving them “Sullivan’s 3 rules to success” (there are only 2 for boys, but 3 for girls, but we’ll save that for later). The kids that would give the other teachers a hard time, or get kicked out, never were an issue for me. I honestly don’t have a particular reason why that is, but I would just try to have fun with the kids, laugh with them instead of yell and I loved them because they were worthy of it.

There was this one kid; he was constantly getting into trouble with this one particular teacher. It was always, and I do means always, related to girls. This shouldn’t be a shock to people, he was thirteen/fourteen at the time.  He would get in trouble for talking with them when he shouldn’t or have some sort of relationship drama. Nevertheless, he was in trouble.

He was on my football team which added this sense of responsibility for him. He also had this smile that lit up the room when he walked in and just made you want to laugh, probably why he was always in trouble with girls. He got in trouble this one day, and it seemed like it was the tenth time that week.  The teacher pulled me aside and said something that would forever change my life.

She pulls me aside and says, “when will you just give up on him?”

Let that sink in for a minute, “when will you just give up on him?”

In that moment, if I am honest, I looked at her with these crazy and dumbfounded eyes. That one question brought up so much emotion in me that I remembered I needed to breathe so that I could give an answer and not just murder her with my stare.


I looked her right in the eyes, and lowered my voice and said, “Never. I will never give up on him.”

And in that moment, something shifted inside of me.

I realized that not all people view youth the way I do. That I needed to be as persistent and stubborn in my belief in all youth and that this truth was worth living for:

That all youth are worthy of being loved, are capable of great things, and under no circumstance should I simply, give up on them.

I am grateful for that one teacher, and for that one student who simply couldn’t stop talking to girls. I am grateful because that experience helped to make me who I am today, to discover one of my core values and launch me into the world with a sense of purpose.

A little R&R




I just got back from vacation in Mexico the other day and it was awesome.

Of course, things didn’t go as smoothly as we had hoped, but we traded up our snowy, frigid, weather for sunshine and beaches.

The rest was great. I had just finished up an intense season of life, finishing graduate school, moving, some job changes and Mexico was at the finish line.

Rest is vital for working with youth. There is emotional burn out, frustrations with youth, families, systems and one can get tired very quickly.

For this vacation, my goal was a simple one, chill out. I crushed it. I read some great books, got refreshed,  grew closer to my wife and had some adventures.

Heading to Mexico may be a stretch for you right now, but finding rest isn’t. You might just have to fight for it.

Talking with my friend yesterday, we started mentioning these benchmark tasks we do to stay refreshed.  The benchmark tasks are something you do to fill up your bucket, find rest, get refreshed and find some energy to keep moving forward. The timeline for these tasks can vary, but we like to have them be daily, weekly, quarterly and yearly.

What is something you need to do everyday that will allow you to be happier, do more meaningful work and find your passion?

In the next three months, what is something you can do just for yourself?

How do you get refreshed? What some things you have learned about yourself that allow you to get re-energized to jump back into the lives of youth better? What fills your bucket to be able to help others fill their own?

Maybe, for the first time in a long while, you can take a moment, a make a list of things to do today and this week to fill your own bucket back up and find some R&R.

More Than Just a Hangout




Meeting up with a youth for the first time can be somewhat intimidating. You want them to be part of your group,  hope they like you and you’re trying to make a great impression.  Seriously, sometime I feel more pressure than I did when I first met my wife. Maybe you are meeting with them because their parents wanted you to meet them first, or they have been around group but haven’t really connected with anyone and you want to help. Whatever the reason, knowing what to say and what to do in those conversations can make a lasting impression.

Make a Connection

     By making a connection to the life of a youth you show that you are interested in them and care. This may take asking questions about what they like to do, favorite activity, future goals. Start sharing some of yours too; it is not an interview, but a conversation together. Remember to have fun and laugh. Some of the first questions that I ask may seem silly but they help to ease tension and break the ice. Ask them about school, who there best friend is (sometimes it is easier to talk about other people than it is to talk about ourselves), what is there favorite type of movie, or what they are currently binge watching on Netflix.

Do Something Together

    Don’t just have this conversation sitting at the kitchen table or in your office. Go out and do something together. Go hiking, out to lunch, grab a coffee, or even play catch with a football. We can create barriers when we sit across from someone, barriers of authority and division. Yet, when we do something alongside one another, barriers begin to fall and genuine relationships begin to form.

Invite Them to What is Next

    After you meet with the youth, exchange numbers with them and invite them to the next event. Attend the event with them, have them sit with you and show some excitement that they are there. After the first meet up, text in a few days and just see how they are doing. Follow up with any questions they asked or any part of the conversation that was left opened. You are trying to build a relationship that will allow you to help them grow in faith and in life. Don’t just hang out with them once and bail, but be consistent with your time and presence in their lives.





As we wrap up the basic youth needs, look for ways that they are all connected. The last three of the basic youth needs are products of the first five. They may be able to stand alone, but when they are in context of other basic youth needs they can flourish. Here are the last three:

  • Discuss conflicting values and discover their own values
  • Feel pride of competence and mastery
  • Expand their capacity to enjoy life and know that success is possible

If youth feel a sense of safety and belonging in a group…

…then, they are able to discuss conflicting values and discover their own.

If youth are able to contribute meaningfully to the world around them…

  …then, they can feel pride of competence and mastery.

If youth are able to develop significant relationships, gain control of their lives, feel safety and security and be part of a group…

…then, they can expand their capacity to enjoy life and find success.

These basic youth needs are not a tiered to-do list. They are connected and feed off of one another. Look for the connections and patterns between them all and you find that when you can group a few of them together you will have most influence in the life of a youth. How can you create safe spaces among groups for youth to discuss personal values? What type of activities can you set up for youth to give back to the community and contribute meaningfully? How can you walk with youth in such a way that they are able to find success and joy in life? As a caring adult how can you call out the essence of youth that you work with all the time and be a champion for theme?

Think about the events and moments that you have seen great connections between youth and the adults who work with them. I am sure they met many of the basic needs of youth, most likely not on purpose.

Some of these are no brainers for people who work with youth. Yet, when we can create strategies to foster the development of these basic needs we can create better programs, include more youth, influence more families, develop deeper relationships and love people better.

Just One.



It only takes one caring adult to change everything.

One caring adult can impact a youth in such a positive way that it changes the trajectory of their lives.

In social work circles there is a common test to understand the impact of trauma on a young person’s life. It is called ACEs, adverse childhood experiences. They say two is a lot. I have 10, but the story doesn’t end here.

There is also a measure of the resiliency that a youth has. If the youth has a higher resiliency score they lessen the negative impacts that trauma causes on youth.  I have all of the resiliency measures. See, resiliency beats trauma every time.

What is awesome is most of the measures of resiliency are something one caring adult can give to a youth, or help them to access. They are things like showing value in school, having someone to talk about how you feel, having someone know what makes you happy or sad, telling them what they are good at and someone for youth to inspire to be like. You can do all of that for a youth.

Think back, who was that one adult for you? Was it a coach or a teacher? Or was it the parents of one of your best friends? Maybe it changed over the years. You can give back to youth right now in the same way.

It is one of the basic youth needs, to simply have a significant quality relationship with just one adult. Josh Shipp, and our friends at Orange, get this. Leverage everything you have as an adult to impact the life of just one young person. There is power in it.

It can change everything.

You can change everything.