With roots in a home scrapbooking business, Kelly Litvak has grown a meaningful business over the last six years that ministers to at-risk teens and helps them witness their own transformation… in words and images.
Her enterprise, Tools 4 Life, creates digital books for incarcerated youth that incorporate scripture and serious topics into customized, personalized books. These books address peer and societal pressures (drugs, drinking, bullying, sex, gangs) and encourage teens to take a look at what was — lives doomed to run-ins with the law, stints in prison, or lives of dysfunction — to what can be.
It strikes a chord, this notion of metamorphosing by designing one’s own book. Empowered to create their futures, young people have been touched through the weaving of self-images around scriptures and resources that guide, encourage and focus them on a positive path.
It really is a “fork in the road” moment when young people, often connected to the gang life, realize it is possible to abandon their negative past and embrace a new start. Creating these books helps troubled youth “turn the page,” both literally and figuratively. Litvak’s first eight-week program was launched at a middle school, where the student’s scrapbooks mirrored where they are, and where they aim to be. The results were remarkable as students learned how to see themselves in a positive light — and act accordingly. Grades, attendance and behavior improved, and Litvak knew she was on to something life-changing and God-driven.
The Authors of Their Futures
Litvak and her staff began marketing the concept to area hospitals and organizations, and were soon serving at-risk populations through the Harris County Leadership Academy. “I found myself working with children as young as 11-years-old… babies in orange jumpsuits,” says Litvak. The notion of kids as prisoners initially shocked her, and she knew she was called to make a difference.
The children — basically juvenile inmates — show an avid interest and passion in their scrapbooking projects, and are aware that Litvak and her team care deeply and believe in their spiritual and emotional restoration. Underneath their tough exteriors beat the hearts of children who had not previously understood their own worth, or their own promise, until they became the authors of their futures.
New Chapters in Life
Each book is a life lesson — a project and presentation shared in small groups. Litvak and her team serve as mentors and hear the yearnings, aspirations, and hopes of the children, who often for the first time are able to process the thought of new path, successful future, and a new normal. “Why they are incarcerated isn’t our focus,” says Litvak. “What matters is how they plan to move forward.” The point is to envision new chapters, full of possibilities. “I tell the students that previous “chapters” don’t define their whole novel, and that they have the choice to turn the page.”
When Christ is the Co-Author
It is especially meaningful to Litvak that many teens have accepted Christ as they processed the Tools 4 Teens Program. Those who gain a fresh perspective and new purpose are better positioned to transition into contributing members of society. “What’s remarkable is that the recidivism rate for kids in the program is 29.9%, versus the 70% average in Harris County overall,” says Litvak. What the teens accomplish on the inside affects their journeys on the outside.
An Answered Call
For the past three years, students have requested ongoing support in “the free” — meaning their lives in society. It became clear that it was time to restructure the contract with Harris County Juvenile Probation Department to include re-entry services for Tools 4 Teens graduates. In January 2014, Tools 4 Life will reach beyond prison walls and into the community, supporting Tools 4 Teens students with mentors, academic and vocational support. Upon release, each participant will formulate an Individual Service Plan that sets a course into manhood, unleashing his God-given potential.
Tools 4 Life is currently training mentors, partnering with community organizations and securing sponsors to support student enrollment. Visit www.tools4lifebooks.org to plug in to this life-changing ministry. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 832-606-6026 to speak with Kelly Litvak.