Submitted by staff member Lori Young:
I grew up in the West End and attended Lincoln Park from K-8. I think it was 5th or 6th grade that a classmate’s dad started a youth group in a nearby church basement. A group of us girls thought it was the greatest thing (along with a forged parent permission slip) because we got excused from class every other week. Some of our parents had no idea – others thought it was a positive group in our lives.
In the meantime, the group was doing some questionable stuff including overnights at the leader’s house guised as staying at a friend’s house. I mean for real?! Why would we ever think it was okay that an adult was telling us to lie about where we were staying. Well, technically we weren’t lying. The “friend” was his daughter but we weren’t friends. Before the youth group, we never talked to her. When we wanted to stay at his house though, we sure took her around to our families and introduced her as such. I feel horrible admitting that and you can judge me all you want; however, I think of how she wasn’t necessarily put in the middle by us but by her dad to get access to us and I feel gross and bad and awful – I’m 33 years old and this still tangles my stomach. On top of it, there were other girls that got invited to stay by themselves without the group – I desperately wanted to do that because we got to stay up late, watch movies and eat any junk food we wanted – it actually reminded me of my dad’s house so I thought what’s the big deal?!
I remember some of us even got jealous of the others that got to stay by themselves. It’s really heartbreaking to realize how he pit us against one another – I truly believe this is why we couldn’t see the danger of it all because we were busy being mad at one another. It’s also unbelievable how some of the girls had no idea of the exclusive group on the side. It was genius really. We all know that “keeping secrets” is bad but when it became secrets against our peers for our special club within a club, we felt special. Some of the girls had no idea about the sleepovers, the cigarettes, the access to alcohol (that I personally did not consume), the risk taking he had us do for “initiation” that I won’t get into or the behind the blue curtain at Video Vision visits we “got” to make. What’s surprising is that most of this happened during the school day. Freighting isn’t it? I’m sure things are different today than my growing up in the 80’s/90’s, right?
I’m going to clear the air here. Nothing physical ‘happened’ to me and for all you who have had similar experiences, that’s not really the point is it? Our youth group didn’t last very long. As it turned out, I had a meddling mother who just had to know everything I was doing and who I was talking to…she drove me nuts! My mom was a busy single mom, never having less than three jobs at a time but she still found ways to keep tabs on me including finding out about this group much sooner than I liked. She started demanding more information. The thing is, I wasn’t going to give her anything because we were being promised things she never would have let me do – I couldn’t let down my other friends and tell. Without hesitation she, in my memory, “stormed” the school and demanded more accountability of the group including information on the group leader. As it turned out, there was none and the school promptly shut it down. I was so embarrassed I wouldn’t talk to my mom for days (a lot in 5th grade). In hindsight, she certainly was mother of the year.