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It is More Blessed to Give: Teaching Teens to “Mann” Up

By Sylvia Garcia Urrutia
Published 11/26/2013


The Mann Family

"I was a teen dad, drug addict and lost. I’ve been through the ringer and made it out. I recognize the struggle some young people go through,” says Olietunja “Ollie” Mann. 
    
His wife, Maria, says she endured her own challenges growing up. But, it was those experiences that continue to help the couple make connections with the young people in their community and at Allegheny West Conference’s Westside church in Cleveland where they are members. They knew they were called to do something special—pulling from their pasts help them understand today’s young people. As a result, teens find in them someone who will listen and provide mentoring and guidance where no one else does.
           
The Manns also raised four children, who are now young adults, and continue to serve as youth directors at their church with several ministries. They have always made sure to be available to their children and for their home to be a place where they felt comfortable hanging out with their friends.
           
“Our house is where they all come to, with their issues and all. We want to be sure to be available,” says Ollie. On any given night, they have a house full of young people. They take time to learn about their struggles and have been able to minister to their needs. And, many times, those needs have gone beyond a simple word of advice. The Manns have become mentors to some of the young people, even “temporary parents” to others. In fact, Ollie and Maria have provided a temporary home to 10 young people over the years.
           
You can almost hear a smile in the words as Maria admits, “Our home has a revolving door. We have young people coming and staying with us for days or even weeks at a time. My mom always taught me that if I had enough for me, I had enough for the community.”
           
They admit it is not always easy to house more people, especially since they are usually young people without work or direction, and some with a lot of problems. But, the Manns have made it a point to treat each of them like their own children, including the enforcement of a few simple rules: they must attend church, go to school and leave negativity at the door.
           
Regardless of the challenges, Ollie and Maria say the rewards have been immense. They remember one young man who arrived after having a falling out with his mom. He felt he needed to find himself and arrived at their doorstep with nothing. The Manns took him in. Within weeks of honoring the house rules, this young man had acquired a job, started attending church with them and found direction in his life.
           
His story is repeated in so many other young people who have passed through their home. Some have even joined the church and been baptized. But, regardless of where they continue on in life, one thing is certain, Ollie and Maria make sure to stay in contact with each one of them, always making themselves available and offering words of encouragement and advice. On occasion, some of their “temporary children” will even return to stay with them for a few days.
           
The best thing for this generation, say the Manns, is to meet the young people where they are, but not excuse where they are. The couple agrees that they, like all Christians, are still in their walk with God, so they don’t believe their job is to tell the young people what to do, but to invite them on the journey.
           
Although their work with young people seems like an additional full-time job, they know it is what God has meant for them to do. “It’s an investment,” says Ollie. “The young people are the church, and we might not get another chance to live a sermon for these kids. Young people and adults in church today feel a great divide, but it doesn’t have to be like that. They need to know they are worth something. We need to show them that. It could even be as simple as a handshake after church.”
           
The Manns will continue to leave their revolving door open to young people as long as God continues to guide young people to that door.
 
Sylvia Garcia Urrutia is a member of the Arise church in Temple Hills, Md.
 
Check out these other articles from the December Visitor:
More Blessed to Give—Maddings on a Mission
Ways you can use your time to impact others this holiday season
Christmas Unwrapped
 

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