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In many countries today, more than 70 percent of the population is under 25 years of age. Because of realities such as broken families and secularism, many of these young people receive little moral or spiritual education in their homes, their values often being shaped instead by potentially negative influences such as the media, music, or their peers.

As part of a global strategy for reaching out to youth, Lutheran Hour Ministries offers Project JOEL in a growing number of countries. The name JOEL stands for Jóvenes con Espíritu Libre, or "youth with a free spirit," and the program is designed to provide biblically based guidance in making healthy lifestyle choices. Project JOEL has been integrated into school curricula in some countries—particularly in Latin America—but it also supplements its educational content by incorporating opportunities for holding sporting and cultural events.

Miguel is in the fifth grade. He lives in a less-privileged area of a large Panamanian city, but he takes part in a program that allows him to attend school in a more stable area. Many children like Miguel come from dangerous places. Oftentimes, exposure to violence at such young ages leads to harassment and other behavioral issues in school. Because of their divergent home lives, children like Miguel struggle to build healthy relationships with other students.

LHM staff first met Miguel when he was in kindergarten. LHM brings its popular Project JOEL program to his school, a program whereby we promote positive values among youth that will set them up for a safe, successful future. Starting at an early age, Miguel began to participate in LHM's puppet shows, songs, games, and readings. He also participated in presentations for the students and staff every Monday.

Today, LHM and Project JOEL have made a difference in Miguel's life. His confidence has grown as he learns how to make responsible choices. One step at a time, he is learning how to escape the background into which he was born. By God's grace, we celebrate with Miguel as he prepares to enter a bright, more hopeful future.

In addition to impacting children like Miguel that the program is teaching, Project JOEL touches the lives of the volunteers and parents who are involved as well.

"Being a volunteer has taught me to understand more about the importance of teaching values," says Geovany. "It motivates me to try to be better and to live in the day to day by sharing my faith with others. This is my second year and every time I want to get more involved. This is a great blessing for the children of the community, as well as for my life."

Yolanda is a mother of two and an avid supporter of Project JOEL since it started at her children's school a few years ago. After completing a training session covering Project's JOEL's strategies and available resources, she began consistently volunteering at the school and became so invested in it that she hosted the graduation and end-of-year celebration events.

"I was interested in collaborating to help improve the lives of the children," she says. "At the same time, my life has been transformed by the Word of God by sharing it with the children through the various talks and teachings. I'm very thankful for being able to volunteer in this work."

Change Their World. Change Yours. This changes everything.

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