By Shelley Mahoney
Kya was in the sixth grade when she first began as a mentee in the Imagine Me Ministries program near her home. She was welcomed into the program with open arms by her mentor, Pascha Lee, the founder and executive director of the ministry.
Lee served as Kya’s mentor for years, and Kya went on to participate in all the youth programming that Imagine Me Ministries offered for students in middle and high school.
To say that this organization made a difference in Kya’s life would be an understatement — she has succeeded not only academically (she will begin at Frostburg University this Fall) but also spiritually — she received Jesus as her Savior and went on to lead her mother, father, boyfriend, and a number of friends to the Lord. She now attends Christian Liberty Church, a church plant in West Baltimore that was started and is currently pastored by Pascha’s husband and Imagine Me Board Chairman Wayne Lee,
and she is supported and loved by her church family.
“Kya has embraced a life of promise and is spreading the Word!” Pascha enthusiastically says when thinking of her former mentee.
A “life of promise” is what Imagine Me Ministries is all about. Kya is one of many success stories that Pascha has witnessed over her years of serving the Baltimore area, and she is excited to see what God continues to do in this organization. Imagine Me is a youth development and mentoring program that offers in-school, after-school, and out-of-school activities, as well as community and outreach programming. The organization even provides programs for girls detained by the Department of Juvenile Services. All activities are centered on the organization’s mission of inspiring girls to embrace a “life of promise” and mature into dynamic young women through long term one-on-one mentoring relationships with caring and invested adult women.
A group of girls meets several times per week at various schools in Baltimore, where trained facilitators lead them in enjoyable, interactive activities designed to establish habits that will help them better succeed in academics and in life. They can also choose to participate in in-depth workshops on key areas of interest to them.
In addition to the after-school programs, Imagine Me participants have the opportunity to travel with the staff to various destinations on weekend trips. The group has visited attractions close to home, including museums in Baltimore and the Smithsonian in Washington D.C., and they have traveled further to see cultural arts events in New York City and to participate in enrichment seminars on college campuses, among other destinations.
At the heart of all the programs and activities, however, is the organization’s ultimate goal of one-on-one mentoring and peer groups. Since its creation twelve years ago, Imagine Me Ministries has served more than 400 girls and matched 75 young ladies with Christian female mentors. Lee says that some participants who started the program in 6th or 7th grade have grown up to go to college and thrive in their twenties, but they still keep in touch with their Imagine Me mentors.
“Having a mentor is like having a big sister,” said Jada, a young woman who was mentored by volunteer Deven Brown. “It’s having someone I can look up to and…talk to. When I have problems I can go to her, or when I have good news I can go to her.”
Pascha, along with all the mentors at Imagine Me, hopes to create these kinds of meaningful relationships with girls all over Baltimore City and beyond. The positive results have been evident to many in the community — the Baltimore City Health Department, Baltimore City Public Schools, Boys and Girls Club of Metropolitan Baltimore, Girl Scouts of Central Maryland, Big Brother Big Sister of Central Maryland, Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, and Touchpoint Baltimore are just a few of the organizations that have realized the vital service that this organization offers to Baltimore City and have decided to partner with the organization.
“Our local and state partners are extremely important to the work of Imagine Me,” said Pascha. “I can’t express enough how creative God is when He allows secular organizations to be a blessing to [this] work. ‘The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof.’ (Psalm 24:1, (KJV) including the people in it, so He makes partnerships where He sees fit. We are very selective about who we partner with. Our budget could be overflowing, and we could have at our fingertips everything that we need if we moved more toward secular principles — but then we already have everything we need because we stand on Biblical principles.”
Lee has a passion for this type of ministry; she started working as a mentor with another company in 1998 and fell in love with the mentorship model. She realized it worked perfectly with her passion for youth ministry, and she has continued to thrive and create more mentorship opportunities for herself and others over the last two decades. According to Pascha, it’s imperative that youth across the nation have a “strong, non-compromising, non-judgmental Christian influence.”
She was blessed to have this kind of influence growing up. As a child, Lee can’t remember a time when her mother didn’t support her. Multiple times each day, Lee’s mother would tell her, “you are smart,” “you are pretty,” and “I love you.” These positive messages shaped Lee’s life as she blossomed into adulthood. It wasn’t until she was older, Pascha said, that she realized these kinds of affirmations were not the norm for many young women in her area. Girls around her were often not only deprived of hearing positive messages about themselves; they were also regularly beaten down with negative messages from family members and others in their community. Even nonprofit organizations and government entities often label young women in certain areas as “at-risk” and “hard-to-reach.”
“It is extremely difficult to counter the negative messages that our girls are exposed to, so the last thing we want any of them to think is that we think they are ‘at-risk’ or ‘hard-to-reach,’ Pascha said. “I summarize it like this—all of humanity is at risk of eternal damnation unless they know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Hence, all of humanity is ‘at-risk,’ so why categorize any group of people?”
With this mindset, Pascha prayerfully decided to start Imagine Me Ministries in 2007. Her entire church family at Christian Liberty Church has been very supportive of this organization as an outreach of their church for the last several years.
“The members are very supportive,” Pascha said. “They serve as mentors, volunteers, and help with supporting not only the girls but also their families. It is a beautiful thing.” When asked about her husband Wayne’s involvement in Imagine Me, Lee was brought to tears. “I am still amazed at his heart for Imagine Me. The Lord has used Wayne to make Imagine Me what it is today, in numerous ways I can’t explain, but in all areas—spiritually, financially, organizationally, with relationships and partnerships both Christian and secular, serving as a Godly male influence for our girls, (providing) resources for families, in leadership… the list goes on!”
In addition to her role at Imagine Me Ministries, Lee also serves as the women’s ministry director at Christian Liberty Church. She leads Bible studies, organizes women’s activities and community Bible outreach events, and disciples young ladies within their church. Pascha was born and raised in West Baltimore, and she bubbles over with enthusiasm when she describes her love for the people in that region.
“I love being a church planter’s wife, and I love the husband God gave me! If that weren’t special enough, the Lord allowed us to share the same heart…for West Baltimore,” Lee said.
“Christian Liberty Church is my husband’s calling, and I would not want to be anywhere else, serving alongside Wayne and the community and flock that the Lord has given him. We are one and God truly placed in our hearts what He had for us to do before we married and then brought us together to support one another in our respective ministries…for that I am grateful!”
The church has grown and thrived since the Lees planted it in 2014. The congregation meets weekly at Frederick Douglass High School, near Druid Hill Park and Sandtown for worship, fellowship, and prayer. They recently celebrated their fifth year in this location with a cookout that included moon bounces, face painting, and a special musical presentation from the Helping Up Mission Men’s Choir.
According to Lee, the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware (BCM/D) has been a significant help to the church. “The counsel, support, opportunities, exposure, love, and consistency that the BCM/D has given to Wayne and me are from the hand of God. Christian Liberty Church would not be the same without the BCM/D.”
When asked about the greatest successes that the Lees have celebrated — as well as the most difficult challenges — Pascha offered a simple response. “The answer to both questions is the same: People. To see people come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and see their countenance and their life change and experience the Joy of the Lord is indescribable and at the same time to serve and love my city and my people is not always easy. I remember a passage where Paul states in Romans 12:6-8 (MSG), “if you help, just help, don’t take over; if you teach, stick to your teaching; if you give encouraging guidance, be careful that you don’t get bossy; if you’re put in charge, don’t manipulate; if you’re called to give aid to people in distress, keep your eyes open and be quick to respond; if you work with the disadvantaged, don’t let yourself get irritated with them or depressed by them. Keep a smile on your face.”