Footballs, gas stations, and embracing opportunities

January 3, 2024

By Jeff Becraft

One of the highlights of my YC  (Youth Corps) era might surprise some people.  After all the amazing experiences during those 17 years, this one happened at a gas station. It was on the tail end of an out-of-town alumni trip to a children’s home. We had pulled into a gas station less than a mile from the parking lot where we would meet the parents so that everyone could fill up with gas.

As each of the drivers were pumping gas, I would say that 90% of the students had run out into a field next to the gas station and were throwing these little footballs around that we had with us. I stood there and smiled. (Years ago, I had learned from a friend to carry nerf footballs or smaller sized footballs in my car. Then if you have a group of people and you have some time on your hands, you can have an instant activity… which fosters engagement. Over the years, I have carried footballs, wiffle ball, soccer balls, etc. on trips for just such matters. I used to do this with our family (the Fab 5) as well. Once we took lacrosse sticks… we won’t tell of the menace to society that was.  A while back, I did a Friday email about our family and one of our kid’s friends heading to a camp all the way out to Arkansas. On that trip, it was a little soccer ball and you had to drill it into the back of the van with the hatch up (à la World Cup) before we could get back in the van and keep moving down the road.

“You mean that out of all the epic events, this experience at the gas station sticks out to you?”  Yes – I still remember it vividly.

It was a picture of them catching a vision.

Things in life are part of a journey.  Are we just going to go from point A to point B?  Or are we going to embrace each moment and maximize the opportunities… or create opportunities?  No one suggested to these students to get out of the vans and go throw some footballs.  They did it on their own.  But they had seen it at every other stop on that trip.

Exactly how long does it take to pump gas?  And yet, they realized that the trip was almost over and that this was an opportunity… even if only for a few minutes… to engage with one another before we had to split up and go our different directions.  How many young people, after an exhausting weekend and road trip, would simply have slept in the vans?  (Older and grumpier people like me would first head to the bathhouse… then I would throw the footballs.)

As we head into 2024, are we simply going to go from point A to point B?  Let’s make the most of each moment and embrace the opportunities.


Jeff Becraft is the Director of Our Place of Hope and the Director Emeritus for Youth Corps and has dedicated much of his life to helping shift the vision of people’s lives. Our Place of Hope is a paradigm shift for people living with mental illness that encourages them to regain meaning, purpose, and hope for their lives. You can connect with Jeff at  [email protected].