Tia Ross is Passionate about Motivating the Teen Spirit
Raised among drug addicts, prostitutes and gangs, Tia Ross found herself pregnant at age 16 and questioning God. “Why would you put me in this situation? Why am I in these circumstances?” But in God’s faithfulness to respond, he revealed his answer to Ross at age 19 when she was face-to-face with a 14-year-old prostitute in juvenile hall. Risen talked with Ross and follows her revelation to empower, inspire, and transform teens through an organization called, Motivating the Teen Spirit.
Risen Magazine: You’ve experienced first-hand the devastating results of alcoholism, drug abuse, and gangs. How does growing up with these experiences fit into your outreach to teens?
Tia Ross: Being a single teen mom was really challenging. It made me grow up fast, but it also helped me because now I’m able to stand in front of a teen and be imperfect. So often adults are constantly trying to make teens do what’s right and protect them, but they talk at them. I love working with at-risk youth. When I was enrolled in San Diego State University, I had the opportunity to do student work at juvenile hall. I was given four cases to follow and my very first case was a 14-year-old prostitute. Working with her, it became apparent to me why I was there. Who else would be appropriate to relate to this young girl? Even though God protected me from prostitution, I felt able to relate to her struggles.
RM: How do you interpret Motivating the Teens Spirit (MTS) mission to empower, inspire, and transform teens?
TR: What empower looks like to me is simply helping a teen tap into a power they already have, but may have become detached from. God formed us and we are birthed with power. So empowering teens is my privilege to help them see and recognize that they can go after their dreams and not be stuck in life.
In inspiring teens, I hope to share my story of hope and the belief that circumstances are not who we are – they’re just experiences. I want to inspire teens to live life to the fullest and not give up.
Transforming teens is my favorite. Transformation requires a process and the first step is to be willing. [My questions are:] “Do you want something different in life? Are there areas in your life you want to change?” If yes, then they have to be willing to do something different. Transformation causes us to look at the ugly, but if we’re willing to do that, we can tap into the power to change it.
RM: Who is the MTS program designed for?
TR: They are designed for anyone from a leadership team to your at-risk teens, because we’re all about allowing teens and adults see that they’re not alone. Everyone knows what it feels like to be overwhelmed, scared, forced to deal with the pressures in life at all ages. At MTS workshops, we are committed to sharing with teens and adults the tools needed to deal with the changes in life.
RM: How has your spirituality shaped your career and passion for the organization?
TR: Growing up, I’ve had friends [and family] die from gangs; I had access to any drug I could think of, and I think [to myself], there’s no way I should be living now. I should be a statistic. But even though I had a daughter at 16, was on welfare and in the middle of crises, I still finished high school and went straight to college to graduate with a criminal justice degree. I couldn’t see God’s hand at the time, but when I met Lisa Nichols (founder of MTS), and she offered me a position to work with her, something inside of me said to just do it. As a facilitator, God holds me in a space of accountability. I’ve reached a point in my spirituality that I have to stay in lesson so that my stories can touch people. In order to lead other people and teach, my life has to constantly be a life of learning lessons. It’s one thing to speak and read about honoring God, but it’s another to live it. I want to be what God has called me to be and know my authority in it. God has put me in this world as a cultivator. People plant seeds and then God sends me in – to a place of hardened soil – to get in the dirt and do the stuff most people don’t want to do. I soften the soil and help teens grow.
RM: What are the future plans for Motivating the Teen Spirit?
TR: In the last 16 years we’ve prevented more than 3,000 suicides and touched the lives of more than 92,000 teens. We know a lot of our teens go off and make changes, so we want to create a connection through social media and provide a community where people who experience our workshops can stay connected. We also are committed to raise scholarships so that no teen is turned away, but offered an opportunity to be in a safe place through Motivating the Teen Spirit.
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