Building a “home” for youths in the streets and sports courts of Henderson estate

No room at the inn for Jesus. But will you offer hospitality today? This Christmas, Salt&Light tracks down those who show what hospitality looks like in neighbourhoods, businesses and homes.

Peck Sim // December 19, 2023, 7:43 pm

Henderson bowling

Through the camaraderie at a bowling outing during the June holidays, a gang-related dispute between two youths was resolved. All photos courtesy of Hong Yee Wei.

As a finance professional, Hong Yee Wei, 44, knew nothing about building. But he knew God’s love.

So when God told him to build a house for His children, he entered the world of disadvantaged youths at the Henderson rental estate and built upon that love.  

This Christmas, the Henderson children and their parents were invited to the children’s Christmas production at Cornerstone Community Church, where Yee Wei worships. It was followed by a lunch specially hosted for the Henderson families by Sharon Chong, coach and founder of GenBrave, a kids coaching company aimed at raising a generation of brave ones.

Sharon was formerly the children’s pastor at Cornerstone. She recently conducted a workshop for the Henderson youths on empowerment, confidence, mental health and financial management.

“They have never been made to feel important. We want these youths to experience something truly special.”

As a crowning finale to the holiday festivities, Yee Wei and his team of volunteers are planning an awards ceremony with a dinner and dance for the Henderson youths in late December. 

The awards ceremony will identify and recognise areas of excellence beyond the academic such as “Most helpful”, “Most friendly” and “Most caring”.

“They have never been made to feel important; they are hardly recognised,” Yee Wei pointed out. “We want these youths to experience something truly special.”

He hopes that the recognition and awards will encourage the youths to aim high. Parents and volunteers will be invited to the dinner and dance to celebrate with the youths. The team of volunteers will be writing personal messages of encouragement to the youths as well. 

Yee Wei has started scouting for a venue as well as a media personality to share a testimony for the event. 

“We trust that as we love them, they will see and feel the love Christ has for them,” Yee Wei said. 

Movies and football games 

After a year of labouring in the Henderson rental estate with a dwindling pool of volunteers, Yee Wei was starting to bear the weight of discouragement. But God brought in co-labourers in the last six months to partner with Yee Wei. 

Several have made financial contributions to support the myriad of activities for the youths. Six to seven regular volunteers now join Yee Wei and Lim Han Wei, a 28-year-old graduate in social work and full-time worker at Cornerstone, on Thursday nights. 

“We trust that as we love them, they will see and feel the love Christ has for them.”

They come from various places including Beyond Social Services (BSS), a voluntary welfare organisation that aims to help children and youths break away from the poverty cycle.

Among the new volunteers is Cheryl Fu, a 40-year-old legal counsel who has become a mother and big sister figure to a growing group of girls at the basketball court at Henderson.

“Cheryl has been very intentional with connecting with the girls and started a reading programme with the younger ones,” Yee Wei said. “The young ladies – who have always been much slower than the boys to let their guard down – have warmed up to Cheryl.”

In the last several months, Yee Wei and his team have widened the scope of activities to deepen engagement with the youths.  The early initiatives of engaging through sports, sharing a meal with the youths and celebrating monthly birthdays remain core to the outreach but a key element going forward is taking them beyond Henderson.

Taking the youths beyond Henderson: Movie screenings at the youth space in Cornerstone Community Church.

During the school holidays in June, the volunteers took the youths on a bowling trip.

The two youths central to the dispute reconciled just in time for the outing because both were eager to participate.

Because of the outing, an old tension sparked by a gang-related dispute dissipated. The two youths central to the dispute reconciled just in time for the outing because both were eager to participate.

Another of the volunteers organised an outing to a football match at the National Stadium, taking the initiative to write in to the Football Association of Singapore for tickets.    

Yee Wei also collaborates with the young people at Cornerstone to bring the Henderson youths into the house of God.

In addition to football games and movie screenings at the youth space in Cornerstone, the youths recently organised an escape room as an alternative to Halloween, where more than 20 Henderson youths turned up.

Levan Wee, an ex-atheist and former frontman of a rock band, gave his testimony on his journey to God.

From house to home

In January, the volunteers are taking 20 of the older youths to an adventure course at the Centre for Fathering, which contributed the tickets.

It’s not always just fun and games, however.

Yee Wei and the volunteers lend their hands and feet in practical ways, such as providing shoes and groceries for the families.

Recently, the volunteers, with the help of some youths from Cornerstone, helped with the refurbishment of a flat in Henderson.

A fellow volunteer, who provides assistance to low income families and social service organisations with refurbishments and renovation, donated materials and expertise to execute the renovation. 

Regular volunteers, with the help of youths from Cornerstone, help give fresh life to one of the flats at Henderson.

Yee Wei is already seeing the fruit of their labour in a shift in behaviour among the youths.

They are starting to look out for and help one another. One of the youths recently took pains to ensure Yee Wei knew of an upcoming birthday of another youth.

Yee Wei has also noticed the youths helping one another to book tickets for the escape room and for the football match.

The change did not escape the notice of BSS community social worker Wong Pei Ling, who was journeying with the Henderson children and youths even before Yee Wei came on board. 

Partnering parents

The outreach in Henderson has extended to parents and volunteers. 

The motley crew of adults and youths at the same spot every Thursday has piqued the interest of parents in the neighbourhood.

In the last several months, many parents have been popping in at the basketball court. One of the mothers even made pizzas for the youths despite the little she had and the constraints of time and work.

Yee Wei and the volunteers reach out in practical ways, not just to the children, but to their families.

“This has been my prayer,” Yee Wei told Salt&Light. “We recognise that we cannot replace parents. If we want to see lives improve, we have to journey with the parents in the neighbourhood to help them cultivate good relationships with the children.”

“We recognise we cannot replace parents. If we want to see lives improve, we have to journey with the parents.”

When Yee Wei and the volunteers held a block party September last year, only two parents turned up.

“The parents are typically working, or busy, or in jail, or plain uninterested,” he explained. “And this is precisely why we needed to connect with them.”

Each time a parent turns up at the basketball court, Yee Wei makes sure he connects with them and has their contact numbers. 

As part of the initiative to rope in parents, the team organised an outing to the zoo for children 12 and under, and mandated the presence of parents with the children who attended. There were close to 30 from six families.

“We wanted them to make good memories and to engage the parents as regular partners,” Yee Wei said.

Thirty children and their parents from six families turned up at a zoo outing. “We wanted to engage the parents as regular partners,” Yee Wei said.

On his radar now are fathers in the community.

There is a support group for mothers but involvement by the fathers has been minimal so far. Yee Wei hopes to form a group for the fathers next year.

The volunteers have not been immune to the love of God in the community either.

One of the regular volunteers  – who did not have an intimate relationship with God – now attends church with Yee Wei and is connected to a cell group.

“Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labour in vain.” (Psalm 127:1)

As Yee Wei and the volunteers lay down their lives for the youths at Henderson, God himself is building His house brick by brick, life by life. 

Will you bless the Henderson youths this Christmas?

Would you consider contributing to the cost of catering, transportation and gifts for the end-of-year awards ceremony and other activities for the Henderson youths?

If you would like to partner with the team on the Henderson youth outreach, please contact Yee Wei at 9184-7214.

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About the author

Peck Sim

Peck Sim is a former journalist, event producer and product manager who thankfully found the answer for her wonderings and a home for her wanderings. She now writes for Salt&Light and also handles communications for LoveSingapore.