Whenever someone asks me where I’m from, I always tell them “Monmouth County, not too far from the Shore.” Those who are not from the area, but are familiar with New Jersey’s attractions, inevitably reply with “oh, near Belmar or Asbury Park?” or any other well-known Central Jersey hub for summer rentals and weekend trips. And yes, while this part of the Garden State is probably most known for its beach towns and The Boss, Bruce Springsteen, the memories I hold most dear are more deeply connected to the tight-knit community of Red Bank and Tinton Falls. Growing up, I didn’t really see these two boroughs as having a small-town feel, but it wasn’t until I left for college in a major city, and came back to visit, that I realized how interconnected it truly was. I mean, if you live in the area, you know you can go to the grocery store or mall and inevitably run into someone you know. But the more I reflect on my upbringing, the more I see the value and blessing in having been reared in such a well-connected community.
My late grandparents, Elder Roy and Barbara Osborne settled into a modest four-bedroom house on Steven Avenue in Tinton Falls in the 1960s. By the time my generation came along, it seemed as though all of the families living on the cluster of streets bearing male names, or in the neighboring “fruit bowl,” knew each other. This isn’t farfetched, considering that most of the kids who congregated outside of their grandparents’ homes after school or during summer break had parents who went to school together, in most cases from kindergarten through twelfth grade. It was not uncommon for me to make what I thought was a new friend, only to learn that their mother or father knew my grandparents, mother, and all of my aunts and uncles by name.
I can’t remember exactly how I was introduced to Aslan Youth Ministries, but I’m sure it was through this network of Black families, many of whom were Southern transplants that had settled in what was once known as New Shrewsbury. All I can remember is that after seeing the big blue bus barrel down Steven Avenue on Tuesdays and Thursdays, picking up my friends, for months on end, I eventually found myself on said bus, headed to a local church for an afternoon of activities and snacks. Later, my experience as an Aslan youth broadened. I went on ski trips to Camelback Mountain, sang in the gospel choir, joined fellow students and Aslan staff on bike rides, and was a cheerleader for the affiliated basketball league. I also attended Creation, the famed multi-day Christian music festival which drew tens of thousands of attendees to Agape Farm in Pennsylvania.
It was at Creation where I got my first glimpse of how this work might impact Craig and Lynn Ann Bogard, Aslan’s founders, and the organization’s staff. If my memory serves me correctly, the year was either 1993 or 1994. Aslan had a policy that all Aslan youth under a certain age must be accompanied by chaperones for certain activities, including visiting the onsite communal bathrooms and showers. One morning, Lynn Ann accompanied a friend and me to the stalls. She was visibly exhausted – her eyes were glassy, shoulders hunched over, and her movements slow. At the time, all I thought was “wow, she needs more sleep.”
Before that moment, I only knew Craig and Lynn Ann as the friendly couple responsible for Aslan’s existence. After all, at age 11 or 12, you don’t really understand what a massive undertaking it is to consistently serve and minister to children and families at that level. On that morning walk to the showers, I may not have understood what that moment truly represented, but I do know that for the first time, I saw Lynn Ann’s humanity. I don’t know that even now, at age 41, I understand the untold cost Craig and Lynn Ann must have paid to cart a group of children and teens to a festival 250 miles away and keep them supervised, fed, and housed in camping tents, at no cost to their families, all for the sake of helping them grow in their faith. To this day, I wonder how much they have personally sacrificed to offer year-round programming for decades to thousands of young people, most of whom hail from working-class families, and in many cases have experienced some level of trauma and/or instability.
Although I was predominantly raised by a divorced single mother, while my father battled addiction and other vices, I consider myself fortunate to have had one parent who, with limited resources, did what she could to give my younger brother and me the best shot for success in life. I also had the benefit of two loving grandparents, who, with a third and sixth grade education, selflessly served their family and the community at large. For some children, however, I am sure that Aslan was the most stable presence in their lives.
After a couple of years, I moved on from regular participation in Aslan due to a school change and additional extracurricular activities, but the organization has always held a special place in my heart. My life has undoubtedly been impacted by Aslan and the village of people who worked to ensure I had access and opportunity. Today, I hold a Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations from the University of Pennsylvania and a Juris Doctorate from The George Washington University Law School. For the last thirteen years, I have practiced law across a number of industries, including financial services, media, and technology.
Because of how much was poured into me, I vowed to “someday” pay it forward. Then, in 2018, my brother, Damarcus Adisa, and I asked, “what are we waiting for?” People like the Bogards and our late grandparents had done so much with limited resources, not to mention in an era when internet fundraising didn’t exist. We have all of the necessary tools at our disposal. Why couldn’t we start serving the community now? We brought the idea to our lovely mother, Deborah White, and The House on Steven Avenue Fund Inc. was born.
The HOSA Fund is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization committed to the advancement of communities through financial and programmatic initiatives geared toward youth enrichment, young adult job readiness, and economic support of families in need. We publicly launched in 2019 with great fanfare, but like most organizations, were slowed by the pandemic. We saw this as an opportunity to a take a different approach and serve another organization that had given so much – Aslan. In 2020, we reconnected with Craig and Lynn Ann, who identified 10 Aslan families for the back-to-school season, and another 10 for Thanksgiving, whom The HOSA Fund could serve by donating backpacks, school supplies, food and pantry items, as well as grocery store gift cards.
I was not surprised to learn that Craig and Lynn Ann were just as hands-on as they were decades ago when I was an Aslan youth. Lynn Ann knew every family’s living situation, unique challenges, and the like. Because that is how much the Bogards care. They do not view children in need as a statistic. They view them as future leaders and changemakers worthy of the same access and opportunity that I received, and most importantly, worthy of the Father’s love.
The HOSA Fund is proud to announce that during its Biannual Fundraising Gala on April 15, 2023, Craig and Lynn Ann will receive the Roy & Barbara Osborne Community Legacy Award, for their decades-long commitment to serving some of the most impoverished areas of Monmouth County and relentless efforts to foster the spiritual and educational development of at-risk youth.
The Bogards do this tireless work without any need for recognition, but it brings me great joy to know that we can celebrate them publicly for the posture of service they have maintained for over 50 years. If you would like to join us in this celebration, please visit www.hosafund.org for Gala tickets and other information.
Delisha J. Grant