MCC increases support for Summer Service program

Program for young people of color has influenced participants’ career paths

Apr 16, 2014 by and

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For years Keshia Kay Littlebear of Billings, Mont., was certain where her path would take her when she was older and the summers rolled around. She was going to be an MCC U.S. Summer Service worker.

Summer Service worker Mya Ray demonstrates to Joanne Dietzel, conference coordinator for Lancaster Mennonite Conference of Mennonite Church USA, a way of weaving as done by Burmese women. Ray, who immigrated to the U.S. from Thailand after fleeing Myanmar, the Southeast Asian nation also known as Burma, served with her home congregation, Habecker Mennonite Church in Lancaster, Pa., in 2011 and 2012. — Photo by Kim Dyer/MCC

Summer Service worker Mya Ray demonstrates to Joanne Dietzel, conference coordinator for Lancaster Mennonite Conference of Mennonite Church USA, a way of weaving as done by Burmese women. Ray, who immigrated to the U.S. from Thailand after fleeing Myanmar, the Southeast Asian nation also known as Burma, served with her home congregation, Habecker Mennonite Church in Lancaster, Pa., in 2011 and 2012. — Photo by Kim Dyer/MCC

From 2002 to 2005 she was just that — spending 10 weeks of her summers serving at White River Cheyenne Mennonite Church in Busby, Mont. She worked with recreational activities and as youth ministry coordinator.

Eventually she supervised the church’s Summer Service program while honing leadership skills that, she said, she uses to this day as a board member of Mennonite Central Committee Central States and other service in her church and denomination.

The Summer Service program is a short-term MCC U.S. initiative that supports young people of color in their development of leadership skills through working with their local churches or communities.

The program partners with churches that are members of MCC U.S.’s supporting denominations and related organizations. Since the program’s 1982 inception, 1,387 people have participated.

A 2013 review of the program, led by MCC U.S. anti-oppression coordinator Ewuare Osayande, elicited feedback from participant churches, former and current Summer Service workers, and MCC staff and board members.

Survey participants consistently affirmed the program for providing service and leadership development opportunities for youth of color. As a result, the U.S. board increased funding for the program and expanded the position of national coordinator to half time. Danilo Sanchez of Sassamansville, Pa., started in that position in late February.

Halting a wrecking ball

Sarah Thompson was a Summer Service worker for nearly three months in 2004 at Prairie Street Mennonite Church in Elkhart, Ind., where she is a member. She worked with children’s programs and as a community organizer.

“Prairie Street created my Summer Service position because of a pressing need in the community to organize to resist city hall’s decision to destroy a local school building rather than renovate it,” she said.

Since the decision was made without the input of local residents, Thompson’s job empowered her to canvass the neighborhood and discover what the community wanted. At the end of the summer the community reported the findings to city hall, which “initially halted the wrecking ball,” she said.

The work catalyzed the next few years of community organizing that made it possible for the building to be saved. It is now on the state historical register. The project brought together members of the community from diverse backgrounds to work collaboratively, Thompson said. Today the building serves as housing and a community center.

Thompson has stayed involved with MCC since Summer Service and was recently appointed executive director of Christian Peacemaker Teams.

Revealing God’s gifts

Last year, Hannah Nursalim of Los Angeles served with her church, Maranatha Christian Fellowship in Northridge, Calif., and with Christian Legal Aid of Los Angeles, based in Inglewood. At church, she performed support tasks related to worship and a fundraising event. Nursalim studies at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Seeing CLA-LA colleagues assist people needing legal advice on immigration, crime-related matters and more “definitely made me want to pursue a career in helping people,” she said.

Lani Prunés was a Summer Service worker for three summers at Oxford Circle Christian Community Development Association in Philadelphia, a ministry of Oxford Circle Mennonite Church, her home congregation. Prunés is a senior at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va.

Prunés was co-director in 2009 and 2010 and sole director in 2011 of Oxford Circle’s Summer Art and Enrichment Program, a day camp for children.

“I think being in Summer Service showed me ways to use the gifts God gave me even before I realized I had them,” she said.

Prunés added that she can see how God used her to do good but also used others to provide spiritual guidance to her that set her along her current paths.

Churches also benefit from Summer Service, said Kim Dyer of MCC East Coast, the program’s former national coordinator.

“Through the grant support of MCC, churches are able to further their dreams for ministry and outreach by utilizing the skills and gifts of a young adult from their congregation,” she said.


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