One year ago, LaKewell Gordon moved to Chicago, a new city for her, where she worked hard on creating a sense of community. This year, through MCC’s Summer Service Program, Gordon, 25, is teaching others about the Chicago community she has grown to love.
She is one of 44 persons of color who participated in MCC’s 2017 Summer Service program. The purpose of the Summer Service program is to develop their leadership skills through working with their local churches and communities.
Gordon’s summer assignment was with DOOR, a faith-based network of cities that provides teen and young adult volunteers – many who come from rural areas -- with opportunities for service, learning, and leadership development in the city.
Along with other summer workers, Gordon ensured the smooth operation of summer programming at DOOR in Chicago. She worked hand-in-hand with Andrea Sawyer-Kirksey, city director, on scheduling and coordination of work sites found all over the city.
“Our work sites inform the youth groups about homelessness, poverty, social injustice and food insecurity,” said Gordon. Groups have volunteered at a homeless shelter, food pantry, neighborhood gardens, adult day cares and an organization that creates neighborhood murals.
Be ready to learn and develop. Be flexible. And expect the unexpected.”
- LaKewell Gordon, Summer Service participant
Along with daily service projects, the groups learn and dialogue about racism, gentrification and the perception of Chicago in the media. One particularly impactful evening for the groups, Gordon says, is a discussion she occasionally facilitates around a 2014 oped written by fifth graders from the South Shore neighborhood entitled, “You Don’t Really Know Us.”
She was consistently surprised that the volunteer groups approached these conversations with an openness to and understanding of other people’s stories. In the beginning of the summer, Gordon expected ignorant comments on these topics.
“They come here knowing nothing but violence in Chicago,” she explains. By the end of the week, the group’s mentality of Chicago changes. According to Gordon, community members also benefit as they see young people modeling work in the gardens, being present in the community and bolstering the effectiveness of local organizations.
Gordon, who attends Willow Creek Community Church, South Barrington, Illinois, said her faith is at the core of all of her work. She said she strives to be Christ-like in all situations, whether extending patience for the countless questions coming her way or modelling servanthood for the groups and local communities.
With other staff, Gordon helped to lead reflections with the volunteer groups at the end of each day in an effort to continually bring everyone back to the main purpose: being God’s hands and feet here on earth.
As for advice for future Summer Service Program participants, Gordon says, “Be ready to learn and develop. Be flexible. And expect the unexpected.”
Churches are invited to submit proposals for 2018 Summer Service positions. Find out more at mcc.org/summerservice.