Photo courtesy of Vanessa Rijo

Vanessa Rijo (fourth from left) spent the summer at Murray Hill Neighborhood Association (MHNA) founded and sponsored by Immanuel Community Church. MHNA's summer program aims to advance a multi-generational and multi-ethnic youth movement for Christ in the Murray Hill and greater Flushing area of New York City. Serving as junior volunteer coordinator, she coordinated and coached the 20 high school volunteers who worked with over 100 elementary school children and middle school youth at the program.

A day in the life of a Summer Service worker

At 7 a.m., Vanessa Rijo brews coffee at her home in Queens, New York. She walks five minutes to Immanuel Community Church where she will reunite with familiar faces ranging from 5 to 15 years old. Vanessa puts worship music on as she cleans and prepares breakfast for 90 children. She likes to use this time to prepare and pray in order to minister to the children the best she can. She is the volunteer coordinator for Murray Hill Neighborhood Association (MHNA) and organizes 10 to 17 high schoolers to help her with the children every day, but her supervisors will tell you that she essentially helps run the entire program.

Vanessa has a long history with MHNA and is well known by staff and children. She has volunteered in different capacities over seven years and developed many relationships. Her passion for working with children has only grown and she feels it is God’s call for her to be here.

Then 8 a.m. rolls by and the children roll in. Vanessa dances around with the kids as worship music plays. After breakfast is cleaned up, it is time for the morning program which includes Bible lessons, games and the message.

The core lesson she tries to relay is God’s love. Vanessa believes that this is the key and, once the door is opened, they will be able to learn other Bible lessons. This is why she communicates how much God loves each and every child.

A third grader asks her how to pray and Vanessa tells them how praying aloud used to be scary for her, but not as much anymore. She has learned a lot throughout the summer and has developed her leadership skills in many ways. Vanessa wants to spend as much time with the kids as she can, so instead of taking a lunch break, she chooses to eat a PB&J while sitting with some first graders later that afternoon.

She has known some of these children for their entire elementary days. Sometimes the middle schoolers will ask her why she chose to come here and she will tell them that God called her to be here. She tells them that it is not by coincidence that they are here either and that they, too, are here for a reason and a purpose.

From 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m., she happily runs around like “a chicken with her head cut off.” She will make sure that the rooms are prepared, the junior volunteers know what they are doing and everything is clean before starting more programming with her K-2nd graders. She has her curriculum all set up and her adoring young ones are waiting to hear her lesson. The afternoon will speed by and Vanessa will feel blessed to be a part of it.

She told God earlier this year that if He opened a door, she would walk through it. God opened the door to MHNA and MCC helped make it happen. Her life is open for God’s direction and that makes what she does even more life giving. She says that this perspective changes her relationships with kids, staff and everyone around her. God is so present in this program and it is being showered by blessings.

By 6:30 p.m., all of the kids will be picked up and Vanessa will head home, eat dinner and share thoughts with her friends about how she can better minister to the children at MHNA. She will head to bed early and realize how content she is serving this summer.

Photo courtesy of Vanessa Rijo

Vanessa Rijo (22) is a Summer Service Worker at Murray Hill Neighborhood Association, a church organization who provides after-school and summer programs for local schoolchildren. Vanessa will be returning to complete her third year at college and pursue an English degree. She attends Immanuel Community Church.

The Summer Service Program supports young people of color to develop their leadership skills through working with their local churches and communities. For more information on the Summer Service program, click here.