Social justice has always been a passion for 22-year-old Estefany Sanabria. MCC’s Summer Service program is allowing her to explore that passion through her assignment with DOOR in Chicago.
As summer staff in the Discern program of DOOR, Sanabria is helping to host weekend or week-long Discover groups as they participate in service and learning projects.
Her work includes helping to plan workshops exploring the intersection of faith and justice issues like race, homelessness and power structures. She and another Summer Service participant, Jacqueline Banda, recently planned and led a weekend workshop with middle schoolers focused on anti-racism.
“It’s a lot of fun working with different groups and helping them discern,” said Sanabria. “Not in a mission type of way, but in really getting to know the people. Being well aware of what’s going on and why it’s going on.”
Sanabria is one of five young adults from the Great Lakes region who are serving in their home communities this summer through Summer Service, a 10-week program that nurtures and equips young adults of color for leadership.
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the number of groups coming to DOOR in Chicago is down this year, and some are participating virtually. Therefore her assignment has expanded beyond hosting groups to include some administrative work, along with more time to explore and dig deeper into learning about the surrounding neighborhoods.
She is enjoying the opportunity to spend each Wednesday volunteering with other local organizations, including the Greater Food Depository. On Thursdays, the staff spend time in different parts of the city to do some discerning themselves as they learn about the cultures of each distinct neighborhood.
Photo courtesy of Estefany Sanabria
Sanabria’s own immigration story has fed her passion for helping others. Born in Guatemala, she came to the United States as a one-year-old with her young mother to join other family members in Chicago. After a long immigration process, she finally became a U.S. citizen in October 2019.
In addition to her work with DOOR, Sanabria works 8-10 hours each week in a law firm as a legal assistant where her work focuses primarily on immigration. “It’s really nice to help people from where I am now,” she said.
In fact, Sanabria has her eyes set on becoming an immigration lawyer. She recently graduated from DePaul University with a bachelor’s degree in economics and is starting law school in the fall where she will specialize in public interest law including immigration and other social issues.
Growing up in the United Methodist Church, the importance of social justice has been engrained in her. “It feels like a calling of mine to help out as much as I can to bring social justice to the world,” she said.
Through her church, Humboldt Park United Methodist Church, Sanabria got connected with DOOR and their Up Next program which brings together young adults interested in exploring how their faith intersects with their commitment to justice. Andrea Sawyer-Kirksey, DOOR executive director, then approached her about exploring a summer internship that would go through MCC’s Summer Service program.
“DOOR has partnered with MCC through Summer Service for many years,” said Sawyer-Kirksey. “It has been so instrumental to the work we do around service learning and justice education. Summer Service not only provides funding but also leadership development and connection with great leaders.”
Sanabria jumped at the chance to connect with an organization like MCC that shares her passion for social justice. She has appreciated the group orientation and reflections that are a key part of the program as the participants gather virtually to talk about their experiences and process together.
“There are people all over the U.S. and the world that are passionate about social justice, and they just don’t know where to start or what their impact can really do,” she said. “I think these programs are amazing at building people up and giving them the confidence and the strength to push forward and to keep learning about social justice and find the tools that will be useful.”
Photo courtesy of Estefany Sanabria
As she reflected over the past couple of months, Sanabria has seen herself growing and developing as a leader. “I’ve become a lot more confident in what I know and where I come from,” she said. “I used to be super self-conscious about what I know, but it’s been easier to say it. And even if I’m wrong, I still got the opportunity to talk and express myself so people know me better.”
Sawyer-Kirksey has observed similar growth in Sanabria. “She started off a bit shy and reserved,” she said. “I watched her open up, step out of her comfort zone and step up to do things she had not done before. She brings joy and laughter to every meeting, event and gathering.”
Sanabria says she’s also seen improvement in her communication and time management skills, in addition to learning how to take constructive criticism without getting hurt. She credits her work with DOOR for pushing her to get out and explore and build more relationships with people by taking the time to ask questions to build understanding.
“These past five years have been so crazy, and I know I myself have felt like ‘nothing is going to change this awful world,’” she admits. “But programs like these give us motivation and the right tools and references to feel motivated and supported. It might be the smallest thing, but everything builds up. You become someone that is really meant to be here, to build up our society and end all this hate.”