Wesleyan Community Church – Detroit (WCC-D), led by Pastor Mark Judkins, received a $19,592.00 grant from the Kern Family Foundation (KFF) for training youth about the intersection of Faith, Work & Economics.
This was our sixth year of the summer program and there was a lot of concern by our staff. Many of the youth who had been in our program all these summers had grown up and needed more than just activities to keep them on God's path for their life. Most were juniors or seniors in high school, and they needed employment. They needed to feel the joy of being able to be financially responsible for one's self. With the KFF grant we were able to employ our youth and four staff to implement a program we called Leadership Cohort #1 (LC#1).
LC#1 is comprised of 15 students, ages 15 to 19. These students are some of the most brilliant, creative, and resourceful youth we have ever met. Most come from low income homes and would be considered to have an "at risk" background since we live in one of the most dangerous communities in our country. Once students were selected by applications and interviews, they signed a commitment to arrive to work on time and attend job training classes after work each day. If a student arrived late or skipped class, we spoke to them about the real-life consequences this would have in a job setting.
Eleven of those enrolled in LC#1 earned the right to be paid for their work by having near perfect attendance. They were staffed by East Michigan CCDA (Christian Community Development Association) to run the summer youth program at the Mosaic (Wesley) Community Center. Work included cooking, teaching assistance, janitorial, resale shop assistance, office/clerical, sports, and child watch.
Part of LC #1 was quality work site and college visits. We began by talking about business attire, the reasons for it, and taking the students shopping with a budget for appropriate clothing. This led to an interesting conversation regarding privilege; "Why could Pastor Mark wear jeans and a T-shirt as a pastor but all our community pastors have to wear suits to be respected?"
It was amazing to see students find deals and track their expenses to come in under budget. They even ministered to the depressed department store salesperson inviting him to be a part of Detroit's Mosaic. This process provided valuable hands on budget training and real-life evangelism experience. Practicing introductions, handshakes, and eye contact made some students nervous at first, but after the first visit to a medical office, the students received glowing reviews from their office employees. We were excited to see the students tackling the real world and they raised our expectations of what they can do on a daily basis. Students also visited an engineering firm and hotel/hospitality and banking businesses. The students realized the vast amount of jobs available in Detroit. We visited two universities and students expressed an interest in attending college after high school. Some expressed college interest for the first time!
We selected two curriculums to work our teens through to learn about how their faith relates to work and economics: Faith & Finances by The Chalmers Center and Powered for life published by Jobs for Life. Both curriculums were great for our teens and as we explored topics such as why should we work and give, Many, financial and spiritual wounds, strongholds, and misunderstandings were healed, broken, or corrected through this training.
Our daily lessons were speckled with each of us learning new phrases, some street and teenage lingo, Bible verses, financial phrases, and job interview tips for the students. Nothing was off limits and often reading a passage of Scripture would result in personal conversations about a student's life or something observed in a close friend or relative's life, especially in relation to money. One incredible conversation turned into an "ah-ha" moment when we were discussing budgeting and emergency funds. The students were not grasping why the characters in the "Faith and Finances" story had to budget $60 for a used washer and dryer when they were earning close to $1,500 a month. They learned money you earn goes towards something, and your paycheck gets allocated to necessities quickly.
When talking about giving back to the community, both to the Christian community or others who have a physical need, the students were ready to give freely. After exploring career options we budgeted based on a possible salary. Many of the students were ready to give much of their salary away to other community centers, church, family members, or people in need. While this was not a new "Christian" concept to them, we do know looking at potential jobs and salaries did open their eyes to the impact they could have if they chose to attend college or trade school and get a job they are passionate about and skilled at.
Over the summer we launched a new church plant in Detroit—Mosaic Midtown Church in a neighborhood eight miles from the community center. Based on the recommendations of Rev. Mark Judkins and Mick Veach, senior pastor at Mosaic Midtown Church (MMC), East Michigan District decided to merge WCC-D into MMC. This gave LC#1 the opportunity to be involved in strategic planning of a church plant and church building renovation. During one financially difficult week for MMC's leadership, LC#1 prayed over the launch team on a Wednesday morning and by Friday breakthrough occurred. LC#1 By witnessing the power of their prayers, LC#1 members knew increased faith and understanding of how God uses us to meet the financial needs of the community and Church and how a good job and quality career allows God to work through you to do that.
Three LC#1 students were interviewed for secular jobs and got them. One without even filling out an application, just based on the "elevator speech" we taught her to use and the poise and confidence she delivered it with. This also led to real-life discussions of resumes and tax forms, and reforms to tax laws in the United States.
All of the students saved towards a $400 goal to fly to Los Angeles for the Christian Community Development Association youth convention NSLI. This was most students' first experience flying. Although some complained about this optional activity costing too much, there were five students who ultimately saved enough for the flight and attended. This put their finance training into the real world, as students budgeted their summer earnings. This also broadened their understanding of our Christian mission and opened their eyes to a much bigger world than the streets of Detroit.
We believe many future community and church leaders will come out of LC#1. Five have already committed to be pastors or missionaries. Thanks to this KFF funded grant, the trajectory of these youth's lives has changed. So many partners were involved to make LC#1 a success we could not list them all here. We are looking for partners and funding to continue LC#1 and to begin LC#2 next summer.