NORTH NEWTON, Kan. – When Curtis Elkshoulder found a way to serve both his Native American community and White River Cheyenne Mennonite Church this summer, he did not let his normally reserved nature hold him back.
“I had the willingness to take on and face any hard challenges that may have come my way,” he said.
Elkshoulder was a participant in Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) U.S.’ Summer Service Worker (SSW) program, a leadership development program that enables young people of diverse backgrounds to serve their home communities through a church or other agency.
Elkshoulder’s responsibilities at White River Cheyenne Mennonite Church in Busby, Mo., included organizing a youth backpacking trip, helping with vacation Bible school and leading a youth program at the Cheyenne Native Assembly.
“These tasks would bring me to understand my personal purpose is to be a leader,” Elkshoulder said.
Along with Elkshoulder, Amy Villarreal and Aranza Torres were among the seven SSW participants who served in the MCC Central States area. They learned more about themselves and how to lead others to meet needs in the community.
Villarreal, from La Grulla, Texas, worked directly with her church, Grulla Mennonite Brethren, by leading her youth group in a program called SOAR S.(South) Texas, a 10-day discipleship training program that trains and sends out teams of youth to regional churches. Villareal helped her SOAR S. Texas team to organize vacation Bible school, lead youth activities and clean up flooded homes in La Grulla.
“It touched my heart to be able to represent Christ through all that we do,” the 21-year-old student said.
Aranza Torres, 16, of Waco, Texas, worked to increase awareness about Habitat for Humanity by hosting events that promoted the nonprofit Christian housing ministry. She interviewed homeowners who had partnered with Waco Habitat for Humanity and presented what she had learned to the Waco community.
Through her work Torres had the opportunity to connect with and listen to many different people. “I will never forget the power of community,” she said, “and how working towards something makes all the difference.”
A key component to the success of young adults in the Summer Service Worker program, said coordinator Kim Dyer, is the support of the church for the workers. “It’s the role of the church to walk with the participants to help them achieve their leadership goals.
“This program prepares our young adults for the future. They are not only current leaders, but also future leaders in our churches and communities.”