Project Reach NOLA
By Kevin Kieschnick of LINCNewOrleans
St. Paul Lutheran, a mostly white, rather “resource-gifted” congregation in the gentrified “Marigny” neighborhood of New Orleans does not seem to have much in common with Journey 9th Ward; an under-resourced, mostly black Assemblies of God congregation across the street in the “St. Claude” neighborhood–or so they thought.
What they do have in common is a strong partnership with LINCNewOrleans, an organization committed to networking churches and neighborhood leaders who strive to transform their surrounding communities.
When leaders at J9 approached LINCNewOrleans’ leaders last Spring for help to put on a summer leadership and service initiative for at-risk teens, it was a match made in heaven. J9 had some great ideas, but lacked some of the resources and capacity to pull off the vision. St. Paul was looking for a way to connect outside their regular circles, so a partnership was born!
The City of New Orleans was offering contracts to outside entities to offer summer work and leadership training for the youth of New Orleans. The program asks organizations to plan for about 30 youth between 16 and 21 years old.
LINCNewOrleans brought leaders from St. Paul and J9 together to do some dreaming. They put together an ambitious plan that included 5 weeks of leadership development around a process called “Leading Inside Out”. That would be half the time. The other half would offer service opportunities in the St. Claude neighborhood painting and landscaping two of the many houses still blighted since hurricane Katrina.
The application was complete, the forms were filled out, and we gave them to city leaders just before the deadline. Then we waited.
A week later there was a call from the city. They liked our plan so much that they wanted us to consider 90 youth, rather than the 30 expected!
Time for the scramble! Could we find the volunteers? Could we manage those kinds of numbers? Again the two congregations got together to solve the problem.
It worked! It worked beyond anyone’s expectations. During five weeks in July and August “Project Reach NOLA” served almost 90 youth, with incredible results. Over a dozen volunteers from each congregation (two dozen together) led students in an incredibly introspective process of self-discovery. By the end of the 5 weeks, through small and large group discussion, artistic expression, and writing, every youth was able to articulate a “Personal Legacy Statement”. In addition, they were able to see two houses completely repainted and landscaped; by their own hands!
When it was over, the folks from J9 and St. Paul were exhausted, but they were in awe of what they were able to accomplish. Neither congregation could have done it on their own, but by crossing racial, economic, and denominational boundaries together and by faith they moved mountains! The question has already arisen, “What’s next for us to do together?”