Half an hour before the youth drop-in program begins, the music is playing, the snacks are ready and the doors of Morrow Gospel Church are open. A woman enters the church, asking about the youth program; she heard about it and is interested in bringing her son. Ashley Penner invites her in for a tour of the youth space, explaining what a typical night at the drop-in looks like.
For a few days we were saying, ‘Mom, come on, please don’t make us come here.’"
Alisadra Baseri, 13, regularly attends the youth drop-in. He and his family are new to the neighbourhood and his parents wanted him and his brother to have a safe place to hang out and meet people. “For a few days we were saying, ‘Mom, come on, please don’t make us come here.’ And then we came here, and I just liked it so much that I couldn’t wait to come here again,” says Alisadra. By coming to the drop-in, Alisadra says he has made friends and become more confident. “It’s been amazing.”
This summer, Ashley coordinated the youth drop-in program at Morrow Gospel Church as part of her time with Summerbridge, a program of MCC. Summerbridge provides the opportunity for young adults to work in their local churches and communities over the summer, developing leadership skills and strengthening relationships with their church. With funding and support from MCC, churches can employ youth and meet needs of their congregation and community that they may otherwise be unable to.
We have a very different youth program than lots of churches. We have like 2 church kids, and then there’s like 40 other kids. The youth program is all about outreach into the community.”
Having just graduated from Steinbach Bible College this spring, Ashley wanted to put what she had learned into practice by working at a church. “I wanted to try out a bunch of things to see where my passions lined up and what I wanted to do with my life,” she says. A professor connected Ashley with Morrow Gospel Church, whose needs matched her hopes for a job.
Throughout the summer, Ashley volunteered at English Café, a program run by the Salvation Army to help newcomers learn and practice English, and helped organize a bus trip to Falcon Lake and Kenora for newcomers who are unable to leave the city because they don’t own vehicles.
Photo couresty of Morrow Gospel Church
But Ashley’s main focus was organizing and running the drop-in at the church every Wednesday evening. The church has a strong youth program during the year, but like many other churches, doesn’t have much programming over the summer. “All of [the youth leaders] work so hard during the year, that when summer comes they really need a mental break,” says Paul Epp, Pastor of Care.
The church should be alive, even in the summer."
But if there are no programs running in the church in summer, there are needs in the community that aren’t being met, says Ashley. “The church should be alive even in the summer because kids have free time.”
And Morrow Gospel Church is certainly alive. When youth begin to arrive at the drop-in, the church basement fills with music, cheers from around the ping-pong table and laughter as leaders excitedly greet youth.
Ashley estimates they get about 15-30 youth a week. The vast majority of them are from the community. “We have a very different youth program than lots of churches. We have like 2 church kids, and then there’s like 40 other kids. The youth program is all about outreach into the community.”
Summerbridge has definitely helped me realize what my passions are. It just built my confidence in what I can do when God and I work together."
In a time where more and more young adults are leaving the church, Morrow Gospel’s youth program is growing. “Every time I come, there are new kids,” says Paul. “We can project more than the usual for Friday night [youth events] coming up in the fall.”
Hanging out with kids and coordinating the drop-in has affirmed Ashley’s hopes to become a teacher. “[Summerbridge] has definitely helped me realize what my passions are. It just built my confidence in what I can do when God and I work together.”