Team from Suburbs Plants Seeds of Hope in City

Submitted by Bob Duncan, Glen Ellyn First Presbyterian Church

Glen Ellyn First YMENCan a garden grow a community? Several years ago, the Young Men’s Educational Network (YMEN), a mission partner of Glen Ellyn First, reclaimed a corner lot on Avers Street in the North Lawndale community, converting it from a Chicago Prairie to a play area and a community garden. With swings and raised garden beds it represents taking the block back from those who cause personal suffering and creating a common area for good. It now provides an open space for anyone to play, tend the garden and/or to take produce as they need.

In early May, members of Glen Ellyn First, joined with the YMEN community to eat lunch and plant vegetables in the garden together. After a nourishing lunch provided by YMEN staff, the adults and older teens planted peppers, beans, lettuce, spices and squash, while the children kept busy looking for fresh eggs in the chicken coop and bouncing furiously on the trampoline.

Our ’non-green’ thumb members used the sport court to play basketball with the neighborhood teens. If the amount of sweat on certain Glen Ellyn First folks is any measure, I am pretty sure that they were ‘schooled’ by the locals.

Some of our group entered this project with concerns about going to the Lawndale area of Chicago. Based upon the smiles and active participation, those fears were soon overcome and the event proved a rousing success.

Our church began its’ relationship with YMEN in 1999 with a joint mission trip to New Mexico. Since then, our relationship has grown strong with mission trips to Montana and Uganda, and reciprocal service in Glen Ellyn and North Lawndale. We also participate in monthly family fun nights and the Arts Alive program. In addition, several members of our church have shared career experience and advise.

YMEN’s mission is to prepare young men (teens and young 20’s) in North Lawndale for leadership by helping youth grow in their faith and character, develop a love for learning, and use their talents to serve the broader community. A few years ago, the PEARL mission was created to mentor and cultivate young women who display consistent, positive growth in their education, attitudes, relationship with God and others, and servant leadership.

This article was originally published as the cover story of the June 2015 Our Common Ministry, the presbytery’s newsletter. Download the complete issue.

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