Dear New City Neighbors Community,
Today is my last day serving as the Executive Director of New City Neighbors, and I want to take a moment to say thank you! I am so thankful for the privilege and the honor I’ve had to be a part of this community these last three years.
It’s fun to think back to the first year of our afterschool program, when I had just moved back to Michigan. I remember fondly a crazy time of new beginnings as we launched the first year of New City Afterschool. With Eric’s support and Kalee as my right hand person, we jumped right in! We had an incredible group of high school staff that proved high school leadership for our afterschool program was the absolute right choice. That team made the afterschool program a success, as did many of you, who also jumped in to help launch this new program- bringing snacks, leading a Bible study, teaching a chess club, and sharing your prayers and resources.
And then, that next summer I became the Executive Director. As we moved through transition as an organization, we were again blessed by incredible youth leadership and staff. We had our moments and challenges (such as the infamous day the salt was used instead of sugar for a whole morning in the bakery- a legendary story at this point), but overall, we grew in community and leadership together. We experimented and tried new things, and learned to adapt and grow in the process.
That next year, Holly came on board as our Program Director, beginning year two of New City Afterschool, and Lance and Joel began dreaming up New City Cafe. We shared the vision and idea with all of you- and you responded. You supported our Seeds of Growth Campaign, helped lay bricks on the patio, and when the doors opened- you showed up. I remember Thursdays being both exhausting and thrilling each week that summer- as we witnessed our community come together over food and fellowship in brand new ways as our high school and middle school youth ran the cafe.
We added a whole new program without new staff that summer, and we recognized that this impacted our high school staff the most. We dreamed up the High School and Intern Director position, and brought Danah on board this past Spring. Her passion and commitment to youth has added important depth and needed support to our high school youth employment program.
It’s been a whirlwind of challenges and blessings these last three years of ministry and building community together. And SO MANY fun and cherished memories with youth. Like the time a second grader marched into my office, put a Bible down, and declared, “Ms. Alaina, you NEED to read this. EVERY day.” Helpful reminder; he was not wrong. I remember trying to convince the bakery students we could go to Chicago for our trip instead of the traditional camping trip, and a group of students setting up a tent in Chicago (indoors) to sleep in, for old times sake. Even middle school students need time to adjust to change! Then there was the bakery trip the next year, when we were camping on the beach, and the middle school students were so excited they just could not fall asleep, “Ms. Alaina, are the waves going to reach our tent?” There was also the summer we spent two weeks in restorative circles with high school staff, working through really difficult conflict that resulted in life changing lessons (ok, this was not as fun, but it was powerful and something we still talk about to this day). So many memories that will stick with me, our staff, and our students, for a lifetime.
As always, I’m so grateful for the community that has made it a priority to invest in and empower youth. The New City Neighbors staff and youth are some of the most committed people I know. I’ve continued to be amazed and inspired by the youth who have led the way in each one of our programs. We’ve grown together through hard work, fun, conflict resolution, difficult conversations about faith, race, and gender, and ultimately through being in community together. As I leave New City Neighbors I am filled with hope for what’s next for this community.
As we’ve grown, we’ve evaluated our decisions by staying committed to the question, “will this create more opportunities to empower youth?” As we look at what it means to pursue shalom in our neighborhood and community, we understand that God has called New City Neighbors to empower youth to reach their full potential. What I’ve loved about New City Neighbors since day one as that we strive to do this holistically- through faith, real jobs, mentorship, good food, hard work, anti-racism, and more. Our mission statement isn’t just a nice saying to make us all feel good. It is a real commitment to putting youth first in our community as they grow into the persons God has created them to be. We believe in their ability to impact our community today, and we see it making a difference. It’s been an absolute joy to be a part of this work.
Thank you for allowing me to be part of this with you all! It has truly been a blessing.