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Visiting Shepherd Community Center

Written by Stacia Belanger on

School is out! Kids can finally fulfill their dreams of sleeping in and playing video games. Working parents scramble for creative childcare solutions. Stay-at-home parents navigate bored and sometimes bickering children. I knew what was coming for my family’s flavor of summer and decided to design a weekly work plan that included a little school work, some chores, reading programs, field trips, pool trips, and sleepovers. Throw in a couple camps each, a short family vacation to Michigan, and ingredients for s’mores, and we’re ready! This summer, however, I also wanted to broaden our comfortable suburban view of life by volunteering in the city to help the less fortunate.

After researching College Park’s local outreach partners, I set up a work session at Shepherd Community Center. Kayla Weller, the Volunteer Group Ambassador at Shepherd, responded very quickly and pointedly about how and when a mom and two kids (aged 10 and 12) could volunteer. We served the first time in May on a Wednesday morning for two hours. Shepherd runs gardens and a chicken coop as part of their initiative to delete hunger in their neighborhood, and we helped clean up a few beds and plant some tomato seedlings. We worked with Harrison “the agriculture guy,” an intern, and another volunteer, all three in their early 20s and extremely congenial and encouraging to my children.

When we arrived, Kayla took us on a quick tour of the school (they serve 150 students!), the kitchen, and the food pantry. We then met Harrison, David, and Jessica outside. We hoed, pulled weeds, lay down dried alfalfa for mulch, and planted tomato plants. Kayla offered us water and brought out popsicles, even for the adults. The conversation was gracious and sweet and light, and I loved hearing my kids chatting with these 20-something adults who want to be missionaries and serve at Shepherd in the name of Jesus Christ. My kids meeting dedicated Christian mentors – with a way higher cool factor than Mom – was a super extra bonus. They even echoed my motherly wisdom: do some schoolwork over the summer… “My mom made me do stuff over the summers, and I’m really glad now that she did.” And out of left field, “Have you read Hatchet?” to my son – I’d been trying to get him to read it!  So, naturally, I was pleased that God used these young-and-hip adults to corroborate my less-than-popular guidelines for education, reading, and volunteering over the summer. Praise be to God!

Once we finished in the gardens for our work slot, we had a few extra minutes to visit the chickens.  Harrison oversees the coop, but families in the neighborhood sign up to care for the brood and take eggs home. We asked questions and enjoyed the visit immensely, getting to know some of the staff’s favorites and some of the bullies. We talked a bit about the beehive too, which produces 100 pounds of honey a year. Our visit casually wound down, and we made plans to serve again. I can’t wait to go back!

Shepherd is doing excellent work. Their vision is concise and scaled appropriately: Our mission is to break the cycle of poverty on the near Eastside of Indianapolis by engaging and empowering the community to cultivate healthy children, strong families, and vibrant neighborhoods through a Christ-centered approach that meets the physical, emotional, spiritual, and academic needs of our neighbors.

Every time I read that mission, I get all tingly in my soul. They really do try to meet and integrate the needs of the mind, body, and spirit in Christ for their neighbors and their families, and there are few nobler causes in the life and work of a Christian.

In the near future, my kids and I will return to help with the garden and start helping with the food pantry. I also hope to learn more about working in the kitchen and working with the students, which is work that God has made to invigorate my heart. My daughter mentioned running a neighborhood food drive to stock the food pantry. Volunteering at Shepherd Community Center benefits its surrounding neighborhood, but it also benefits my family and I. God made us to find pleasure in serving, and by the end of the summer, I hope that my children think it’s even better than a day at the pool.

Stacia Belanger

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