A Light in the City
Have you ever had a chance to meet Serina Brown, the Community Center’s current director? You can’t escape the feeling that she’s ready to take you under her wing at a moment’s notice. It’s clear that this sense of safety and nurturing that Serina has cultivated permeates throughout the Community Center and has been a major factor in attracting kids and families over the years.
At the end of the month, Serina will be moving on from her post at Bethesda Mission to follow her calling to be a licensed family therapist. But before she goes, we wanted to make sure you knew her story and can look forward to how the vision she helped create will become a reality.
A Harrisburg native, Serina always found herself surrounded by younger children. As an adult, she was working as a temp and was repeatedly placed at local elementary schools. “While getting to know the kids,” she said, “they were drawn to me; I was drawn to them.”
Temping eventually led Serina to a position at Dixon University in the department of multicultural affairs. “My boss was leaving, “ she remembered, “but he brought me the newspaper and pointed to it and said, ‘this, this is you!’” It was an employment ad for Bethesda Mission Youth Center: Creative Learning Teacher.
Serina took a chance and applied. I’m so glad she did.
“My heart was just to love them,” Serina recalled after she started getting to know the kids at the Center. “They had so many issues, but I wanted them to see Jesus in the midst of their pain.” The relationships that Serina was forming with the students started to spread to their families as well. “When I’d meet their families,” she continued, “I understood more why the kids had the pain in their hearts.”
Through those experiences, Serina adopted a holistic approach when working with the families. “Change is from within,” she reminded me. By building relationships with the parents, she was able to encourage them and offer something different. “Parents need support too and someone cheering them on saying, ‘yes, you can do this!’ That’s something kids get more often than adults.”
Of course, there are always some parents who stay distant, but those families who embrace the love that is extended are tremendously impacted.
Michele is from one of those families. She is mom to three children who attend Community Center programming and she tries to attend all of the family events as well. When asked what comes to mind when she thinks of the Center, Michele responded, “A welcoming atmosphere; a judge-free zone; just being able to walk with you through your down times and then to run with you through your high times.”
“If there’s an issue, or if I’m super stressed, just a quick e-mail or even a text that says, ‘I’ve seen this on your Facebook page — is everything okay? Is there something we can help you with?” Michele continued, with tears in her eyes, “We’ve never had that before.”
Serina explained that she encourages the rest of the Community Center staff to focus on being present and reassuring the families that they are loved. This has led them to attend funerals, Child & Youth Services meetings, hospitals, and more. The goal is to “alleviate some of the weight that they carry.”
The future is bright for the Community Center with the expansion project progressing well. Serina may be moving on to the next stage of her journey in service to the Lord, but her vision and mothering spirit will be forever intertwined with this place.
“We should be a light in the city; a lighthouse that draws people to shore,” she continued. “We all need a little help.”
I asked Serina what she wants all those who will continue to work and volunteer at the Community Center to remember. After a brief pause, she said, “Always remember that it’s love that compels relationships forward.”
With Mother’s Day around the corner, you can imagine that many kids and parents are reflecting on the role that Serina and others have played in their lives; often lending that love, support, and wisdom that mothers everywhere do their best to spread.
Will you give a gift this month, sending love and support to someone in need? Relationships are at the heart of everything we do at Bethesda and are often the catalyst for life-long change. Your gift makes this happen — we couldn’t do it without you.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NIV)
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