Five years ago Captains Corey and Nikki Hughes were appointed to the Englewood Corps Red Shield Center in Chicago, Ill. The corps is located in an area of the city where poverty, drugs and violence run rampant. They immediately felt the urge of the Holy Spirit to fill the building with children and teenagers, safe from the threats of the streets outside.
It has taken time to gain the confidence and trust of the community, but their diligence has resulted in growing youth programs and an increase in the number of youth engaging in them. Every day of the week sees youth coming in to play basketball, hang out and participate in activities designed specifically for them. Most importantly, they receive the care and nurturing some might not receive at home.
“The staff is great,” said Captain Nikki. “They love these kids. We’re seeing kids missing less school and getting better grades because they know someone is interested in their future.”
Weekly programs for youth include afterschool and character-building groups, music instruction, Young Men of Englewood (a mentoring program for boys in seventh and eighth grades), Strength in Sisters (a group for teen girls), vacation Bible school and supervised recreation.
Celebration Launch and Landing, a mentoring program for youth that was instituted in 2017, now averages 100 every Wednesday night. After a worship service and themed message, qualified mentors lead small group discussions designed to help participants navigate the many challenges they face, from hunger to the death of a family member from violence. Two certified counselors also are on hand to work one-on-one with anyone who needs additional attention or support.
This summer 14 youth from Celebration Launch and Landing earned a trip to Disney World as a reward for a year of excellence at school, at the corps and in the community. The value of perseverance and hard work was driven home as they experienced things some had thought impossible, including flying in an airplane and traveling out of Chicago.
The trip was made possible through the Thomas Lyle Williams Fund, which the corps was awarded upon starting Celebration Launch and Landing. A story by NBC 5 Chicago TV news resonated with the community and brought in personal donations that provided the young people with $150 spending money each.
“We keep the programs going year-round so the kids always have somewhere to go,” said Captain Nikki. “We hope to expand their world so they see there’s more out there than their immediate surroundings in Englewood.”
As the number of youth participating in corps groups and activities grows, so does the Sunday morning congregation. Many have transitioned from only attending weekday programs to coming to Sunday worship, increasing attendance by more than 100 percent!