When Gerardo Cielo arrived in the United States from Mexico at the age of 13, one of his first experiences was to visit the Oakbrook Terrace, Ill., Corps. Fourteen years later, he works with youth at the Blue Island, Ill., Corps, where he recently became a permanent member of the staff after serving as a youth development coordinator through the Good Soil Initiative (GSI) for three years.
“I never thought I would be working with youth in this way,” he said. “God has given me a passion for spiritual formation and youth development. He has entrusted them to me.”
As a child, Gerardo learned about God while growing up with his mom and siblings. His father had gone ahead to America to prepare a home for his family in the 1990s. By the time they joined him in 2002, he was a soldier at the Oakbrook Terrace Corps and couldn’t wait to introduce his family to The Salvation Army.
“I always knew about God,” said Gerardo. “But I developed a relationship with Him when I took soldiership classes and decided to make a commitment to Him.”
Gerardo’s work these days is a testament to his relationship with Christ. As a youth development coordinator, he’s intentional about building relationships as he leads music programs, junior church, corps cadets and character-building groups. He invests himself in the youth of the Blue Island community, doing his best to discover and meet their needs.
“One of my goals is to help create healthy spaces for our youth where they find acceptance and community,” Gerardo concluded.
For example, when a school superintendent expressed the community’s need for educational programming outside of school, Gerardo developed a relationship with youth development and mentoring organization 4-H and a nearby primary school. The relationship has expanded the reach of The Salvation Army in the community. Each Thursday afternoon the corps provides transportation and serves as the location for 30 children to participate in 4-H. Children also receive help with homework and engage in music lessons and character-building programs. Some have started coming on Sundays as well.
Ultimately, Gerardo hopes the seeds he’s planting will take root and make a difference in the lives of the children he works with.
“Gerardo is the backbone of our youth programming,” said Captain Derek Rose, Blue Island corps officer. “He is very good at connecting with our community, and he shows genuine care for the youth and their families.”