By Stephanie Marienau Turpin
During her first-year orientation Kyleen Burke ’12 walked through Lynn, Massachusetts with Gordon IN Lynn director Val Buchanan to learn about service opportunities in the city. Kyleen shared her burgeoning interest in law and Buchanan encouraged her to come learn about the criminal justice system in Lynn. Six years later, Kyleen works at the Lynn juvenile justice organization Straight Ahead Ministries and has been accepted to several law schools to study public interest law.
“I was a Gordon student ‘in Lynn,’ but Val modeled for me that I didn’t have to be a visitor always,” says Kyleen. “I could become part of the community. I don’t make sense here, but I can bring something, and I can learn a lot. A lot.”
Vision and Growth
“Lynn, Lynn, city of sin, you never go out the way you came in”—the well-known jingle mocks Lynn’s historic reputation as a high-crime area. But for Kyleen and others, the rhyme has a different meaning. Gordon IN Lynn has enabled them to explore their vocations in an urban context and discover new visions for their lives, going out profoundly differently than how they came in.
Gordon’s Office of Community Engagement (OCE) brings 500 Gordon students each year into relationships of service and learning across the North Shore, in Boston, and especially in Lynn, where 10 years ago Buchanan moved into the neighborhood and launched a Gordon program initially called the Lynn Initiative. What started as a cluster of connections with community agencies has grown into a multi-faceted set of programs, including academically-based service learning through The Great Conversation and other Gordon courses, a tutoring and mentoring program called College Bound, more than a dozen volunteer Outreach Teams, and a growing focus on bringing to campus social justice conversations on topics like race and immigration. Over 10 years, the OCE has facilitated over 85,000 hours of service to the community.
Experiences in Lynn have deeply influenced many Gordon students’ academic and career choices. As a student, Stephanie Acker Housman ’07 went door-to-door in a Lynn neighborhood to invite youngsters into the College Bound program, inspiring her love of neighborhood development, which she now does full-time in Cambridge. Jon Nystedt ’09 was a College Bound tutor while at Gordon and now works for the Lynn Housing Authority—continuing relationships with the same kids he has helped with homework for the past seven years.
Jen Rosenbaum ’08 volunteered with the International Rescue Committee in Lynn throughout college and as a senior conducted qualitative research into Somali-Bantu women’s experiences of pregnancy and birth. An intern now in obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Chicago, she cites her experience with Somali-Bantu women in Lynn as the one that most affected the type of physician she wants to be.
As a student, Becky Jones ’09 volunteered at the New American Center, a consortium of organizations serving refugee and immigrant populations of Lynn. Now she works for the organization full time. Becky explains the intention of many students during their time in Lynn: “I wanted to learn how to think, which went hand-in-hand with how I wanted to be in the world.”
Learning and Mutuality
As part of the academic community, the OCE seeks to inculcate a posture of learning. Service helps students take beyond the classroom what they are learning in their courses, to question it in the light of new experiences, and to live out their theology. The OCE fosters mutual relationships that subvert the traditional paradigm of those who serve and those who receive. Stephanie Housman recalls the clear message that students should not regard Lynn as a “project city that we’re trying to save.”
Instead, the OCE puts Gordon students in the position of learners within the Lynn community and allows Lynners to invite them into relationship.
As a “Lynntern,” Landon Ranck ’12 visited the House of Hope church, which includes professionals, people experiencing homelessness, and some who just walk in off the street. He recalls telling himself one Sunday as the congregation gathered for the Eucharist, “Look around—this is pretty similar to what communion with Jesus would look like.”
This type of redeemed community is at the center of the OCE’s vision. Its tenth anniversary feels less like a celebration of what has been accomplished so far and more like a time to look ahead: to visions students are developing for their lives, to the future of Lynn that its local leaders are building, and to what lies ahead for the OCE in the next 10 years of service and learning.
Stephanie Marienau Turpin is the associate director of the Gordon College Office of Community Engagement.