Long-Term Community Development Made Simple

By Partnership Coordinator Leah Swank

As a Partnership Coordinator, it is one thing for me to tell youth groups or even members of the community why I love working with our partner organizations in Oklahoma City, but it is a totally different thing when they get excited about those organizations for themselves. 

A few weeks ago, I was doing a check-in with our newest partners at Restore OKC. I was delighted to hear all of the things they enjoyed about working with Next Step this summer, and the various projects they would like to partner on for next summer as well. When the conversation shifted from projects to just talking about the community, nothing could have prepared me for what would come next. But before I get ahead of myself, let me share a little bit of the back story.

You may remember me mentioning a young boy that frequently visited the Restore OKC project site over the summer. His name was Jayden. Almost every night during our evening programming, something was mentioned about this kid. From how he made the groups laugh, to how he was always eager to help, to the ways this young boy taught even our adult leaders lessons about life. It’s no exaggeration to say that Jayden left a mark on the hearts of all those who worked with Restore over the summer.

Fast forward to my meeting with the staff at Restore.

As we began to discuss the community, one of the directors said that she was overwhelmed by the love that groups had shown Jayden…and are still showing him. That’s right, still. I was surprised and overjoyed to learn that many of the groups from the summer have been sending Jayden cards and letters of encouragement over the last several weeks, and he is loving every minute of it.

At Next Step, our mission is to provide short term mission trips that collide with long-term community development. As you might imagine, the first part of our mission can be easily accomplished during the summer months while groups are serving, however it is the second part that always seems to be more challenging. My heart is so encouraged when I hear stories like that of Jayden’s because it is a visible example of what long-term community development can look like in it’s simplest form-encouragement.

While many of us are getting back into our back-to-school or back-to-work routines, I encourage each of you to take a moment and share a piece of encouragement with someone in your community. A little kindness surely goes a long way.

*If you would like more information on how to reach out to a member of the communities you have served in this summer, please let our Next Step staff know and we would be happy to connect you!*