Every time I’m out in the community and meet someone and tell them that I work at North Light, they always fondly say something such as, “I love North Light. If it wasn’t for North Light I don’t know where I’d be today. I grew up at North Light, when Mr. Willard was there.” The memories they recount are filled with mischievous but harmless deeds, funny incidents and how important North Light was to them and their family in general. And the best stories are from those young people who were taken under someone’s wing, kept on the right track and led to where they are today. Many of whom are college graduates or business owners who would never have made it there without our Teen Services having been mentored by someone…Mr. Keith, Mr. Willard or Irene to name a few. Just recently, a young woman received a full basketball scholarship to Millersville University, saying, “Mr. Keith taught me everything about basketball.”
The first time that I came to North Light, I met Irene Madrak, former Executive Director, for lunch and she showed me around as she told me about all the programs they provide for the community. She included the Childcare Programs, Teen Services, Holiday Programs, the Food Cupboard, open gym, recreational activities and the North Light Players.
I was not only impressed but it hit home hard.
I grew up in a very similar working class neighborhood that did not have anything like North Light. I realized that if we had, many of the young people in our neighborhood would not have fallen through the cracks or died young of drug related causes. I was filled with bittersweet emotions: admiration for all North Light did, but sadness for the revelation that very likely, my brother and others would still have been here if we had a neighborhood touchstone like North Light.
Now, having worked here for 6 years, I experience firsthand the direct positive effect we have on families. For example, our affordable childcare program is essential for the health and well-being of families struggling to make ends meet. I still remember clearly a few summers back when I told a woman that we offered financial aid. After I asked what her income was and told her what she would have to pay, she just started to cry, repeating, “I didn’t know how I was going to afford it, but I have to work and wasn’t sure what I was going to do.” She kept repeating the dollar amount I told her, saying “That’s for a week, for both children?” She thanked me profusely and kept saying how relieved she was.
One other day stands out when a mother came to pick up the Christmas gifts for her children from “Adopt a Family,” one of our long standing Holiday Programs. When I pointed to the gifts, she started thanking me repeatedly as she picked up a bag to take to her car. There were tears of joy as she shared that she recently was laid off and separated from her husband. Until she came to NLCC, she didn’t know how she was going to make Christmas happen for her family. This program demonstrates the generosity and caring of the families from our surrounding community who generously contributed to making a “Merry Christmas” for her and her children.
NLCC is full of examples that prove “It takes a village,” which is precisely why I love working here. It makes me happy to be among the wonderful people who help make our village not just work, but flourish.
I truly believe that if every neighborhood had a North Light, many families would have a guiding light when it seems like there’s no place else to turn.