Marcus Morales is no stranger to overcoming challenges. For the past twenty years, he’s navigated a world filled with people who communicate in ways that he is unable. Born deaf, Morales uses sign language, but often faces difficulties with connecting with hearing people.
“When I was twelve years old I started going to church and I was the only one who was deaf,” he shared. “I felt awkward and a little behind, so I was quiet.”
Rosa McGuire, youth leader at New Dimension Christian Center (NDCC) agreed, “As much as we love him and have wanted to engage with him, it has been difficult to do so on a consistent basis.”
Still, NDCC was committed to ensuring that Morales could fully participate in everything the youth ministry provided, including opportunities for high-school aged youth to grow in their faith in God and develop leadership skills.
“We want youth to grow and develop in healthy ways so they can transition to being adults that love the Lord, love others and are able to care for themselves, their homes and their families,” explained McGuire. “We also want to instill the value of service and contributing to the community in transformational ways.”
When McGuire learned about the opportunity for a teen or young adult to gain work experience and develop leadership and employment skills over the summer, backed with grant funding from Urban Alliance, she had one person in mind for the job: Morales.
“Marcus has been deaf since birth, but his hearing loss does not affect his ability to do just about anything he sets his heart and mind to,” shared McGuire.
An important value of NDCC’s youth ministry is to holistically understand the needs of each young person they serve and respond accordingly. Holding true to this value, McGuire teamed up with NDCC’s basic needs program leader and Morales’s mother, Denise Cruz, to craft a job that would help him grow in experience and gain confidence.
Over the course of the summer, Morales tackled many projects that greatly enhanced NDCC’s basic needs programs that provide free clothing and non-perishable food items to community members.
“I helped organize and sort clothes into categories—adults, kids—and in the pantry I looked to see which foods are expired,” explained Morales. “I am organized at home, so I liked these jobs. I worked by myself and with my mom, and I liked it.”
From painting the food pantry, organizing and labeling donated clothes by size, documenting inventory for the clothing bank and food pantry, submitting data, setting up office space and welcoming clients to the basic needs program, Morales made a large impact in a short amount of time.
But, perhaps the biggest impact that was made was on Morales himself.
“At first it was a little awkward and I wasn’t used to it but it changed by the end,” he shared. “By talking to hearing people, I feel more confident in myself. I feel comfortable now.”
Cruz agreed, “Marcus learned different jobs and techniques that he has not learned outside of the deaf community. This experience helped him build his confidence on a higher level.”
“His smile grew brighter and his confidence soared as he was personally selected and entrusted with this opportunity,” shared McGuire. “I believe this experience allowed Marcus to see his indispensable, innate value and worth. He was able to find unique and innovative ways to touch and connect with a community that may not be able to readily communicate with him.”
In addition to grant funding, Urban Alliance has provided training, toolkits, volunteers and supplies to help NDCC strengthen their outreach programs.
“God has opened many doors by partnering with Urban Alliance,” shared Cruz. “Urban Alliance has made a difference in our lives.”
While Morales was once hesitant to get involved with youth events at NDCC, he now steps out in confidence and enthusiastically connects with other youth on a regular basis. And, with a toolbox of new experiences in tow, he also is looking ahead toward his future career goals.
“I want to be an auto mechanic, because I like to work with my hands,” he explained. “I like to fix things.”
And through his summer youth employment experience, he gained a new perspective that will help propel him forward in reaching that goal.
“I learned how to glorify God in my work. I learned a new word—omnipresent. So, I know God is with me always and protects me so I don’t feel alone.”