A Welding Class Forges New Bonds
In the bitter cold of a Philadelphia winter, ten men and women converged for their weekly class. In the unheated space of a dimly-lit warehouse, Dan, Jordan, Ian, and Don led a welding course for their six adult students. As the evening progressed, the darkness was punctuated with flashes of light and showers of sparks as theses students learned to weld and forged new bonds.
Dan Anderson was always good with his hands. He finished his undergraduate studies in mechanical engineering and physics and gained practical experience in construction. After getting married, he and Denise interned with Servant Partners in South Los Angeles. There, Dan connected with ReIgnite Hope, a training program teaching valuable job skills to men and women, many of whom have been homeless, gang members, and ex-offenders. Following their two-year internship, Dan and Denise moved back to the East Coast where they pioneered a new site in Philadelphia.
Late one night after Bible study, Dan was walking home when he saw a familiar silhouette perched on a stoop ahead of him. “Ian?” Dan called out. The two men reconnected, discussing the welding program where they met years ago, and Dan threw out the idea he had been mulling over for a while: starting a welding and job skill development class in the neighborhood. Astonished, Ian revealed that he was already talking to their other mutual friend, Don, about the same thing.
Dan, Ian, and Don connected with Jordan, a Philadelphia school district welding teacher with connections to the Glaziers Union and years of experience. After canvassing the neighborhood, they found that there was an interest in educational opportunities for adults and in gaining this marketable job skill, so these men worked their connections and waited patiently for the pieces to come together to launch their envisioned class.
In November 2017, they launched ReIgnite Philly and their first one-month, mini class where six students learned to read shop drawings, practiced stick welding, reviewed shop mathematics, and had round-table discussions about life, spirituality, and faith. After the first month was up, three students graduated.
As Dan reflected on the 50% graduation rate that they experienced, an important theme started to appear: friends and family have the potential to be an obstacle or an encouragement toward reaching the end goal. The struggles of raising a family in the city are great. Students spoke of the difficulty of finding work and providing for their families, of having to bail out their relatives, and of getting kicked out of the house when relationships turned sour. But family can also push people on toward greater things.
Glen, one of the student participants, brought his nephew Derek to the course because he was worried about Derek working the corner each night and getting into trouble. During the course of the month, Derek disappeared from class one week. When asked what happened, Glen shook his head and said that his nephew was chased down by the cops, beaten up, and had his teeth kicked in. Dan followed up to make sure that Derek was all right. He could hear the pain in Derek’s voice as recalled that evening.
But even after an event like that—something that could have easily taken him out of the running entirely—Derek returned and satisfactorily completed the course. The three students who finished were Derek, his uncle Glen, and their mutual friend Tony. It was this concerned uncle and the bonds of friendship and family that carried these three to their goal.
As Dan and Denise reflect on the way that these forged and strengthening bonds between family and friends in the neighborhood can work for good, they also remember how Jesus sent out his disciples two-by-two and how God made Adam and Eve as a pair; we were designed for companionship. The future of ReIgnite Philly and the rest of their neighborhood ministry hopes to do just that: to identifying and strengthening the relationships that lead to the success and shalom of their neighbors and of their city.