Tell us about the mission of The Harbor District, Inc., where you work as Outreach Programs Manager.
We’re essentially both a location and an organization/nonprofit. We focus on revitalizing Milwaukee’s Inner Harbor, which is the area approximately between the Third Ward and Bay View, and everything east of First Street, including the Port of Milwaukee. This special area of Milwaukee was so important to the industrial history of the city as it was — and continues to be — a working waterfront. Unfortunately, there are still remnants of contamination from the industries that were here a hundred years ago. This place was left contaminated, off-limits, and left our waterways in unhealthy conditions. Our purpose is to revitalize the Harbor District by connecting people to place, supporting a healthy business community and improving the quality of our natural environment. My job specifically focuses on activating public space near the water, leading the public engagement efforts on all of our different projects and ensuring the local community is connected to our work and has a say in how the District gets redeveloped.
Like so many young adults, you went through a period of time away from the Church, but you came back stronger in your faith. Can you tell us about that?
I was always involved as a kid in any and all the church groups possible, from choir camp to Bible camps and teaching Sunday school. In high school, I was part of the campus ministry at Dominican and was a part of the Veritas Team, and I even considered religious life at various points in my life. In college, I still kept going to church — though not as diligently as I was when I was back home. Just like any young adult, you’re pulled in so many different directions, and your faith isn’t a priority anymore. A couple of years after graduating college, I kind of had to re-encounter God in desperation. He gave me a lot of clarity on what was happening in my life at the time, and I started researching my faith again and questioning, “OK, what’s the reason I want to stay here?” I think when we’re younger, we’re told by our parents, “Go to church, do this or do that,” but this was really for me to ask myself, “Why am I here, why is my faith driving me now, why is God calling me, why does my heart feel like this?” I’m just so blessed with everything that’s happened in my life once I decided to give my heart to God again. I’ve been actively involved in rediscovering my faith and having a relationship with God since then, and I will forever continue.
You’re deeply involved in the young adult group at your parish. What can we do as a church to help young adults feel wanted and welcome?
This question came up during one of my assignments for the lay ministry program. I interviewed a number of our young adults and asked that question to them. Something I heard a lot was about giving them more responsibility and doing it in a way that builds upon their gifts. Instead of telling us what to do, ask us what are you good at and how can we incorporate that into the Church. The other thing that was emphasized was studying the Bible and being real about what the Bible teaches. A lot of our young adults don’t know the Bible, and I think that contributes to why they’re easily misguided. Imagine the beautiful thing that would happen if our young adults truly knew about how deep Jesus’ love is for us and this world.
How does your faith interact with your professional work?
I can bring my faith into work a lot — people often ask, “What are you doing this weekend?” and I’m never afraid to tell them that I’m going to be doing something related to my faith like “Oh, I’m teaching First Communion kids,” or “I’m going to my lay ministry class.” Once I reconnected with my faith, I wasn’t ashamed anymore to say, “Hey, I strongly believe in God and this is who I am.” I think sometimes in the secular nonprofit world, faith has become kind of taboo to talk about. I get to test my patience and ability to interact with people who are completely different than I or who would completely disagree with me, and I get to do it all from a place of love — because isn’t that what God asks?