Every urban church has incredibly talented young people who, though confronted with significant educational and economic challenges, are eager to be used by their pastors in combating the pervasive poverty and violence in their neighborhoods. These individuals have great promise because their single most prominent characteristic is that they spend countless hours volunteering in their churches out of a real passion to serve others. It is the “mission” of the Ascending Lights Leadership Network to recognize and develop these leaders and strengthen their churches in the struggle to break the descending cycle of poverty and violence in their communities.
This is accomplished by:
- Overcoming the obstacles that keep these gifted young adults out of community college career programs that lead to good paying jobs, and
- Building the skills of these passionate volunteers so they can become the next generation of leaders for church based outreach programs.
We recruit Ascending Lights students from urban churches throughout Los Angeles County based on their strong records of Christian service. They receive full scholarships and are carefully mentored to help them earn associate’s degrees in majors that will provide them careers with solid income potential and the ability to transfer to four year universities. At the same time, Ascending Lights students receive extensive training in faith-based leadership that is designed to give them practical skills and tools in urban ministry. Our goal is to not only assist our own students, but also their peers, families, neighborhoods, and churches to break the downward cycle of poverty and violence.
Founded in 1993, the Ascending Lights approach was developed in discussion with urban pastors of various denominations and racial-ethnic backgrounds serving in the poorest and most underserved areas of Los Angeles. Their churches generally lacked trained younger adults who could organize and expand effective community outreach programs. Many programs never get off the ground or failed to grow because they lack skilled volunteer leaders. In those same discussions, it was also agreed that community college career education programs were the fastest and highest income producing means of helping men and women rise above poverty level subsistence and prepare for further university studies.
Students are recommended for Ascending Lights by their pastors in recognition of their histories of self-initiated, regular volunteer service in their churches throughout the Los Angeles area. They are high school graduates and US citizens or Permanent Residents. There are now 57 urban churches that have nominated Ascending Lights students and presently 34 students in the program with 83 graduates.
Ascending Lights students receive full financial scholarships for Associate’s Degrees or vocational certificates at area community colleges. The financial support pays for tuition and fees, books, equipment and tools, meals while at school, transportation, tutoring, uniforms, and any other special needs unique to the student’s career program choice or family circumstances.
Ascending Lights works with many of the community colleges in Los Angeles County, where students are able to choose from a broad range of career and degree programs, including electronic communications, web design, medical technologies, accounting, paralegal, nursing, and child development as well as the construction trades. In order to develop them as leaders, students take required classes in college English, computer literacy and public speaking in addition to participation in focused urban ministry seminars.
Ascending Lights students are encouraged to complete their chosen career program, an Associate’s Degree, and any credits they will need to transfer to a four-year college or university. Ascending Lights scholarships average slightly more than $27,000 per student. There is no cost to the student, the student’s family, or the church that recommends a student to Ascending Lights.
Three individuals founded the Ascending Lights Leadership Network. The president gave up an executive position in a major public company to form Ascending Lights in 1993. He and his wife moved to the inner city of Los Angeles to be accessible to the students they serve. The president does not receive a salary from Ascending Lights. His wife supports their family. She also volunteers two days a week to supervise mentors. In addition, Ascending Lights has 38 volunteers serving on our board or committees or assisting in other special projects.
The agency’s unique formula for leadership development is based upon two facts: First, many young people, living in poverty, fall into gangs or other criminal behavior because they lack opportunities for positive social activity, meaningful employment, and role models. With proper volunteer leadership, local churches are able to operate outreach programs that teach positive social values and encourage higher education.
Second, modern career programs at local community colleges have been shown to quickly and inexpensively teach job skills which are in demand. Graduates with these skills earn entry-level incomes of $11.00 per hour and more. This, evidence has shown, is the fastest way to enable disadvantaged young people to break out of the cycle of poverty.
There are three key factors that contribute to the success of Ascending Lights students:
- Each student receives careful weekly academic mentoring – All Ascending Lights students come from educationally and economically challenged families. Environments generally do not exist in their homes that will support mature life and study habits. Even though they are all high school graduates, most of these students did not have the advantage of learning basic study skills in school. Because of this, weekly academic mentoring and tutoring are essential to their success in the program. A staff mentor, meets weekly, from one-half to one hour, with all enrolled students. In these meetings the mentor asks very specific questions about class requirements and grades obtained on tests and papers. The mentor probes for problems that might affect each student’s academic performance and arranges for tutoring or other services as required. This close monitoring of student progress has consistently resulted in grade point averages of 3.0 or higher for Ascending Lights students who were average students at best in high school.
- Each student receives spiritual mentoring from a member of his or her church – Church Liaisons meet with students in order to help them integrate their faith with schoolwork, community responsibility, and the leadership training that they receive. In addition, each student is required by Ascending Lights to have a personalized plan of spiritual growth activities. Such activities are essential for a student to be a well rounded Christian leader.
- Each student receives leadership training from Ascending Lights staff and outside resources with competency in both urban ministry and social service – Ascending Lights students have been selected to receive scholarships because of their demonstrated commitment to social-service outreach activities at their churches. In order to expand and enhance these activities, college level leadership-training seminars are provided by Ascending Lights. Held on Saturdays three time a year. Seminar topics have included: Seven Steps to Personal Excellence, Small Group Leadership, Conflict Resolution, Starting a New Social Service Ministry, and Fund Raising and Networking. Emphasis is placed on learning through experience and personal sharing.
The Ascending Lights Leadership Network approach to leadership development is unique because it balances career education, mentoring — both academic and spiritual, leadership training, and practical service. The numerous stories of growth and encouragement from our students are moving testimony to our ability to help urban churches provide lasting solutions to some of the most frustrating material and spiritual problems straining the fabric of our City’s neighborhoods.