Mentorship Project Equips Young Adults
On a steep rise above Lake Erie on the southern coast of Ontario is a cluster of cottages with views across the bay from downtown Port Dover to Turkey Point. Seven young adults from Ontario and British Columbia shared two of these cottages since May as participants in the launch season of the South Coast (SoCo) Beach Project.
The project founder and leader is Willemina Zwart, a CRC minister with experience in both campus and congregational ministry. Part of her inspiration for the SoCo Beach Project came from time she spent as a staff mentor for the Ocean City Beach Project 25 years ago.
The SoCo Beach Project brought together Victor An, Sarah Gysbers, Alex Knopp, Makayla Meinen, Nathan Visser, Jessie Zantingh, and Maddy Zomer to live in intentional Christian community while working at local jobs throughout the day and engaging in discipleship and mentoring in the evening.
Their jobs ranged from work at a local Dairy Queen, to a cheese shop, to a landscaping and garden center, to a nearby daycare, to jobs with the SoCo Beach Project and Immanuel CRC (sponsored by the Canada Summer Jobs grant program) in community development, graphic design and promotional work, and intergenerational ministries. One of the participants, Maddy Zomer, designed the SoCo Beach Project logo appearing on the project’s website.
The men and women shared four communal dinners each week, which they prepared in pairs. Rooms, living spaces, and chores were shared by the women in one cottage and by the men in the other.
Discipleship took place through time spent one-on-one with mentors, assigned reading, and speakers twice a week, as pandemic restrictions allowed. During free time, participants explored the local area, shared their musical talents, kayaked from the beach, and enjoyed the sunshine and slower pace of a coastal community.
Zomer said she appreciated the length of time offered by the program, noting, “It gave us a good amount of time to really settle into the area and with each other. It felt like real life . . . learning how to balance the social time and the learning time and your work, and seeing them all connect and not be separate from each other.”
I was able to visit the project during its last week, before it wrapped up on Aug. 23. The success of the intentional communal living was apparent in the comfortable joking among participants, who passed around a ukulele and helped each other with tricky chords before settling down for our conversation.
They talked about what they had learned from each other and from mentors; about better understanding themselves, their capacity, and their needs and interests; about the support they felt from their home churches and from Immanuel CRC. Most of the participants also mentioned the skills they had learned through communal living and working that would transfer to life after the project.
Highlights for Makayla Meinen were one-on-one mentorship and, she said, “being invested in and having so many people -- especially older people in the church -- so supportive and really believing it’s important for us to have this time for learning and growing, because they believe that we’re the future leaders of the church.”
Several of the participants will return to university in the fall, while others have graduated and will pursue further studies or join the workforce.
Jessie Zantingh is majoring in urban and intercultural ministry at Redeemer University, and appreciated how her work in community development this summer lined up with her studies. She also said that the project offered “holistic community and a kind of a holding spot to . . . discern what the future looks like, to process where we’ve been as young adults.”
She added, “To do that with peers has been really interesting, and having people older and wiser mentoring us and speaking into our lives has been really impactful.”
Speakers engaged with SoCo Beach Project participants on a variety of topics such as missional living, a Christian sexual ethic, vocational discernment, and ways that arts and culture interact. Port Dover residents George and Ada Kloets offered space in their studio barn each Tuesday and Thursday, where participants cooked and shared meals with speakers before engaging in each evening’s topic.
One speaker whose message impressed Sarah Gysbers was John Berends. “He talked about the theology of place, loving the space that you’re in, how to do that well, stepping outside your comfort zone, and entering into what the area, or the city, has to offer, seeing how God is already at work in Port Dover,” Gysbers explained. “That was really powerful; I can take that back to Hamilton and love it well.”