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Ellen Gotelli, LITE Coordinator at Elmwood-El Buen Samaritano UMC 

My name is Ellen Gotelli and this summer, I have the pleasure of being the Elmwood-El Buen Samaritano UMC LITE Coordinator. The “Leadership In Training Experience” Program is a unique program to Project Transformation’s North Texas chapter. We work with high school students on spiritual and personal development, college planning, and cultivating a love for community service. The Elmwood LITE Program has 28 active LITEs who spend every morning mentoring and volunteering with the elementary students and then spend the afternoon learning together in discussion-style sessions.

This summer is my second term with Project Transformation and the relationships I have made with the students and my fellow PT Corps Members have changed the way I live every moment of my life. As I prepare for my vocational career in youth ministry, I count Project Transformation as one of my most formative experiences. All of the PT Corps Members talk about our community in terms of the “PT bubble” in which life is different than our regularly scheduled programming during the school year. Within the PT bubble, amazing memories and friendships are made, and I can truly say that I have done things I never even imagined with the help of my friends at Project Transformation. Our experience is unique because of the sacrificial service we commit to each summer. Sacrifice is not glamorous work, but it is necessary to check ourselves at the door so that we will be able to ask “who did God create me to be?” away from other influences in our lives.

Halfway through the summer, I was entertaining our youngest class (1st and 2nd grade students) while they were eating their afternoon snack before going home. Many of our children depend heavily on alternative food resources and afternoon snack is—at times of high financial stress—the last “meal” they may have for the day. As such, we try to encourage the children to eat their snacks even if some of them can be picky eaters. On this particular occasion, the ever beloved goldfish crackers were being passed out and I wanted to encourage them to eat their snack so I said aloud, “Goldfish! Those are my favorite!” One small child heard me say that goldfish were my favorite snack and held up her baggie with both hands, offering me some of her own crackers.

In that moment, I was shocked at the grace of the Holy Spirit. A child who may be depending on these crackers for sustenance, offered them to me without a second thought! Through the power of relationships, lives are being transformed by love, kindness, and generosity here at Project Transformation.

My LITEs have a lot to do with creating this loving environment. When morale is low on a hard day, my high school students are the first to remind our elementary school kids that each day is a new day. My mantra of the summer has become: “We are all learning—you guys are learning, and I am learning how to do this better all the time.”

Project Transformation is a safe place for my students to learn from their mistakes, circumstances, and service—not a place where they are expected to be perfect. I think our LITEs are growing by leaps and bounds both spiritually and emotionally. Many of these students are zeroing in on a college they want to attend, or are now working on their resumes and applying to scholarships. Amazing things are happening at Elmwood- El Buen Samaritano UMC and I am proud to share in the ministry of these high schoolers, who, sometimes unknowingly, are quite the pastors themselves.

As my time starts to come to an end at Elmwood El Buen Samaritano UMC, I know I will take my experiences here out into my ministry, and with me for the rest of my life. I truly feel that God is especially present with us at Project Transformation and I pray daily that the children we mentor will someday return and be PT Corps Members themselves.