Bethel Students Act as Good Neighbors in Keller Park
Nestled below a little hill on the north side of South Bend, just west of the St. Joseph River, sits a tight-knit community called Keller Park.
It’s there that seven Bethel College students live with the purpose of being good neighbors.
“This place is special,” said junior nursing major Michelle Busse. “People ‘got your back’ if you live here [in the community].”
One of three students living in the girls’ house, Busse and her housemates, junior Courtney Cline and senior Sarah Toppen, host a number of elementary-aged children during the week.
“We like to be a place for the kids to hang out, have a snack. They get to hang out with other kids in the neighborhood. If parents are working, the kids can come here,” Busse said.
The Keller Park-Bethel partnership began three years ago, in conjunction with Keller Park Missionary Church, pastored by 2003 Bethel alumnus Ryan Yazel. The purpose is to provide an urban ministry experience for students, while at the same time helping the local community.
“The biggest part of the program is living life as neighbors,” Yazel said. “This includes informal mentoring of the kids in the neighborhood, and being people they can look up to.”
The Keller Park neighborhood has historically had a large population of children and youth, and with the economic downturn, there have been foreclosures and hardworking people struggling to make ends meet. Bethel saw the partnership as a means of providing neighborhood service, grounded in the local church.
Senior economics and finance major Neil Silveus, one of four living in the guys’ house, says his major role is building relationships and mentoring youth.
“We’re trying to structure our lives to be good neighbors. Whenever we’re not at school, we have the door open and kids will come up and talk to us. Just come on in. That happens probably three afternoons a week,” Silveus said.
Silveus lives with sophomore Brant Nine, senior Brent Boehner and sophomore Cody Cline. With a range of majors from elementary education to graphic design, each uses his skills to contribute to the neighborhood. Silveus says it’s about using your gifts in the community and being a good neighbor.
All seven students are involved in a number of ministries with the church each week. In addition, their modified meal plan through Bethel allows them funds on a debit/credit card to provide meals in their homes with kids in the neighborhood.
“The other night was really fun. I had some girls over and we had spaghetti and just hung out. This was a [shining] moment for me … seeing the kids in their element and having fun,” Busse said.
The hope is that Bethel will continue this urban ministry program for years to come, benefiting both the community and the students who have the privilege of serving.
“As much as we’re serving, we’re figuring out how to best serve,” Silveus says. “We’ve seen a lot of progress and development, and it’s encouraging that we have the rest of the year to do it.”