Each work morning this summer, Christian Darden, 21, and Tecory Gordon, 19, got up, ate breakfast and headed to Transformation Ministries at 1519 Portage Ave. in their hometown of South Bend before their shift began.
They typically met their manager, Bob Larkin, to find out the lawns they would maintain that day. Then, they loaded up the necessary lawncare equipment in a trailer and headed out.
Christian and Tecory would spend the next few hours putting their best effort in their landscaping, making sure the city’s, businesses’, organizations’ and residents’ lawns were level, clean-cut and aesthetic.
In between yards, they would share jokes, serious questions and songs.
The work days of Christian and Tecory may appear typical for a lawncare service, but certain qualities set their profession apart. Christian and Tecory have intentionally learned soft skills through their summer job: a good attitude, strong effort, properly preparing for work and having a quality character.
Those four values are the foundation of Greater Impact Lawn Care and its parent organization, Transformation Ministries, said co-founder Kory Lantz. The ministry seeks to improve the lives of the South Bend area’s youth and families.
“We believe that people were created to work, and when you work, there’s dignity in that,” he says. “Earning money the right way is very, very meaningful.”
Christian and Tecory are familiar with Kory’s statement. They have been living it since Greater Impact first sprouted out of Transformation Ministries in 2014.
Both men were two of Greater Impact’s founding members. It gave them their first jobs.
“I remember one day I walked to [Tecory’s] house,” Christian says. “He was cutting grass, and he was talking about how Kory was about to pick him up and take him to a property. He actually taught me how to cut grass that day.”
Both Tercory and Christian were part of Transformation Ministries’ flagship program, Iron Sharpens Iron.
The program matches leaders with students and hosts weekly meals and discussion. Through various programs, the students are meant to grow spiritually, be empowered academically, have a supportive mentor and develop life skills.
That last goal of ISI — developing life skills — was difficult to get across in a classroom setting, Kory says.
So, working with ISI students like Christian and Tecory, a lawn care service plan was developed.
The team spent $250 on lawn care equipment and set out. Back then, ISI had a handful of students, and Greater Impact had a handful of properties to maintain.
Now, ISI has a class of 72 students, and Greater Impact maintains 187 lots, employing a number of ISI children and young adults.
“Greater Impact is one piece of the whole person,” Kory says. “They’re getting this other care. They’re getting involved. They’re getting help with their academics while also getting help with a really good first job experience.”
Kory says that first job experiences are not always positive for teenagers. They may be supervised poorly, work without meaning or not learn the necessary soft skills for future jobs. He says Greater Impact offers mentorship, meaningful work that is directly impactful and soft skills to help its workers succeed later on.
Kory says Christian and Tecory embody what it means to be in the program.
Both men say they started working at Greater Impact with the wrong work mindsets. Christian would not eat a breakfast before heading to the job, and Tecory did not make the most of what the program offered.
Now, Christian works full-time as a resident of Transformation Ministries and Tercory is going to college to pursue a degree in accounting.
“We like to tell people that it’s more than just a job,” Christian says. “It’s more than just coming to work and clocking in and doing some work and receiving a paycheck. We try, as much as possible, to mentor the kids as well as be mentored by staff and other supervisors.”
Mentorship moments are Tecory and Chrisitan’s favorite part of the job. The whirl of the weed whipper and the hum of the lawn mower can overpower conversation, so the two learn the most about one another and about life in between yards.
“I like to eat for two reasons,” Christian says. “I love food, but the second reason? That’s just the time to sit down and talk about life together.”
Tecory enjoys trips in the work vehicle.
“When we have a long Monday, and we have a lot of driving time in between, [I enjoy] being able to sit down and ask the question of the week or the day and being able to talk about what’s going on in our lives,” he says.
Sometimes those questions can be profound and bring about vulnerability and honesty, they say, but the space Greater Impact offers is safe and trustful.
Tecory also likes rides because he and Christian can introduce manager Bob to new music. Last month, they showed him “Window Pain” by J. Cole.
“He’s just an awesome guy,” says Bob about Tecory. “He’s always got an awesome attitude. He’s one of the ones where, oftentimes, he’ll pull one of the younger crew members aside and just speak to them.”
He appreciates Christian, too.
“He bought into the idea of doing the best work he can do at whatever he does,” he says. “He’s putting his name on [it].”
Kory and Bob have seen Christian and Tecory’s story play out in others, but they would soon like to expand the opportunity to other Iron Sharpens Iron students that may not be interested in lawncare services.
Kory wants every teenager and young adult involved to enter ISI and find a job through Transformation Ministries that interests them, and he is speaking with students to find out what those jobs may be.
Regardless of work responsibility, he wants students to glean those same four values Greater Impact is meant to teach: attitude, effort, timeliness and quality of character.
“It’s the soft skills that are the most important,” he says. χ