Sunday, May 15, 2005

Big year for graduates - much love and respect

2005 is shaping up to be a HUGE college graduation year for me. Last Saturday, Ahndrea Allen got the party started by completing Northeastern University. Ahndrea was in my youth group for five or so years before moving to Boston for college. She's a track star and musical standout who is currently deciding between offers from two professional track teams and a job at BMG Music Group. Word on the street is if she sticks with track, she has a legit shot at competing in the 200M and 400M at the 2008 Olympics.
(Ahndrea breaking another record.)
Thursday, Mei-Ling Garcia graduated from my alma mater NYU with a nursing degree. She already passed her boards and started as a nurse at NYU Medical Center two months ago. Tomorrow Elsa Carlo, Luis ("Lou-Box") Velez, and Carlos Olivieri graduate Nyack College. In December, my brother Jonathan and Louis ("CoCo") Carlo are scheduled to finish at Nyack as well. Jonathan, Mei-Ling, and Luis all co-founded Xcel with me. Jonathan is the most loyal man I know, faithful to serve whatever and whomever, however possible. As a teenager, he tag-teamed a message with Lou-Box and Rollie (another Xcel co-founder, Nyack graduate, husband and father of two, and the current program coordinator at a New Life Youth Center) at our very first "Youth Sunday" service (circa 1996 or 97), where he said that if he ever had an opportunity to minister full-time, he wanted to be remembered as "Pastor Simple." Simple as in he focuses on what's important and minimizes what's not; he loves unconditionally and judges people not; and his life expresses meaning by impacting others rather than focusing on self. He has taken this attitude into his work as the Abounding Grace book-keeper and all-around problem solver, and, since last May, as the youth ministry co-director.

(Jonathan and Elsa. Photo by Mike Mowery.)

Mei-Ling also inspires me. I'll never forget the first time we met. She had a big bubble jacket, big hair, and a big crush on my youngest brother Jamie. The crush kept her coming to church, but instead she met one even better than my lil' bro as a soon-to-be love affair with Jesus transformed her life. She's one of those people who by all rights should have ended up a statistic. Essentially fatherless and surrounded by drugs and destitution as a child, she moved to Puerto Rico to live with a foster family, then returned to her mother as a teen. By then, her mom had become ill and before passing away, asked my parents if they would care for her sixteen year-old daughter. In the 10 years since, Mei co-founded Xcel, graduated high school, became an honors student, NYU alumnus, registered nurse, friend to many, daughter to my parents, sister to my brothers and me, and titi to my son.
(Mei-Ling's commencement at Washington Square Park. She's one of the purple dots surrounding the fountain)
Elsa and CoCo were part of my youth ministry team at Abounding Grace for three years, and CoCo directs Xpress and still leads worship at the church. CoCo was backslidden when I met him, running from God and his parents' rich spiritual legacy. But his sister Elsa, along with the effectual, fervent prayers of mom, dad, friends, and family, wooed him back. Roughly New Year's 2001, CoCo recommitted all to God. In the years since, he rediscovered a passion for people, community, justice, and, most of all, the presence of God. Even as a young man without any formal musical training, in my humble opinion he's hands down the most anointed worship leader I know, and his Joe Cocker voice, Latin flavor, and soulful style make him a unique package. Plus he's great with kids, willing to invest time, treasure, and talents into empowering their dreams.
(CoCo loving Lucas (l) and Jonathan (r). Picture by Mike Mowery.)

And what can I say about Elsa, other than Judah swears he's gonna marry her? That, frankly, says it all. Elsa is sweet as can be, caring, insightful, and gifted. She doesn't always agree, but I can't begin to count all the times she has amazed herself and inspired others after mustering the courage to be stretched. She has the voice of an angel, the heart of a servant, and the character of steel. She plans to return to school in the fall to pursue a counseling degree and a career as a high school guidance counselor. I've written several times about Luis (notably here and here). Who'd-a-thunk that after daddy's suicide and all the other baggage he had to carry that he'd ever be able to call himself a college graduate? I know a few people who thought exactly that, not to mention a lot of other cool stuff about Lou.

(Luis and his protege Jeremy. Picture by Mike Mowery.)

Carlos' sister Emily Olivieri was in my youth group for years before graduating F.I.T. last May, and Carlos joined the church through her and his relationship with Rollie and Lou-Box. I recruited him once to work at Xcel, but he turned me down. Now he and his fiance co-direct the SALT (Single Adults Learning Together) ministry at Abounding Grace.

There's nothing more gratifying in ministry than to see spiritual disciples excel in life and calling. I'm so proud of them. Much love and respect.


May 20 update (from UYWI) - I woke up at the hotel this morning horrified when I realized that I neglected to include Kenny Grohowski among my original list of graduates. Kenny makes eight this year. He's a world-class drummer/all-around musical genius with the DNA of his grandfather, legendary "Salsa King" Bobby Cruz, and moved to NY from Miami four years ago with a music scholarship for New School University. Kenny first attended Abounding Grace at the recommendation of Nicky Cruz, but quickly submersed himself into our community on a profoundly deep level. He joined the music ministry, the youth ministry team, and has been our most faithful volunteer instructor at Xpress. In the last year, his students have written 5 original songs, recording three in studio and performing two live at the Bowery Poetry Club. He has directed the music at every Xpress production, all the while traveling the world performing at festivals throughout Europe and just about every music nightspot in our City. Kenny, I love you and so appreciate you. Thanks for becoming part of our life and allowing us into yours!

(Photo by Mike Mowery.)


At 5/16/2005 11:47:00 AM, Blogger latinaliz said...

Thanks for sharing this. I have always, always loved Coco. He is such a cool bro. I used to tell Hiram that if I had a daughter, he'd be a dude I would want her to date! He used to help me so much with the CEFl conferences with yet another talent, a good photographer. Elsa is is a beauty with brains. So great to see them realize this goal. Of course, being Luis Carlo's children the apple doesn't fall too far off the tree. Again, so glad to hear this. BTW, your brother Johnathan reminds me of my nephew Matthew.


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