“I knew it was perfect for me”
When Ellen Denzel graduated from Clemson University with a degree in industrial engineering, she could have gone anywhere. “I was looking at jobs and I had a lot of options,” Ellen says, “but I wasn’t ready to go right into an industrial engineering job.” Ellen had gone on a few international mission trips during college, and she knew that’s where her heart was.
“A friend was doing the fellows program in Salt Lake City, Utah,” Ellen says. “I heard about the [Border Fellows] placement in El Paso, and when I went to the Ciudad Nueva website I knew it was perfect for me.”
A day in the life of a border fellow
The Border Fellows program, a ministry of St. Clement’s Church, Ciudad Nueva Community Outreach, and La Frontera Youth Ministry Education is a 10-month work and service leadership development program on the U.S.–Mexico border. It is part of a larger community of fellows programs across the United States called The Fellows Initiative. The program is designed to help recent college graduates integrate faith, vocation, and community development. Border fellows receive professional development, mentoring, training, and coursework.
As a border fellow, Ellen spent the first half of each day at a part-time job that the Border Fellows program secured for her. “I lucked out that the owner of the company went to St. Clement’s and needed someone with my expertise,” Ellen says. The other half of her day was spent volunteering with Ciudad Nueva. Ellen and another border fellow worked with the youth in the high school program. The other four fellows worked with the elementary and middle school programs.
Once a week, Ellen and the other border fellows gathered for a class taught by Sami DiPasquale, Ciudad Nueva’s executive director, and Steven Tighe, La Frontera’s director. Together, students and teachers explored theology, immigration, cultural diversity, and socio-economic realities. “We read a lot of books and did a few projects,” Ellen says. When asked what book left the most lasting impression on her, Ellen doesn’t hesitate. “When Helping Hurts,” she says. “It really opens your eyes.”
“You can make an impact right where you are”
This eye-opening education, however, wasn’t limited to the classroom. In fact, Ellen feels like she learned the most through the relationships she made during her time as a fellow. “I loved being right on the border where there are a lot of things happening,” she says. “Not just hearing about it through other people, but meeting the people going through it. Also being around like-minded people who want to serve the same people and who understand the ways in which the systems are broken and want to help change it.”
Ellen knows that the Holy Spirit was preparing her for this experience well before she decided to apply for the Border Fellows program. “Throughout college, I was seeing how big the world was,” she says. “I grew up in a place that was relatively easy. My heart was being developed for more.”
For now, what that “more” looks like for Ellen is staying in El Paso and working full-time for the same company she was placed with as a fellow. “You don’t have to leave the country or travel to serve,” Ellen says. “You can have an impact right where you are.”