“It’s easy to take everything for granted. Being in this type of environment keeps you humble,” says Andre Serrette, a former long- jumper at the University of Southern California, and now a program manager with the Los Angeles County Housing Authority.
Serrette helps to administer housing vouchers to families seeking stability. As a student, he had planned on a career in real estate, but through internships, relationships and experiences, his plans shifted to bring him to the cusp of a new adventure, following God’s lead into the trenches of community development.
At the end of his freshman year, Serrette met Athletes in Action staff member Michael Sylvester, a mentor and chaplain for many athletes at USC. When Serrette, a brand-new Christian, returned to campus that fall, Sylvester’s influence was key in helping him grow.
“His being there at that exact time was perfect,” Serrette says. “He always challenged me to learn some things on my own. He really got me [going] in the right direction....We’re still close to this day.” Sylvester suggested that he consider joining him at AIA’s Urban Project in Los Angeles, for which Sylvester has been a long-time director. The experience ended up shaping Serrette’s life in ways he hadn’t anticipated.
The Urban Project – Los Angeles is a unique three-week experience, created to equip student-athletes to compete from a biblical perspective, while simultaneously tackling issues of racism, class, poverty, justice and power. “That was the very first time I realized everything the Lord went through on the cross,” Serrette says, explaining his takeaway from the S.P.E.C.I.A.L., an intense physical competition designed to push athletes to complete dependence on Christ.
Through daily service at a ministry site in inner city L.A. and visits to Skid Row – home to the highest concentration of homeless in the U.S. – he gained a first-hand view of the poverty and challenges many face. “Being in downtown L.A., going through Skid Row, and seeing how people live--that was the biggest impact, knowing that there are thousands of people down there,” he recalls. The experience had such an effect on Serrette that he returned to UP-LA in 2004 and 2005.
After finishing his bachelor’s degree in 2004, Serrette earned a master’s in public policy. Opportunities to apply his knowledge occur daily at the housing authority, where he says he is “providing assistance to [the same] constituency” he first connected with at Urban Project. “You get the opportunity to see so many people who are on their last leg,” he says. “That always keeps me humble.”
Ongoing exposure to the needs in his community fuels Serrette’s aspiration to serve in even broader ways. “To be honest, though this field has been great, it’s not my true calling,” he confesses. “I want to start schools for underprivileged kids, in underprivileged neighborhoods.”
“There’s a [segment] of African-American youth not being addressed. They’re not going to college, and dropping out even when we do go to school,” he shares, adding that although he feels a pull toward a specific community, his desire is to serve and bring positive change wherever possible. “I want to [be part of] getting students a real opportunity [for success],” he says.
Although it’s been more than a decade since Serrette’s initial Urban Project experience, it’s clear that the past ten years have been only the beginning of his ongoing legacy of service.
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