Mary Nelson, CEO and founder of Bethel New Life on Chicago’s West side and a member of the EPA’s National Environmental Justice Advisory Committee, was recently honored with the Spiritus Christi Medallion for her dedication and service to the Bethel Lutheran Church. The medallion is presented to individuals who has performed responsibilities with unusual effectiveness and influence.

“I am humbled and honored,” said Nelson of the award. “We are trying live out God’s command and help people; I just happen to have the privilege of being the leader.”

Nelson’s corporation, Bethel New Life, is a faith-based community development organization that is currently the largest employer in Chicago’s Garfield Park neighborhood on the city’s West Side.

Nelson first came to Chicago to assister her
brother, the former pastor at Bethel Lutheran Church in Chicago. Since then, she has worked on numerous projects aimed at improving social conditions of the community that have endured since the 1968 riots in the wake of Martin Luther King’s assassination.

Nelson has helped many to find jobs and has created over 1,000 affordable housing units.

Currently, Bethel New Life has roughly 350 employees and a $12 million operating budget for family support and economic development initiatives.The organization also offers adult day care services and clinical services at the site of the former St. Anne’s Hospital.

But the Bethel New Life organization will soon face a major change of lkeadership. Lirline Reed, Nelson’s assistant, said that Nelson is planning to retire by the end of the year.

“Right now we are in the process of searching for a replacement,” she said.

Reed noted that the ideal successor would be a dedicated individual who has well-rounded interests to various aspects of the community and preferably?”but not necessarily?”from the church.

Even with her upcoming retirement, Nelson’s efforts continue this summer with a youth summer job program.

“Youth in our community have few alternatives to unstructured, unproductive and dangerous days hanging out on the streets this summer,” she wrote in a public letter release by Bethel New Life. “It is important that they have opportunities for work.”

The summer program will seek to hire ten community youth for five weeks of part-time employmen that will include mentoring and tutoring.

“They will get to work in various departments,” Nelson said, “children day care, elderly care, computer data project, marketing housings and much more.”

The program will sponsor $750 per youth. Bethel New Life is accepting donations for the summer youth program until June 15th. Nelson expressed hope that people will open their hearts and wallets to support a worthy and useful cause.

“We need your help to make this happen,” Nelson wrote in a soliciting letter. “We will select youth for whom this experience and financial help will make a difference and enable them to continue in school this fall.”

In addition, she said that the program is also trying to “give the youth a sense of spending money wisely and give them a look at variety of jobs where they can apply their interests and skills.”