New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church is innovative, creative and dedicated to improving the lives of their members as well as the Austin and surrounding communities. Under the leadership of Rev. Dr. Marshall E. Hatch, New Mount Pilgrim is one of those churches whose doors are open more than just on Sunday. Rev. Hatch not only runs this larger church organization, he also runs the Westside branch of Rainbow PUSH. Rev. Hatch and his wife, Priscilla, are the parents of four children and somehow both find time to help and serve their community.

Two young ladies from the church will soon be studying abroad this summer as a result of Providence-St. Mel High School’s Summer Opportunity of a Lifetime program, which has been providing similar opportunities to youth for 15 years.

We talked with Candice Harden and Ashley Dowdy, both 15 years old, prior to their Sunday morning services at the church.

Dowdy, who will be studying in Switzerland and taking courses at the Leysin American School, said, “I’ve never been out of the country so this is very exciting opportunity. I feel blessed that I was able to be a good student and I’ve received good grades. I don’t feel I’m a genius, I just feel I have good role models. My parents are my role models. I would like very much to be a sports reporter and major in journalism. Someone I really watch was the old-time sports reporter Howard Cossell. I want to go to grad school at Howard University. After that, I would like to attend a journalist school like Medill here in Chicago. What I expect to learn on this trip is how to communicate with people of different races. There will be a lot of different races on this trip that I will get to meet and study with. I want to thank Ms. Grandville at my school for selecting me and thank my church family for all their encouragement. I will leave June 25 and return July 15.”

Candice Harden will be studying Crime and Justice and Speech and Debate at Oxford in England. Candice has served as a community minister at New Mount Pilgrim Church and received tutoring through their Homework Hangout program.

“My major will be Crime & Justice and my minor, Speech & Debate,” she said. “Hopefully I will become a forensic lab analyst. I love doing anything that has to do with science. When I do grow up, I want to be successful and be able to come back and help my community. I also want to be a mentor to other youth like myself, and I want people to be able to follow my footsteps. My favorite poet is Maya Angelou. She is a very strong woman, and my mother is also one of my inspirations. My mother keeps me on my toes. I leave here on July 3, returning on the 24th.”

Both young ladies serve as junior ushers, greeting and assisting visitors on Sundays at their church.

Candice’s mother Annette Harden said, “You cannot have enough education. You cannot have enough great experiences and even the bad ones teach lessons. Everything is compiled and put together to show us the way to become successful. I work in an institution where I see so many successful people and that is what I want not only for my daughter, but anyone else who is willing to do what it takes to become successful. I have two children, a 20-year-old son and my daughter who is 15.”

Annette Dowdy, the mother of Ashley, said, “We have four children. My oldest daughter attends Brown University, and she’s also been the key to Ashley’s success.”

Press Secretary Sonji Cooks said, “Featuring these young ladies today is just a very small part of Pastor Hatch’s larger vision, which is to capitalize and show the potential of the West Side of Chicago, and these young ladies have been on the West Side all of their lives. Oftentimes we associate the West Side with negativity, but New Mount Pilgrim here in Pilgrim Village is just one example of how that does not have to be so. …

“Education is at the forefront of this ministry. We have a Jeremiah moment every Sunday where we recognize our achievers in school, from kindergarten all the way up to college. And we also have community ministers in the summer where we teach our children not just school smarts, but how to do missionary work and how to do the work of the Lord out on the streets.

“These young ladies are just examples of how when you put together the education you get from the Lord and the education you get from fine institutions such as Providence-St. Mel, when those two come together, anything is possible.”