Angel Interview of the Month
Each month, The Angelrock Project features an Angel Interview of the Month, interviews with people who provide unique and life-saving services within large non-profit organizations. We hope that by reading their stories, you will understand their special contribution to society by working for invaluable NGO's within the organization's headquarters or in the field.
Sergo LaLanne is the Community Center Director at The Salvation Army Bushwick Community and Worship Center. He is also a core member of the Salvation Army Journey for Change: Empowering Youth Through Global Service team acting as a liaison between The Angelrock Project and the Journey for Change participants and their parents/guardians.
Q: Please tell us a little about yourself.
A: Well, I was born in the southern part of Haiti, raised in Port-au-Prince by The Salvation Army after both of my parents passed away. I am a father of 3 beautiful young children: Julian 8, Lyvia 4 and Abigail 3. I've been married for 10 years to a beautiful young lady, Edelyne who was also born in Haiti. I've been living in the states for about 24 years now.
Q: How long have you been working at the Salvation Army and what is your title?
A: I started working for the Salvation Army in the Greater New York area since 1994 after graduating from City College of the City University of New York; I worked with Major Yvon Alkintor at our center in Bedford-Stuyvesant as a computer instructor in their after-school program. Currently I am the Community Center Director for the Bushwick Corps with Captain Travis Lock. I've been in this current position for the past 8 years.
Q: You also work in the computer industry. Tell us about that and speak about helping kids in Bushwick with their own computers because of your background.
A: In addition to working primarily with youth in Bushwick, I am also a field service representative for DELL. One of my responsibilities is to troubleshoot, diagnose and solve many of the problems the New York City board of education has with their computers. For the past 5 years, I've been one of the technicians who stop by the schools Monday to Friday from 7am to 2pm to take care of the issues the students, the teachers or supporting staff are having with their DELL computers. In addition to servicing the DELL computers that belong to the NYC BOE, I also repair home and business computers for many of DELL customers. (RED) donated Dell computers to the Journey for Change kids, so I help to trouble shoot when they have problems with their units. I believe that all good gifts and talents are from the Lord God Almighty, and as such we must be able to better his people: the humble, low and poor. My love for electronics started a while back as a little boy playing with and having fun breaking my first watches to see what's inside of them.
Q: What is your favorite part about working at the Salvation Army?
A: For the most part it is fun working at The Salvation Army Bushwick Center. It is good and rewarding to see a number of our young people graduating from our programs; go on to college and want to be a tutor or mentor too many of the children in the same programs they've attended only 5 or 7 years earlier. You know you made a difference when you see a young man like Jean Calixte playing his trumpet with so much love and passion, or a young lady like Shirley Blaise captivating an audience when she sings. These are the things that make working at The Salvation Army Bushwick Center fun for me.
Q: The staff at the Salvation Army often become mentors for the kids. Why do you think it is important for the kids to have mentors? Did you have a mentor growing up? If so, who?
A: It is so important for our young people to see others who have gone through the same path they are now going and made it through. I've learned most of my leadership skills while working with Captain Ervin McKoy Jr. who was the commanding officer at Bushwick in mid 90's. If it was not for him taking me under his wing and showing me every step of the way on how to love and to create a welcoming and Christ-like environment for the kids, I would not be where I am today. Having volunteers and mentors really help set our youth on a successful path.
Q: You played a major part in the coordination of Journey for Change: Empowering Youth Through Global Service. What was the best part about being a part of the program?
A: Well, I count it a blessing to be involved in the wonderful work of The Salvation Army whether it is with the children who attend our summer day camp program or the senior citizens who come to our seniors program. It is the same for Journey for Change, which is still in its first year. Other programs have not been as successful in their first year and took much longer to become flagship Salvation Army programs with the support from local and state governments. As with any program that is new, you learn as you go. We are working hard to take into account the great decisions we have made and change the things we can do better. It is great to be part of Journey for Change because it is full of excitement and fun activities all aiming at taking our youth to a level they've never thought possible. We've collaborated with other local agencies, but not organizations The Angelrock Project. It's takes a lot of work, but at the end of the day it's the children who benefit.
Q: You traveled with Journey for Change to South Africa last summer. What was that experience like?
A: Traveling to South Africa with 30 of our young people along with 30 mentors was a treat! Personally, it's a dream come true because I saw the land of my ancestors. I never felt so close to them before as the moment we landed in Dakar, Senegal to refuel and later in Johannesburg. The flight itself was a glimpse of the painful journey my ancestors took from the coast of Africa to Hispaniola. The trip was a gift of a life time and something I will cherish forever.
Q: What was your favorite part of the trip?
A: In addition to have seen the land of my ancestors, the most important part of the trip to South Africa was the joy that radiates on the faces of the country's youth. Though they did not have food in the house, running water, or school supplies and books to go to school, they had smiles on their faces. They were very cheerful despite the devastation that was all around them. That was something to take back to New York with me.
Q: How did you see this trip affect the children who went?
A: I have seen most of the JFC participants in different situations where I comfort them because of a personal issue they are dealing with or a family matter that I became aware of. But with the trip to South Africa I was able to see another side of them. One example was to watch Benjamin Goode and Mariah Ralph sitting on the floor holding an orphaned child in their arms at the Ethembeni Home in Johannesburg for Orphaned and Vulnerable Children. Through the lense of my camera I witnessed their hearts and souls filled with love and compassion for the babies as they were talking to and comforting them. I watched as they wanted to volunteer their time more than ever when they served in South Africa. Latoya Massie and Jenee Lawson are among a dozen of the kids who come regularly to our center Monday to Friday to volunteer in our summer day camp program; whether it is helping with general supervision or helping with the paperwork, they are in our center volunteering. So I do think JFC motivates them to get involved and do more. I have seen more willingness rather than struggle to get things done.
Q: Why do you think it's important for youth to be exposed to experiences that Journey for Change provides?
A: We are at a time where the world and its people are closer than at any other time in history. It is very important for our youth to see what's out there by traveling to other states or countries near and far; we can eliminate most of the stereotypes and prejudices about a culture or country by visiting that country. Our youth will have first hand experience and will learn what textbooks cannot provide. Another experience JFC provides that I think is great is access to technology. I would encourage each of the participants to continue using their DELL PRODUCT (RED) laptops they've received as a JFC participant to blog about their experience with JFC and for communication in general. Most importantly though, they should use their laptops to complete their school work and to research something a teacher might have said or discussed in the classroom.
Q: You have been the sort of "unofficial photographer" of Journey for Change. How long have you been interested in photography and what first sparked your interest?
A: I love electronics and gadgets, and cameras seem to fall right in there. Again, my love of photography started as I watched one of my mentors taking pictures of almost everything he was involved with and later use those pictures as recruiting tools. Captain McKoy Jr. would take joy in displaying the pictures of, say, the Sunday school children having fun playing bible tic-tac-toe and would go the gym during the week showing the pictures to the other children who did not attend Sunday school. So to me that is all taking pictures is all about; I want to capture an interesting moment that I or someone else can use to make a point or tell a story. So then when I learned of JFC, I immediately saw the need to document with pictures and videos everything that would take place in and out of our center. I guess that's how I became the "unofficial photographer" for JFC, although I've used the opposite term to gain access to areas only CNN or Times for Kids magazine photographers were allowed.
Q: What is your favorite part of taking pictures?
A: My favorite part of taking pictures is the way the pictures are being used after I take them. For example, seeing some of the pictures on the walls in our new library and computer lab at our Bushwick Center is fun and inspiring. Or some of my pictures in the August issue of Essence magazine which helped to make the story come to life. Also, showing a thirty minute highlight video I made and showed at the JFC Ambassador kick off dinner with Chris Rock, his family, and the JFC parents was memorable because I was able to show the families what their sons and daughters did while in South Africa.
Q: What is your favorite quote?
A: My favorite quote is a rather old one: " A Journey of a Thousands Miles Starts With a First Step" Very often we are hesitant to explore what's out there; but what's been a major driving force for me is the idea behind this quote that one would never know how much it takes to accomplish any goals whether short term or long term unless you actually begin taking the necessary steps and go for it.
Q: Who is your favorite author?
A: As a young boy growing up in Port-Au-Prince, I enjoyed reading the poems of Jean de La Fontaine. While attending schools here in the States, I found Ernest Hemingway an easy read and lately have found the works of Paul the Apostle inspiring and uplifting.
Q: What is your motto?
A: There is a little song we sing very often during our worship services here at our Center that I really love: I am gone live right that God may use me at anytime and anywhere. It is my plea that The Lord God will continue to use me in my walk with him. This has been something like my motto.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add, that we may not have asked about?
A: As we are approaching the end of our first year and are already planning for our second year, I would challenge anyone who is reading this interview to get involved in a young person's life. We need to have mentors who are willing to work with at-risk youth in communities like Bushwick. Very often all it takes is a phone call. But specifically, if anyone would like to get involved and support one of our programs here at The Salvation Army Bushwick Center, they should contact Capt. Travis Lock or me at (718) 455-4102 ext. 101 or 103. The support is needed more than ever!
For more information on The Bushwick Salvation Army Community and Worship Center, please click here to visit their website.
Past Angel Interview of the Month
Read about Jonelle Allen, co-founder and board chair of The Lynn House a drug and alcohol treatment program for women in Orange County, CA.
To view all past Angel Interviews of the month, please click here.
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