When Vince Gordon started Young Life in Jackson, Miss., he had come full circle.
wife, Leila, had purchased a home right across the street from Gordon's old high school, smack in the middle of one of the most violent cities in the United States.
"When we moved into that neighborhood," Gordon
said, "everyone wanted to know 'who is that guy?'" They remodeled the old home - an expansive unit in disrepair, nestled in a community most people were trying to leave.
started holding club in the home, and soon, he
had kids coming over every day.
said, "everybody knows that's Mr. Gordon's
wasn't so sure.
He had served as a cook in the Navy, and he knew his way around the galley.
Taneisha, called "Cookie" by her
, I can cook for real," she
"You can ask anybody!"
Thanksgiving was right around the corner.
"I put the challenge to her
told her he
would purchase every ingredient she
needed if she
wanted to cook the holiday dinner in his
worked into the night Thanksgiving eve, outrunning the sunrise and outlasting the volunteer leaders who had stayed to help.
By morning, she
had created a full meal, including cakes and pies, all made from scratch.
"It was perfect," Gordon
"This was a young girl who was passionate about cooking."
helped to nurse her
culinary aspirations throughout her
time in high school.
encouraged me," Taneisha said, "giving me ideas, boosting me on.
The teen mom who used to walk the school hallways with her
head down learned to stand tall.
"In Young Life
, they teach you that no matter what people say about you, God loves you," she
"I like to be a 'real model,'" Gordon
"A 'real model' is somebody whom a teenager can spend time with.
They need to see how we handle problems, how we handle situations."
Today, Taneisha works at a downtown restaurant in Jackson, where she
produces every item on the dessert board.
reconnected with her
stopped in for a meal last November.
one of their top cooks," he
," Taneisha said, "changed my life.
In a city rife with violence and poverty, she
is quick to acknowledge the watchful protection of her
let me see 26, and there's some people who came from school with me who didn't make it to 26."
often recalls the decision to move to the inner city.
"I love my job," he