Nick Mitchell-Bennett gazed in disbelief.
Early in his stay in Brownsville, Texas, he stood mystified as a single mother of two kids had overwhelming water damage simply because of a leaky faucet. Even after working two jobs, the money wasn’t there for her to replace a problem that totaled her kitchen cabinets and walls.
Mitchell-Bennett (g’91) laid underneath the sink to evaluate the damage. As each minute passed, a yearning filled his spirit.
“At that time (in 1993), I was a bright-eyed idealistic kid, but it was an overwhelming feeling of realizing how bad that was,” he said. “… There were thousands of houses across that city that were in a same situation. I got through that darkness that was overcoming me, I realized I could do something about this. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I wanted to take the next step to improve this.”
His time at Tabor
A heart for service was cultivated through Mitchell-Bennett’s stay at Tabor.
The Sacramento, Calif., native helped facilitate a support group for people who were children or relatives of people suffering from chemical dependence. He also served in student government, participated in drama/theatre, and booked concerts on campus.
Mitchell-Bennett was a double major in international studies and political science. He said he credits Professor Emeritus Dr. Richard Kyle for helping carve his vision for life after Tabor.
“He brought history and politics alive,” Mitchell-Bennett said. “I was always interested in politics, but he brought it alive in a personable way. He struck a chord in me.”
He spent the first semester of his junior year in Central America with the Christian College Coalition. That included stops in Nicaragua and Guatemala. Shortly after graduating from Tabor, Mitchell-Bennett joined Mennonite Voluntary Service to become a carpenter’s assistant and the business manager of a small housing repair program.
Once he arrived in Brownsville with MVS, the lead carpenter that he was assigned to work with chose not to come and he was immediately thrust into a leadership role.
Mitchell-Bennett worked alongside church groups that visited and his glimpse of life in Brownsville grew quickly. Through his work, which included a one-year stint with the United Way, his calling fell into place.
Mitchell-Bennett now serves as the executive director of cdcb (come dream. come build.) in Brownsville. He has served in the role since 2008. Under his leadership, the cdcb team has built over 3,000 affordable homes, raised over $75 million in grant funding and given over $100 million in private lending and capital equity.
In 2011, the Rio Grande Valley Multibank launched the Community Loan Center, which served as a small-dollar alternative to payday lending products. That has now franchised into 22 markets across the United States and has originated over $60 million.
Housing and banking aren’t all either. Through the last year, Mitchell-Bennett has been working on a $12 million housing project that will hold a grocery store and social services for homeless men and women.
“(Our organization) builds 150 new houses a year,” he said. “… It educates 4,000 people financially and does 15,000 small-dollar loans so they can make ends meet. It runs a school for high school dropouts that have been in jail and are wanting to get their life back together.”
A vision of life in Brownsville took shape underneath that leaky faucet and nearly 30 years later, it’s moments like that day that propel him to be a voice for the community.
“What that physical environment does to people’s psyche and feeling like they can’t even get ahead and fix a leaky faucet… to this day, I’ll sit in my office until 8:00 p.m. writing a grant proposal to the Packard Foundation for $2 million, that’s what keeps me going,” he said.
Taking the next step
“God has called us to do something.”
The above motto of stepping out and pouring into future leaders aided him on campus and his vision for his work today.
Growing up in a single-parent home, Mitchell-Bennett said Tabor helped connect him with male and spiritual mentorship. Among many other peers, it created a lifelong friendship with Jeff Nikkel (g’91) and his father, President Emeritus Larry Nikkel.
“I can look back and know that Tabor College had a definite formation in what I do today,” Mitchell-Bennett said. “That includes thousands of people from the organizations that I run, the 55-60 people who work for me and the millions of dollars that I’ve helped put into this community.”
What can a calling like this mean for past, present and future Tabor students? No matter the field of study, Mitchell-Bennett said he regularly sees what students can do with a willingness to step out and serve God’s kingdom in life after college.
“(I want to see students) come out of Tabor knowing what they can do through their education and what they can do in the world around them.”
Do you know of a Tabor College graduate who should be featured? Please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call/text 620-877-0095.
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Rachael (Morris) Pankratz…. (g’17)
Love for music drives Pankratz, READ HERE.