Meet Elias Esquilin – Age 19

I was born and raised in the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn with my parents, brother and three sisters. We lived in the projects and grew up around drugs, gang violence and murders on the outside. On the inside, we were raised in a Christian home and went to small pentecostal church every Sunday. My mom put us in football and a jazz band to keep us busy and off the streets. It worked for a little while.

Although we went to church, we struggled at home. My parents always argued and fought. The verbal abuse quickly turned into physical abuse and we started to hate our father because of what he was doing to our mom. Eventually she kicked my dad out of the house. We stopped band and football and chose to spend our time in the streets hanging out and getting into trouble. 

During this critical time, we met Pastor Willie Alfonso at our new church, Christ Tabernacle. Without our dad in the house, my mom didn't waste any time in letting Pastor Willie know that she needed help raising her sons and he didn't waste time in getting involved in our lives. I mean, really getting involved in our lives!

For the next 10 years, Pastor Willie was in our business whether we liked it or not. I didn't always appreciate it back then but I can't imagine my life without his active involvement. He'd take us out of the neighborhood for the day, take us out to eat and talk to us about life. He shared his story with us and we connected because our stories were so similar. One day my mom called him because we were acting up and he actually came to our house. He earned our respect and eventually we started listening to his advice and accepting his help. He continues to be my role model and a father figure to me. I don't think I'd have a relationship with God today if it wasn't for his investment. He exposed us to another way of life, whether meeting athletes or eating in nice restaurants.

One day he came to our home and blessed us at Christmas. I didn’t find out until much later that Pastor Willie was helping with rent. Today, I am sophomore in college. IANB personally made investments into my college career with counseling, money for books, tuition and general expenses. I thought IANB would stop when I got older but they continue to check in and consistently make investments. 

I would to thank Pastor Willie and IANB for making me feel like I mattered. He’s been like a Dad to me and continues to be my mentor. He’s a spiritual voice that continues to encourage me.