In July, about thirty people packed inside the stuffy, airless garage of the Mika CDC office. Neighbors, staff, interns, volunteers and a few teens from our youth programs had come together to talk about what we envisioned for the youth of our community. How do we want our kids to look in thirty years? What do we need to be doing now to make it happen? After brainstorming and walking through some pointed exercises, we came up with an ambitious afterschool program for our neighborhood youth. We all concurred on some important values and structure and we arrived at a program called, Step Up.
It would include academic tutoring, spiritual training and enrichment classes in art, health, finance and leadership training. We would need 64 volunteers each week, experts to teach the enrichment portions and others willing to do Bible lessons with the students. And we would do it at three different sites. Could we do it? Could we really make this happen? That was July, now it’s December…
The answer is “yes”! We did make it happen. Maybe it doesn’t look exactly as we thought it would and maybe there are a few gaps, but it is working. Sometimes when I think that it isn’t, I remind myself of what I’ve seen as I float from site to site to site. I see Abigail at Baker Street who raises her hand to answer every question the group is asked about the Bible lessons. She doesn’t always know the answer, but she always raises her hand. I hear Juan’s mom calling him from the door at the Maple Learning Center at 5:45 when his session ended at 5:30. “He never wants to leave here”, his mom says with a smile. “It’s the best part of his day”. Jasmine and Gio, both seniors in high school, give up nearly eight hours a week working with the younger students at The Hope Center. They say it’s for their community service hours, but I know it’s more than that.
Together we are making Step Up happen. We are providing a safe, warm environment for the kids to come and learn how to be leaders in their community. We are giving them adult role models who know them and care about them. We are giving them opportunities to learn how to be of service to each other and to the broader community. We are connecting them to experts in their city who know about things that they have never been exposed to before. We still don’t have 64 volunteers each week and we don’t have all the enrichment classes filled in on our master calendar – but each week we make it happen and each week more people are becoming involved. I just hope I’m still around in 30 years so I can see how it all pans out! These kids are going to be amazing because their community did “step up”!