Monday nights I help coordinate The Party - an outreach program of our church for inner-city children. We run two programs at the same time; The Party is for children aged 5 through Grade 5 while the teen program is for Grade 6 and up. This is our fourth year for the program, I think - maybe it's the fifth year?
It started in the Steiner's home on Wednesday nights because they had kids just showing up at their house all the time and they were trying to keep it down to just one night a week. It quickly outgrew their house and we then moved to the elementary school that's just across the road from my home and changed to Tuesday nights. By the end of the second year we were up to 25 children and preteens and feeling a little overwhelmed at times. I think we were two years at the elementary school before we got bumped. Last year we moved to the Rainbow Youth Centre, changed to Monday night and split into two groups. Before that, we tried to run the older group in the same place but we just weren't meeting their needs.
We only run during the school year and we don't have a program whenever there's a holiday. We have had a VBS for one week in the summer for the past three years though. There will be no program next Monday night - because it's Thanksgiving. I think we'll have a training session for helpers instead. We have to do a "Plan to Protect" each year to ensure that our helpers and our kids are safe and so that we are protected from both abuse and allegations of abuse.
We continue to grow. This is a challenge - but the Lord continues to bless us with more helpers as we need it. Last night we had 47 children and about 25 teens. That's a lot of kids! As always, we have a pretty wild and crazy time - but it's an organized wild and crazy time. We had been having only about 33 children each week this year, so to have 47 last night was a big jump. It also meant that we didn't have enough snack - so Lisa (bless her) ran home and got us some more food to supplement what I had brought. (We take turns bringing snack.)
What is our program? We run from 6 pm to 8 pm. From 6 to 6:35 or 6:40 - we run them ragged. We play games in the gym - usually games like Sharks Across the River (a sort of group tag), or games involving a lot of running. Then from 6:40 to 7 pm we have "Circle Time". I run that. We review what the rules are (where's the out of bounds areas, throw out your dixie cups after use, sign in with me when you arrive, check out with Bram when you leave - that kind of thing) and we sing songs and have a Bible story (Ruth tells the Bible story). Then we split into three groups: one group goes to story - where they retell the story, usually by dressing up in costumes, but we try to vary what happens there. Sometimes we'll have a Jeopardy night, or sometimes we'll do some other activity. We try to have prizes (bribes) for the listeners there - things go much better with prizes. One group goes to games - where they play a smaller group game. Last night we gave them two options - they could either play a game or they could do a quieter activity (we had play dough and board games and colouring). That worked really well and I think we'll continue doing it that way. Our groups are getting just too big otherwise. The last group goes for snack. We try to have a healthy snack. Last night we had pigs in blankets (hot dogs, cut in thirds, baked in dough) and grapes. However Lisa ran home and brought back a big bowl of macaroni salad and carrot sticks to supplement because we just didn't have enough food otherwise. We rotate through the groups after about 15 minutes per station. Then we just sort kids to take them home. Many of the children are picked up and dropped off, however parents also pick up some kids (thankfully). We have Bram on the door to let people in and out - so that security is maintained and that we (hopefully) know where kids are at all times.
What can you do? Pray for us. Pray for us. Pray for us. The parents are continually telling us how much their children enjoy the program; that they really look forward to Monday nights. We can tell that we're making a difference in lives because we can see the difference in the children that come regularly and the ones that don't. We can also see a change in the children from year to year, as they mature. It's a real blessing and a real challenge to work with them and grow with them.