Friday, May 16, 2008
Spring Break Groups Go Above and Beyond in Houston
When is the last time you played Freeze Tag? You probably have forgotten how exhausting it is! I certainly had forgotten when I suggested it to a group of 25 or so kids at one of our new ministry sites. In less than 30 minutes, I was bent over double, gasping for breath, while my new little friends ran circles around me. The smiles and laughter as we chased and tagged and chased and tagged were infectious. All 10 or so of our college group were “IT” and there were no end of quarry to chase. Just when we tagged someone, two of their friends would swoop in to un-freeze them. Later we threw Frisbees, played on the jungle gym, and a touch football game broke out. The kids could have played all day. Thankfully for our lungs and knees, rain chased us inside after an hour and a half. There, we joined up with those who had chosen crafts and board games. Laughter and fun continued all afternoon. It was the perfect beginning to a ministry site which we hope to develop in the summer months ahead.
Ujima, Inc. began as the outreach of a local church responding to the needs of young people in a low-income apartment complex. Now they have grown to become a stand-alone non-profit which operates programs for children, families and seniors in several Section 8 Housing complexes (Government-subsidized but privately-owned housing). We have connected with the kids’ program at Gulf Coast Arms, an apartment complex with 540 residents, of which about 270 are children. Nearly all of the families are single-parent. When we met with the Ujima staff, they emphasized that these kids are VERY high-energy, with not much to do. That was an understatement. They typically have up to 90 kids, aged 5-18, in their after school program, which is operated by one or two staff persons and an occasional volunteer. For Spring Break, their program lasted most of the day. So when we met with them and suggested bringing groups of 10-15 volunteers, their eyes lit up with wonder, excitement and relief!
The day after our first visit, a second group from Friends University rolled into the apartment complex. Before they could get out of the van, kids were flooding into the parking lot, “Are you here to play with us?!?” That day there were about 50 kids playing in the field and playground by the apartment office. Word of mouth had evidently spread the news of our visit. The apartment manager (not the Ujima staffer) approached the group leader and offered a gift to each of the volunteers. She said, “no one ever plays with these kids.” She is grateful for the work that Ujima is doing, but sees their constant need for more. The college group felt uncomfortable accepting the gift cards offered by the apartment manager and collectively decided to give them to CSM to purchase balls, games and crafts for our future Ujima visits.
Over all, March was marked by our groups canvassing the City of Houston with God’s love. To make these experiences possible for our participants, it takes a great team of people. I am especially grateful for Megan, my Associate Director, Adrienne, our spring Host intern, and several returning and volunteer hosts who helped us usher the groups through the city and build bridges to our ministry site partners. Britani Wade, Cherie Farinola, Meg Asby, Jesse Fullen, Sol Edwards, Greg Pennington—our Vice President, and Bonnie Miller, who is a CSM Board member, all gave generously of their time and leadership to help to host groups.
-Paul Randall, CSM Houston City Director