Pastor Beth Huener and her congregation truly believe that children are the future – not only of the community and the nation, but of First St. Mark’s Lutheran and other area churches too.
That’s why the Oregon pastor is adamant about drumming up support to keep a weekly afterschool program held at the church going.First St. Mark’s After School Program, now in its fourth year, meets every Wednesday during the school year from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the church, located at 1121 Grasser St.
On a typical Wednesday afternoon, the students – usually second- through seventh-graders - work on their homework, play a group game, participate in a worship service that often includes plays and skits, have a nutritious supper and then work on a craft or other activity.
They’re led by program director Nancy Collins, who brought 23 years of experience at Head Start to the position, along with Pastor Beth, affectionately known as “PB” and parents or church members who volunteer to help out.
Huener said the need for an afterschool program became evident about six years ago when, on the last night of the church’s summer Vacation Bible School, a young boy asked her what they would be doing the next night.
“When I told him Vacation Bible School was over, he didn’t just look disappointed – he looked stricken,” Huener recalled.
“We knew there were literally thousands of kids living in the neighborhood next to Sun Oil and in the apartment houses across Wheeling,” she said.
“We wanted to start a program that could provide a safe place for kids to come after school, and to communicate the love of Jesus to them - that’s part of our baptismal mission.”
After a year of planning, First St. Mark’s was ready to launch the once-a-week program.
“To get the word out, we walked the neighborhoods distributing door hangers with information about the program,” Collins said.
Before long kids were flocking to the church on Wednesday afternoons.
“Our church is the only Christian church in the neighborhood. For many of the children who have come, this is their only experience with church,” the pastor said. “Now, kids who have been coming to the program will tell us about how they’re volunteering and doing things with their churches.
“It’s gratifying,” she added.
Another goal of the program is to expand young people’s awareness of the world and their place in it, Huener said, adding that community and business leaders are often invited to come in and talk with the kids. Speakers have included representatives from Goodwill Industries, the Sight Center and the Eastern YMCA, as well as a local psychologist and a member of the Toledo Symphony.
“The young people who come have learned that this church is a safe place,” Collins said. “Recently, on the day of a local tragedy involving one of their classmates, every child who had attended the program showed up, wanting to talk about what happened.”
To raise funds for the program, First St. Mark’s has planned a pancake breakfast Jan. 31 from 8 to 11 a.m. The church also welcomes donations to help keep the program going.
“We started with a private donation from a member of the congregation, and we have received grants, but we’re nearly out of funding,” Huener said.
To make a donation or obtain more information about First St. Mark’s After School Program, call 419-693-7128 or e-mail firststmarks1121@sbcglobalnet.
First St. Mark’s After School Program Director Nancy Collins enjoys some Halloween fun with some of the program’s participants. Helping Hands of St. Louis donated some of the costumes to help make the holiday celebration special.