There may be a big renovation project underway at Trinity United Methodist Church, but there is still a lot going on under their roof. I had a chance to check out a program utilizing the building and all it has to offer. Located at 1548 8th street, Children and Family Urban Ministries is…well, they put it best:
In partnership with our neighbors, Children and Family Urban Ministries (CFUM) addresses the challenges and builds on the strengths of those living on the near north side of Des Moines. CFUM seeks to create welcome, nurture lives, and promote social and economic justice by bringing together a broad and inclusive community to share the resources and abundance meant for all.
In keeping with this mission, they provide a vast array of services for the community, but the specific program I was able to experience was their after school program. The Haven is an after school program available to 50 students from Moulton Extended Learning Center, conveniently located directly across the street, which offers literacy enrichment and homework help along with recreational and creative activities for grade-school children.
The bell rings at Moulton and minutes later a flood of Kindergarten through 5th graders comes through the doors at CFUM. After signing in and getting their nametags, they head directly to the sink to wash their hands so they can grab their healthy snack. They are corralled at tables, where they are encouraged to behave with manners – mouth shut, butt in the seat, and four on the floor is what I was always told as a kid, but Janelle Mueller, the program director, has a bit more tactful way of getting them to do it – and then the kids get an overview of what the afternoon has in store for them.
Right as the kids are dismissed for their indoor recess, I stand and one little Kindergartner grabs my right index finger and pulls me over to explore the game cabinets. We discover a giant game of checkers, which he proceeds to set up with him as black and me as red. He makes me go first, violating my usual “smoke before fire” rule, but I figure I am a guest and can play by his rules. We draw in a couple third graders, who become our advisers – some would say a coup was had, but I think I retained most of my control of the red army – and have quite a good game.
The kids are split into grade levels for homework and reading time, and I head upstairs with Sarah, CFUM’s AmeriCorps VISTA member, and the 2-3 graders. There was some spelling and critical reading homework being done along with a bunch of leisurely reading. I saw several reading Ramona the Pest, a couple Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and one interestingly titled Stink – not sure what that one was about and I am not going to let my curiosity get the best of me there. Also as part of this time, the kids get a chance to listen to a book being read. I stroll over to Janelle’s room of 4-5 grade boys, located in their wonderful computer lab. They have just finished quite a tough read, and today they are starting on a bit lighter reading: Toad Rage by Morris Gleitzman, the story of an Australian cane toad, Limpy, who is baffled by the hatred that human motorists have for his kind. Being read to allows the kids to experience new words and writing styles from adults that have already experienced them, which helps children improve their vocabulary and interest in reading.
Before they can head into their free time, they get to take a survey on future clubs. During their time at The Haven they get to form various clubs to participate in. While talking to one enthusiastic fifth grader, I was told of the many clubs that have been available, including poetry, art, and gardening. Today they get to put their two-cents in on past clubs and what they want to see in the future – at my table, the chance for sports, video games, and music really intrigued the kids. And after that, they were able to head into their free time, which will last until they are picked up or dinner time. For free time, around ten or fifteen volunteers have shown up to play with the kids, including a small group from John Deere Credit. They keep the kids busy with board games, Foosball, hangman, ping pong, and all sorts of other stuff – I was told there was a Wii and a PS2 hiding somewhere with several non-violent games for special occasion, but today was not my day to show up the kids on Wii Tennis.
It was a very rewarding experience to be able to volunteer that day. I was able to see some real positive learning and a safe place for the kids to hang out after school, where their minds weren’t just rotting away on TV. If you are interested in checking out, or even volunteering with, CFUM and the various programs they offer, see their website cfum.org or contact Janelle Mueller at 515-282-3242.