The members of First Congregational Church in Cedar Rapids, IA, display their incredible compassion and generosity to the children of their neighborhood. Members have supported the neighborhood children in a number of ways, but most significantly by opening up their doors to the Boys and Girls Club to provide much needed support and programming to children in need of an alternative to running the streets after school and during the summer months.
Johnson School of the Arts (JSA) is located in the heart of the Wellington Heights Neighborhood of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The students are in grades 1-5. Sixty-one percent of the neighborhood population belongs to a minority group in a state with a 3% minority population. They have the largest growth of families with children in the city, 32% are under the age of 17 (2000 census). JSA is a Chapter I school, 67% receive free and reduced meals, one quarter of all students here are homeless, approximately 30% have at least one parent incarcerated at some point during their school career. They have a federal grant in place to support these children.
The Children's Defense Fund listed Iowa as the state with the highest number of working parents. Parents' work weeks are 25 hours longer per week than their children are in school or 100 hours per month. Although there is afterschool programming in the city, children in the area lack transportation to these programs and/or the financial means to participate. 66% of parents pay fees for afterschool programs in Iowa, the national rate is 44%. Without afterschool programs there are many unsupervised children running the neighborhood after school. According to OJJDP, most crimes are committed by youth between the hours of 3-6pm and summer time. This trend is well documented in this area.
Because of First Congregational Church members' commitment, Boys and Girls Club has been able to offer programming to our students and students from other schools in the Wellington Heights area. They offer, at no cost to Boys and Girls Club of Cedar Rapids, their facility to house the program at the church. This includes the church grounds; their school has no green space, so they use this space as well during the day.
First Congregational Church members have also opened their hearts and purses/wallets to Johnson students. Members have bought school supplies; donated to the family account; provided mittens, socks, underwear and belts; gave Christmas presents to Johnson families in need; provided space for the students' concerts and workshops; and even offered their chapel as a place of refuge for the staff during the time following the events of September 11th. Members from the church volunteer throughout the year to help out with Boys and Girls events such as Thanksgiving celebrations, Christmas parties and the annual summer events. Some serve on the Boys and Girls Southside advisory board; provide academic support and moral support to the Boys and Girls club staff.
This Southside Unit produced the National Boys and Girls Club Youth of the Year Award, Stacey Walker, for this current year (2006-07). The community of Cedar Rapids recognizes the value and importance the service of the members of the First Congregational Church brings to the children of Johnson.