Supporting Youth Throughout the Diocese

Supporting Youth Throughout the Diocese

The four dozen or more school children who stream into the Church of the Nativity in Flatbush after school each day are up to serious business.

“This is not primarily an enrichment program,” says the Rev. Kimberlee Auletta, the church’s vicar. “It is focused on homework. The children come here directly after school, and it gives them this dedicated time where they can sit, do their homework, have a snack, and there’s an adult who is who is asking them what their homework is, what they might have to work on, checking things over.”

The Nativity program, which serves a neighborhood in which many parents are recent immigrants and speak English, but do not read it or write it, is led by volunteers from the parish and supported by a grant from Episcopal Ministries of Long Island (EMLI). “The feedback we receive from our feeder schools make us proud,” said Daphne Perscio, who directs the program at Nativity and has her doctorate in education. “One schools administrator said: ‘Keep on doing what you are doing!’ The teachers, too, have seen a difference in the response and performance of the youngsters, some of whom are recent arrivals.”

Like many of the youth-oriented initiatives that benefit from EMLI’s annual appeal, the after-school program at Nativity aspires not only to assist individuals, but also to transform a community.

“Our parishes and partner agencies provide essential services, but they also provide the structure, stability, opportunities and relationships that give young people a chance to build better futures for themselves and the people in their lives,” says Mary Beth Welsh, executive director of Episcopal Ministries. “That’s what we mean when we say that our diocese is nurturing a network of hope.”

The Very Rev. Canon Glenworth D. Miles, rector of St. George’s Episcopal Church, has been at the center of such a network in Bedford Stuyvesant for more than 15 years, and he understands the pivotal role EMLI plays. “There are congregations that want to focus on mission in the wider community but that don’t have the resources to do it,” he says. “Episcopal Ministries makes those ministries possible.”

Like Nativity, St. George’s operates a get-down-to-business after-school program focused on homework and tutoring for about 20 children. “There is always a need for a safe environment after-school and some of the children need extracurricular help in reading and math and in science. Our after school program provides that kind of support.

“We hired a director, an assistant director, and we were able to buy all of the supplies that we needed. All of that is picked up by the support we receive from Episcopal Ministries."

Additionally, the parish operates an eight-week summer day camp for about 50 children in July and August. “Many of the children would literally be on the streets because the parents have to work,” Miles says. “So the summer camp provides an environment where they can interact with other children, there are a lot of activities, trips to the botanical gardens, the museums and other places of interest under full supervision.

“And mixed in with that there are some subjects like reading, so it is not all fun and games.”

Matt Tees, executive director of Camp DeWolfe in Wading River, knows a little bit about keep children occupied during the long summer months. Anywhere from 50 to 100 residential campers are on hand every week, and day camp attendance ranges “from five to 25,” he says.

The camp day features outdoor fun, morning prayer and small-group Christian formation activities. “Seventy-five percent of our campers are from Episcopal parishes, and we draw between 23 and 26 percent from each of the four counties that make up the diocese,” says Tees, who has been executive director for five years. “The diocese is very diverse and we are very diverse. We take a lot of time and care to make sure that our staff reflects that.”

He and his staff visit 30 to 40 parishes during the year, Tees says, and sometimes offer workshops at the Mercer School of Theology.

The camp’s grant from Episcopal Ministries helps it keep costs low, especially for children in the diocese, he adds. “Any Episcopal church member affiliated with a parish gets a 50 percent scholarship right off the bat.”

Miles appreciates the discount. “Many of the children here in Bedford-Stuyvesant have never been outside of Bedford-Stuyvesant, so you can image what it must feel like for them to go out to Wading River where the camp is located and interact with other children from the suburbs and understand that children are children where ever they are from,” he says. “It’s just a wonderful way of getting children together.”

Some of the ministries supported by EMLI’s annual appeal are as time-tested as after-school programs and summer camps. Others are started from scratch. At St. Andrew’s Community Center in Mastic Beach, EMLI’s program director Franca Floro and site coordinator Wendy Samuels are building an innovative group mentoring ministry from the ground up.

The program began last summer with eight or nine girls from a local Girl Scout troop, and has grown steadily since it began meeting one evening every other week for advanced arts and crafts such as jewelry-making. “They have mastered that tremendously,” Samuels says. “Next they are going to make their own quilts, one block at a time. They have input in what we decide to do.”

“I am of mindset that young people should appreciate the value of social capital in their lives as much as the financial capital,” Floro says. “It is important for young people to have relationships with people who are capable of helping them to be the kind of person they want to be.”

The current mentoring program, which started in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, developed through trial and error, she says. “There’s some message in there for all of our ministry partners. You may have an idea for what you want to do, but you can find ways to expand or change your ministry that can be really effective and meets the needs of those you want to serve.”

Auletta and her colleagues at Nativity recently learned this lesson, much to their delight.

“One one of the great things that Episcopal Ministries did for us was to challenge us to start developing other funding sources,” Auletta says. “This past year we decided to allocate 50 percent of one of our parish fundraisers to the after-school program. That was specifically to offer music enrichment to the children for one semester. So we were able to raise enough money to offer African drumming. So one day a week, when they finished their homework, each of the children was able to have a lesson on the djembe.

“And it was awesome!”

View Photos