To discuss the challenges and solutions of protecting at-risk youth in the community, KIDS HOPE USA, a not-for-profit organization seeking to expand its mentorship program in local elementary schools along with local Culver’s owners Chris and Karen Blair, and Tom Blair hosted a clergy lunch on Tuesday, February 28th in Elgin. Attendees included, KIDS HOPE USA Chicago Director Annette Forster, School District U-46 Chief of Family and Community Engagement, Karen Fox, members of the U-46 Clergy Advisory Council, Rick Roberts, Community Impact, Christ Community Church, Blackberry Creek Campus, PBIS staff Lori Summers and Pam Horn, Randy Reopelle, the Director of Parks and Recreation in Elgin and local clergy representing churches from the Elgin area.
The meeting is part of a series of clergy breakfasts and lunches that KIDS HOPE USA is facilitating throughout the state. During the lunch, attendees learned about the need for mentorships in the schools, heard from current church partners and the strong academic and social benefits mentorships have had in the community.
Karen Fox shared that U-46 has students from eleven communities where more than 100 languages are spoken. Opportunities for students such as the KIDS HOPE USA mentoring program to serve a diverse student population are being embraced by School District U-46. “We are working collaboratively with an organization that supports churches and their volunteers to benefit our students and their families.”
The congregation of Christ Community Church, St. Charles, and their regional campuses, have joined KIDS HOPE USA to mentor at-risk youths once a week in the local community. Rick Roberts, Christ Community Church, spoke to attendees about their partnerships, including one at Century Oaks Elementary School in School District U-46 and KIDS HOPE USA. “About 8 years ago we started focusing on relationships and building relationships organically and naturally so that we could get into the lives of kids.” Rick shared. “This program has allowed us to bridge the gap and has opened up a lot of doors for us in the community.”
Randy Reopelle shared that most programs follow the “one and done; we’ll see you next year approach” to serving in the community and local schools. Unlike those programs, which have their place in the community, he shared that KIDS HOPE USA develops relationships that are sustainable. “I’ve seen lots of programs but this is the best. We need resources and programs to come together to partner and this (KIDS HOPE USA) is a no brainer!”
Partnering churches agree that KIDS HOPE USA offers churches and schools a proven, award-winning model to meet the emotional, social and academic needs of children. KIDS HOPE USA programs create one-on-one mentoring relationships between adult church members, willing to give a little time and a lot of love, and at-risk elementary school children in their community who need caring adults in their lives. Utilizing the existing structures of churches and elementary schools as the framework for these programs, KIDS HOPE USA has created successful, sustainable and life-changing church-school partnerships.
KIDS HOPE USA’s national mentoring program reaches over 12,000 at-risk children around the country. The organization respects church-state issues, and all participants are trained to strictly adhere to U.S. Department of Education guidelines to ensure that the program does not violate the separation of church and state. The scope of a KIDS HOPE USA program remains focused on the one hour that takes place at school. Mentors are trained to understand that they must abide by the rules of the school at which they volunteer.
“I am thrilled for the excitement displayed from the churches that attended,” Forster said. “These churches get it – it’s more than being about a church that is in the community, it’s about being a church that is for and with the community!”