JUNEAU-DOUGLAS LARGER PARISH MEMORIES
1. We will begin with a report of an Innovation in Church Education written by a volunteer in mission by the name of Jean Davis. Her words describe the events very well. I was extremely proud of those who made this happen. The primary memory is that five women kept thirty street children engaged in activities.
RECREATIONAL PROGRAM FOR DISADVANTAGED CHILDREN IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD
The Juneau United Methodist Church is located in the heart of Juneau, Alaska, which is a community of 13,000 people. The church has a membership of 250. during the 1969-1970 school year, the church Social Room was being used as one of the sites for “OPERATION OATMEAL”, which is a breakfast program for those who would otherwise go to school hungry. (I would add that it was started by Alice Crosby, a school board member.) Land is at a premium in the inner city area which is located right next to a mountain, and there are few open spaces, much less adequate indoor recreational space for children. The congregation found that the children from “Oatmeal” were returning after school and, since they were unsupervised, the results were activities not highly desirable within the church building, such as snowball fights in the sanctuary. (As the pastor, I thought their attempts to imitate volleyball was creative, but throwing hymnals was not too cool.)
The choice was between locking the doors to the children or staffing a program in which the children’s energy could be used creatively.
The congregation chose the latter option, and a group of concerned laypersons got the ball rolling in April, 1970. One of those involved lives in the downtown area and knew many of the children involved through her work in the library of the nearest school. Others who were skilled in arts and crafts and another with a background in teaching were invaluable in the early stages of the effort. Initially this was seen as a program of the Juneau United Methodist Church with volunteers recruited by those already participating. In the summer of 1970 some members of an In-Service team from Georgia supplemented the regular staff.
The regular Friday program has continued since its inception, running from 3:30 to 5 p.m. during the school year and from 2 to 4:30 p.m. in the summer. In mid-summer a United Methodist volunteer (Fund for Reconciliation) came to Juneau and she was added to the staff. (That was Jean Davis, the author of this report.) As numbers consistently run over 30 and sometimes as high as 50, more volunteers were recruited. In September the other churches in the downtown area were informed about the program and their participation was solicited. However, the staff was still primarily United Methodist in April, 1971.
The goals we operate on are those of providing supplemental learning experiences; allowing the child to express himself or herself individually and in small groups; bridging the racial and cultural gap by providing opportunities for communication; and, making the city of Juneau aware of the need for this type of recreational effort.
The participants are for the most part Native Alaskans (Indian) between the 1st and 6th grades. Few have any active church relationship. Total attendance as of March 12, 1971, was 1,469 with 67^ Indian children. The program attendance peaked in July, 1970, when 53 children participated and then in February and March of 1971, 46 participants were present.
The Friday program consists of several activities from which the child may choose. These include table games, arts and crafts and cooking. Often time persons a child to enjoy more than one of these activities in a single afternoon.
Three men in our church have started a Tuesday evening basketball program, which is moving toward an “outdoors” emphasis, (i.e., camping, hiking, etc.). Plans are being formed to end the program in June, with a hike planned, using some skills learned in the program.
Leadership has been recruited primarily from the local church with interest as the sole criterion. Budget has come from the Juneau United Methodist Church, though the city Parks and Recreation Department is willing to help with supplies. We have been able to employ resources in Juneau, (I. e., the Department of Education film library) for special programs, and we are one block from the city library.
The volunteers recently evaluated the program as they were preparing an application for a SEACAP grant. We agreed that the present program was truly a stop-gap. We would like to see some program every afternoon and several evenings. To make this feasible would require a full-time director to coordinate efforts. We have provided a warm place for the children to go after school where there is something to keep them occupied and where there are adults who care.
We would like to see small interest groups start especially for the older boys. I think we have learned to use volunteer energy effectively but if we want a comprehensive program we recognize that some paid staff will be necessary. One problem has been the difficulty of those volunteers who come in from outside the neighborhood (which constitutes all but one) and try to know the children. There is definitely difficulty in this area. Same group involvement as opposed to larger groups is a critical aspect of the overall program. June 16, 1971 (the end)
First, this program ended when we lost our building. There were tears shed over that sad reality. But while it lasted, it was one of the best programs of my ministry. The cooking interest group was a favorite – I got cookies.
Second, at some point in this program, I felt I had to intervene when I observed a young boy beating on a young girl, who turned out to be his sister. As I stopped the behavior, the young boy looked right at me and said: “You can stop me now, but I will get her later…” Sadly, that was probably true, but I informed him he would not “get her” on church property. I provided her with a long head start for home and I never knew the “end of the story”. Juneau has portions of the town built on a steep hill and their home was two blocks above the church.
Again, this was one of the best church community programs in my memory bank, as several people were willing to get involved in the lives of our neighbors.
11/29/2000 from sermon by John at Stanwood UMC (30 years later)
“The church in Juneau, Alaska, was in a downtown church. There were a few apartment buildings around the church, but most of the members drove to the church. For years the church had been unlocked twenty-four hours a day.
One day we discovered some children who lived about three blocks away playing volleyball in the sanctuary. That didn’t seem appropriate and the trustees considered locking the building. When the decision to do this was made, we found that we didn’t have a key to the lock.
Meanwhile five women made a commitment to relate to the children in the neighborhood. Soon I was able to say to the children: “While you can’t play in the sanctuary anymore, you are welcome to come at 3:30 p.m. on Thursday afternoons for an after school program. Soon thirty children were coming to participate in five interest centers run by the above mentioned five women. There was a cooking center in the kitchen to produce refreshments for all, a craft center, a reading center, an activity center and one other center that I can’t remember now. Learning the needs of the children, we also started a five day a week breakfast program called “Operation Oatmeal”, organized by a member of the school board. For an entire year these women continued these ministries, until the State of Alaska purchased our church by the right of imminent domain to build a court house. It was a wonderful witness.”