Article and photo by Sarah Thompson, Director of Communications & Volunteer Mobilization
As a sixth grader, Gabriella "Gabby" Mendoza's day is filled to the rim with the complexities of being an eleven-year old, navigating school, friendships, and everything in between. And, with safety and positive influences as a top priority, her mother is faced with the difficulties of having to work during the after-school hours but wanting to make sure her daughter has the opportunity to flourish.
Yet, as the youngest of four children, with the sibling closest in age 6 years older than her, Gabby has spent many after-school hours at home by herself or with her mom at work.
“With my other children I’ve tried other programs, and the experience I had at those wasn’t very good. Some of the other programs we have tried were at the school but now there is a charge to attend the after-care program, so we had to stop,” explained Gabby’s mother, Katherine Montes. “All my daughter would do during vacation or when she was out of school was come to work with me. Or if she was at home, I don’t let her outside to play, and she’s the youngest one so the other kids don’t really interact with her that much. It can be a very isolated life.”
So, when she learned about Hartford City Mission’s after-school program through their church, Gabby was excited to get involved.
After attending HCM’s Noah After-School program for elementary-aged students last year, this year she graduated to their Nehemiah After-School program, which is geared towards middle-school youth.
With the support of a grant awarded to Hartford City Mission through Urban Alliance’s Next Generation initiative, which helps churches and ministry organizations reach and serve youth so they develop the character, relationships and skills needed to succeed in their schools and communities, Nehemiah After-School was launched in September 2016.
“UA's funding allowed us to hire a full-time site manager for our brand new daily middle-school after-school program,” explained Dave Ambrose, Program Director at Hartford City Mission. “HCM has long struggled to provide daily programming to students aging out of our Noah After School Program, which serves students in grades 1-5. Our desire has long been to establish a full first through twelfth grade continuum. We believe that this continuum will help us accomplish the vision God gave us of empowering the next generation of transformational leaders with the necessary skills to lead the social, economic, educational and ultimately spiritual renewal that our community desires.”
The Nehemiah After-School program provides homework assistance, Christian character development, and teaches the power of God within each child by connecting them to their historical greatness and providing strategies for overcoming life’s challenges.
“Middle-school is a crucial age for self-actualization, and kids want to fit in,” said Carl Felton, Nehemiah After School Site Manager for Hartford City Mission. “Our program gives them a place where they feel comfortable, safe, loved and accepted. Our homework help component gives students the additional assistance they need to complete assignments, and through our Bible-based character development lessons, our program is designed to meet the spiritual and emotional needs of our students.”
And, the program is doing just that for Gabby and the others who participate.
“This program helps me with friendships,” she shared. “Last year I felt like my friendships were a little shakier, but this year it’s better. It’s changing me more. I am more kind. I’m more open to friendships. The Bible shows a lot of examples about love so that was really good to know. Some of those things I didn’t know before, and that was good so I could keep it with me.”
She also credits Nehemiah After-School for helping her to succeed with her schoolwork.
“If I was home, I probably wouldn’t encourage myself to do my homework, but here I have to do it. But at home, I would think I could save it for later and be on my iPod. This program helps motivate me,” she said.
Felton is seeing first-hand the positive impact the program is having on Gabby and her peers.
“Because of our character development-based lessons, our students are challenged to think about their words, actions, and the effort they put in to all they do,” he said. “Gabby is the ultimate example of what we strive for all the kids to be. She’s a great model on a daily basis. She’s the ultimate student and a leader in training.”
Through providing a safe environment with committed, caring adults, HCM creates mentoring relationships that help students push on when times get hard at school, home or in the community. HCM’s faith-based approach helps students develop the internal strength and strategies to overcome challenges associated with a lack of equity and generational poverty.
“I like the fact that it is Christ-centered and starts with Noah After-School, then Nehemiah, then Young Life. There are different stages, and it follows her, so she can continue,” explained Gabby’s mother. “The fact that they are investing in people’s lives for the long-term is the niche. That’s what drew me in.”
If you are interested in learning more about how your church or ministry organization may participate in Urban Alliance’s Next Generation initiative, contact Rosaicela Rodriguez, Urban Alliance’s Director of Implementation, Children & Youth Initiatives, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 860.986.6052.
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