By: Katie Sobiech
One of their former students was on the cover of Vogue magazine just a few months ago. They still have a folder from one of their tutoring classes with his name – Lebron James – written on it. He is just one of the many kids that this ministry has reached out to.
The entire vision of the ministry is to reach kids in the inner city, hoping that they will not fall into the generational effects of poverty, but instead, reach for more. And basketball is very important to them. “It’s important to have a basketball team that disciples,” Rodney Matthews, the President of the ministry said.
Along with basketball and their tutoring program are several other activities that they offer, including an after school program, a program for teens, and other fun events for the neighborhood.
In September of 2007 the ministry moved out of the Elizabeth Park area where they had been ministering for years and moved into the North Hill United Methodist Church building just down the hill. One of the reasons for the move was that after the renovation of Elizabeth Park, most of the people that they ministered to moved out. The community that was once in shambles has had quite a renovation. “It’s gotten continually better, and we like to think we have a lot to do with that.” Matthews said.
The people that move into the housing have higher standards now – they all seem to be working and paying their bills. Though it took six years and was a long process, things are finally looking up.
In October of 2007 they held their first event in the new neighborhood – The Harvest Party – which is their alternative to Halloween. One hundred and fifty people from the neighborhood showed up. The next month, two hundred people came to their Thanksgiving dinner. About forty five to fifty kids on average have been coming to their Kids Club so far, and they are just getting started.
After School Program
On a typical day of the after school program all of the children go into the gym for free time, then they have dinner in the “Snack Shack”, do homework, have Bible time, and then either go home, or play and get mentored, ending with a closing prayer.
The large gym has a basketball court, four squares, and a stage for performances. The Kindergarten and First Grade room has a bright rainbow colored carpet, toys, games, a prize chest, and a chalk board wall – any child’s dream.
Each day that they come they get four Urban Vision dollars. They can also earn money for good behavior, or lose it when they break the rules. The rules are written on a large sheet of paper on the wall; for example, “No swearing, yelling, or being mean to others”, and, “No stealing”.
They have a general store for the kids to spend their dollars on anything from a doll to a pair of socks. They can also spend their money at the annual Christmas store. “We try to promote dignity, we don’t give handouts so that they can earn it,” Matthews explained.
Greatest Needs of the Youth
The three greatest needs of the youth that Matthew’s has seen are 1) Having consistent mentors in their lives 2) Education and 3) Stability in family life, housing and employment for the family. “Having a mentor is major,” he said, “the stability in their lives is missing.”
Many of the families are fatherless due to the fact that the men realize that government assistance will be taken away from them if they are married and living with the mother of their children. “I think that the root of it all is the spiritual issue and the vacancy of the man in the home leading and providing spiritually and economically. We need men for these boys,” Matthews said.
One of their long term goals is to reach boys. “Our neighborhood lacks godly men,” Matthews explained, “We want to have at least 10-20 boys who’ve gone to college and who can be good examples to others.”
In the future they also want to put up an online banking system where kids can invest in saving and learn how to handle money. “We make them earn the money. They had to work to go to camp and they act differently when they earn it.”
Matthews says that they’ve seen kids who have come back and are holding down jobs and trying to live the right life, kids who went to college and know the Lord. For the last few years they’ve even had moms get more involved. “My wife has been pouring into the women and we are seeing them change,” Matthews said.
To find out more about this ministry and how you can help, visit their webpage at http://www.urbanvisionministry.org