Dignity vs. Dependency: How One Akron Ministry is Changing 
Their Community Part Two – 2010-04-19

By: Katie Sobiech

It’s been two years since catching up with Urban Vision, an inner city ministry located in the North Hill area. Since then, much has changed for the better, including a growing number of programs, incentives and kids and families in attendance.

“We’ve changed our after school program. We do it in a completely new way,” Rodney Matthews said.

The after school program is now called “Set on Success” (S.O.S.), instilling the importance of education into the children. Participants meet Monday, Tuesday and Thursday from 2:30 to 6:00 p.m.

“We’re all about the kids being prepared for being successful in life,” Rodney said.

Kids can earn Urban Vision Dollars through participation in the programs, resulting in trips to the general store, game room, Christmas store, and field trips to cash in for their hard work and effort.

The Focus

“We’re focusing more on building skills more than just doing homework. We’re trying to take the kid that’s in 6th grade with 3rd grade skills and making them 4th grade, rather than worrying about what they are doing today that they don’t even have a clue how to do,” Rodney said.

Instead of teaching a child how to solve the multiplication problems in their homework, they go back to basics, teaching them addition first so that they can build.

“If you don’t know how to add, being in a class that does multiplication doesn’t do you much good,” Rodney explained, “We don’t worry that we have to teach you what you’re learning in class as much as figuring out how to get you caught up so that you can be successful where you’re supposed to be.”

Every child goes to the math class and reading class for their level, regardless of their grade. Teachers also come in to volunteer as tutors for the kids.

“Our after school program is slightly over half foreign students that don’t speak English as a first language. They are Asian, called Karen,” Rodney said.

“Two years ago they weren’t speaking well at all, and now it’s exciting to see the progress that they’re making,” Jodi, Rodney’s wife, said.

Equipping Kids for Success

Currently, UV is using Rosetta Stone English software to teach English. They also have a computer lab up and running with 12 computers.

Not only are Asian children learning English, but UV is teaching kids who speak English how to speak Spanish.

“We’ve heard a lot about kids who know more than one language usually perform better in school than those who know only one language, so all of the kids are taking a language that is foreign to them,” Rodney said.

Among the different ethnicities are Hispanics, the Karen, African American and Caucasian.

Growing List

UV currently has 53 students in their after school program, with 24 on a waiting list to get in. They simply cannot manage more kids at the time, unless they get more volunteers.

Their policy has changed, and attendance is now a requirement.

“We’re trying to treat it almost like a job because we want them to be set on success. If you’re not committed to something then you’re never going to be successful,” Rodney said.

If a child misses 10 programs a semester, they are disqualified the 11th time so that someone on the waiting list can have the opportunity.

“I treat them all like my own kids. Discipline is the same way,” Rodney said.

Kids can earn up to ten “Urban Vision” dollars a day, but lose money by having bad behavior. Dinner is served as well.

Rewards

A Back to School general store is another exciting thing that they look forward to. For those whose families cannot afford school supplies and items, they use their UV dollars to purchase their own.

“They can come purchase their own backpack and buy their own supplies. It is very attainable. The kids can do it if they put forth any kind of effort,” Jodi said.

“You’re here for a job, that’s how we look at it, but you can have fun,” Rodney said.

It isn’t always easy to hold back things from those in need.

“We hold tight to our philosophy, though I have to say we struggle at times,” Jodi said, “There’s a fine line. We sound like we’re so hard core but we know the scripture about giving a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name. We know that it’s kindness that leads people to repentance, so we have to pray and ask God for discernment a lot of times. We really look into situations and try by God’s leading and his Spirit to do what we should be doing as being lights here.”

In previous years, when they allowed people to come off of the street to their Christmas store, they never saw those faces again.

“They came in just for that day. They might come back next year but wouldn’t come the whole year in between. It’s no different from the person who goes to church on Easter and Christmas. It’s the same kind of thing,” Rodney said.

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