This past Sunday, my husband and I were introduced to yet another community organization in our county. We were invited to an open house by a young friend who has just committed the next two years of her life to serving on the staff. First Glance is a faith-based organization in the Kenmore area of Akron, Ohio whose mission is "To connect students and their communities to Christ and the Church through real, loving non-threatening avenues."
First Glance has been existence for about 10 years and currently has a small full-time staff and about 100 volunteers. Many of them are from local churches, some of them live in the local community, and a few are former students who have come back to give back. All of them genuinely love and care about the students they serve at First Glance and get involved in other aspects of their lives as well.
Having started out as a community student center, First Glance has broadened its scope and has several programs it offers to teens. These include recreational opportunties such as playing pool, indoor skateboarding, basketball, computers, just hanging out and eating pizza, groups for teen moms, teen dads, and other mentoring type programs. Currently about 250 students come through the doors of First Glance each week.
The program I want to tell you about today is called TEEN MOMS, which has been in existence for about 7 years now. The young girls who come are either pregnant or have babies. Here they are mentored weekly by experienced adult moms who not only teach them basic parenting skills, but give them practical instruction to learn many life skills. The youngest mom in the program right now is age 14.
One goal is to encourage every girl that comes to TEEN MOMS to either complete their high school education or obtain a GED. For those who graduate, specific job training or college is encouraged, and the volunteers do everything they can to help these girls achieve these goals.
TEEN MOMS meets once a week, and the girls are encouraged to come early and help prepare supper in the new and beautifully constructed kitchen. This way they are learning a very practical life skill. Child care is provided.
Each mom works through a parenting book and lessons are turned in weekly. The girls can earn "baby dollars" by doing a variety of things such as completing these lessons, attending school, getting good grades, holding a job, attending church, reading to their babies, etc. Their "baby dollars" earnings are entered into a checkbook register (teaching them yet another life skill) and can be spent at the Baby Boutique. This is a cheerful room full of (mostly donated) baby clothing, baby medical supplies, toys, and other equipment that looks just like a real store, and the girls write a "check" to pay for their "purchases".
Each week TEEN MOMS provides some kind of a hands-on activity or informational speaker such as a doctor, a nutritionist, or other health-care specialist. Mentors also teach the girls how to sew a baby quilt and keep an on-going scrapbook project for their babies. Other supervised times are provided during the week for the girls to come and exercise, work on their studies, just play with their babies in the beautiful and clean nursery, or help with cleaning the areas.
While some government grants have been obtained for First Glance, most funding comes from individuals or local organizations. In spite of extreme economic conditions, First Glance brought in enough money in 2009 to pay off the facility they have as well as acquire more of it for much needed expansion. We were extremely impressed with the beautiful renovations of an old building, as well as the cleanliness and orderliness of the entire operation.
By far, the most important aspect of First Glance is the changed lives of the students who come through the doors. The name "First Glance" comes from the idea that many of these teens have never had an opportunity to see faith in action. Their lives have been filled with anything but love, steadfastness, and hope. At First Glance, they are introduced to the Gospel in a way that meets them where they are. To quote part of the mission,
"In every interaction with the students, volunteers model Christ's love with the hope that they might find rest in Him. In conjunction with our mission, First Glance also works to encourage our students to attend an area church."
When my husband and I were driving home from the open house, I glanced at our GPS which showed we would arrive home in 15 minutes. Two things were not lost on us: first that we had to use a GPS because we were so unfamiliar with the area of Akron where First Glance is located; and secondly, that it was only 15 minutes from our driveway in the suburbs.
I would love to hear how God is opening the eyes of your heart to seeing Him at work all around you. He just showed me, again.
"Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words." - St. Francis of Assisi
"Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead." James 2:17