The sun was shining and the breeze warm, that day as I sat at a picnic table talking to Jeff Gilpin (Awana missionary to northern California). We were surrounded by high school kids gathered for Summit, many of them excited about receiving their Citations that very evening.
Ironic that our interview was held in that place listening to the chatter and laughter of those happy teens around us – as we talked about children who live in cars, motels, homeless shelters and subsidized housing or are lost in the foster care system.
Jeff serves Awana in the eastern part of California – near the Reno/Sparks region of Washoe County, Nevada … a city with many forgotten children.
The Washoe County School District reports a 20-30% increase in the number of homeless children in their program since 2010. A majority of these children (especially those under the age of five) have a developmental delay – because living in a car seat or cramped motel room does not facilitate learning.
Many parents of these forgotten kids don’t want their children in school. Since the school system follows up when students haven’t been to school for 10 days, the parents will keep the child home for nine days and then send them on the 10th. After that, the cycle starts all over again. Parents want their kids home to be a companion or to “mother” the younger siblings. Parents also fear their children getting more education than they (the parents) have and don’t want to be shown up by their children. The mindset for many of these families is “live for today – there is no tomorrow.”
To combat the situation, Pathfinders began in 2001 to provide “a place for kids to meet God, feel safe and find friendships.”
Each Friday night, Pathfinders sends out 15 12-passenger vans to the motels to get the kids. (They have done several parent outreaches, but haven’t had success. Parents aren’t interested.)
The program began with Pathfinders providing food, a game time and small groups centered around Bible study. As the program grew, however, more and more volunteers were needed to teach and each chose their own lesson – resulting in inconsistency as to what the children were learning.
Twenty-three churches are now invested in the 300-350 kids in the Pathfinders’ Friday night ministry and pastors and churches expressed concern in not knowing for sure what the children were taught.
When the program expanded to Saturday morning, Pathfinders incorporated Awana TruthSeekers into the plan. Now all Saturday morning volunteers are teaching the same thing. Awana TruthSeekers is the doctrinal anchor and now is also being used on Friday nights. Churches and pastors have gained confidence in what is being taught.
As Pathfinders grows in their ministry to the forgotten children, so does their reputation. The Lord is using them as a model for other ministries that reach out to homeless children.
Awana has many different faces. Your Awana program may meet in the basement or all-purpose room of your church. Parents drop off and pick up the clubbers. Parents linger in the hallway chatting. Many of the parents help their children learn verses and complete sections.
But don’t forget the forgotten children.
Remember the child who has never heard the name of God other than as a swear word.
Remember the child whose Friday night at Pathfinders is the one happy, safe hour of the week.
Remember the volunteers who are working to win the trust of the families.
Remember … and pray.
*Many of the statistics in this post are from NewsReview.com