One Child at a Time
In the middle of the stage at Florida Southern College stood a 16-year-old girl wearing a nametag that said "Poor Young Mom." She was overwhelmed. She was trying to juggle too many balls and nothing was working for her. Seventy-eight other 6-12th graders watched. Some laughed. Some shouted their suggestions on how to keep the balls in the air. Others felt sorry for her. Some got bored and talked to one another, completely uninterested in her predicament. The girl became frustrated and almost gave up. And this was only a game.
But for real Poor Young Moms living in the inner city raising a child in poverty it is not a game; for them juggling life is hard and breaking the cycle of poverty even harder. These youth attending the Florida Conference United Methodist Women Mission u were participating in a presentation by Cornerstone Family Ministries, one of United Methodist Women's National Mission Institutions.
The presentation depicted why and how Cornerstone Family Ministries serves more than 28,000 young children living at or below the poverty level through direct service and through a sponsoring and mentoring program to more than 130 early childhood centers throughout five counties in the Tampa Bay, Fla., area. Throughout the presentation students learned statistics about poverty and had a chance to see how Cornerstone's mission to nurture young bodies, develop young minds and foster hope through Christ one child at a time can help in ending the cycle of poverty.
The 16-year-old playing Poor Young Mom was given a ball with the word "Poverty" written on it and another with the word "Child" written on it. She was asked to juggle both of the balls without stopping. Then she was given another ball with the word "Needs" written on it and asked to juggle it too. Struggling to keep the three balls in the air, she was offered a fourth ball with the word "Opportunity" written across it-the one thing that would help her get out of poverty, a chance to go to college and/or get a good job, and she had no capacity to take the ball because none of the other balls could be set aside.
Three other volunteers were recruited. One represented Cornerstone's Children's Nutrition Connection, one represented Cornerstone's Children's Early Education Connection (also known as the Rosa Valdez Center) and the third represented Cornerstone's Children's Faith Connection. Early Education Connection took the Child ball and handled it with great care, making sure Poor Young Mom's child would have a safe place and the best early childhood education while she went to school and/or work, and Children's Nutrition Connection took the Needs ball for her making sure that her child would have nutritious food every day. Now Poor Young Mom could see the possibility of taking advantage of the Opportunity that was being handed to her, a key to helping break the cycle of poverty for her young child and eventually allow her to take back the Needs ball. More important, her child would be equipped through a quality early childhood learning experience to do well in school and break the cycle of poverty for his children.
Because Cornerstone serves so many children, more volunteers were recruited from the audience. They wore nametags that read: Volunteer, Donor, Church, Government Program, Youth Group. They came up one by one and formed a circle around Poor Young Mom, and they all shared in caring for Needs and Child(ren) by passing those balls around the circle. What started out hard became easier with the body of Christ's help and was no longer overwhelming or impossible!
The organizers of the Florida Conference's Mission u wanted to incorporate a meaningful mission opportunity and understanding of the impact of one of Florida's National Mission Institutions in the student experience during Mission u. My visit as the executive director of Cornerstone was one way this was accomplished. The students and members also collected baby products for the Rosa Valdez Early Childhood Learning Center. These interactions provided a great opportunity for the students to learn about the plight of children in poverty on a national and local level, and they had an opportunity to see how United Methodist Women is engaging in mission by giving of their time and resources. The students also made place mats that reflected messages of God's love that will be given to children throughout all of the child care centers sponsored by Cornerstone. To find out more about Cornerstone go to www.cornerstonefamilyministries.org or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cathy Capo Stone is the executive director of Cornerstone Family Ministries in Tampa, Fla.