People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Luke 18:15-17 (NIV)
One of the best features of our CPR program is how it connects the at-risk children with our senior citizen volunteers. In the reading center, most of the reading partners are senior citizens. Each day as the children read to their partners, they form special bonds. These relationships are equally beneficial. The reading partners encourage and teach the children, while the children delight their older counterparts.
In addition to the children in our CPR program, each and every child who walks through our church doors will eat a free meal, provided by the Federal Lunch Program. Within a week, the entire neighborhood will know about the meals available to them, and we will be feeding around 250 children. Our church will feed 100-200 adults out of its own budget each day as well. Everyone who comes to eat will be fed. I have witnessed many "loaves and fishes" moments in our church's kitchen when the numbers seemed to outweigh the amount of food. Yet we have always had enough to feed the hungry.
For one week every student who has completed 2nd grade and above is welcome to join our congregation's children at our church camp. Each year we take around fifteen CPR children, along with about sixty-five Saturn Road kids, to Camp Goddard near Davis, Oklahoma, in the Arbuckle Mountains. Generous church members give private donations so that the CPR kids can go to camp with us. It is so fun watching them learn to shoot a bow and arrow for the first time or swim in a lake for the first time. For many of these children, it is their first time to sleep away from home outside their family. We are honored to be trusted with these precious children.
My children have grown up at Care Play Read while I volunteered, and now they, too, volunteer when they are home from youth trips. I am so thankful for this program that has instilled in my children a desire to serve and a love for at-risk children. (My kids even come work at Camp Goddard too.)
I would love to say that I fully intended to devote my summers to this program when I signed up to volunteer for two weeks our second summer we lived in Texas. The truth is that I started out checking off the "Christian duty box" that first summer. Then I enjoyed getting a change of pace from my kids, and they loved playing with their friends too. The next summer my kids asked me if we could go to CPR more weeks. After that, I was hooked too. I think they liked the routine and seeing their friends as much as I loved serving the children.
I have done almost every CPR volunteer job from Bible class teacher to board games to art center to group games to lunch room monitor to cook and now curriculum coordinator. I love what I do because I love finding new and fun ways to teach the children about Jesus. Sometimes when I wish I could sleep in like other people in the summer, I need to remember that. On many days it is really hard to get out of bed, but when that first snaggle-toothed kiddo walks through the door I remember with joy why I am there.
The best moment last year was when I realized that 100 children, including kindergarteners, had memorized the Beatitudes.
Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
Matthew 5:3-11 (NIV)
When I hear the children sing this, I feel truly BLESSED!