What?! Another post?

20 March 2010

Yes, I know I'm usually a once a week poster gal (or...once every two weeks....once a month?) but I've just got something big on the brain that I wanted to get down on paper, er, screen.

I don't remember quite when I started hearing about City Kidz. I recall that someone from City Kidz came to our church on their big promotional day, called Miracle Sunday, last year. That might have been in February. And I remember that a little girl down the road that was coming over to play frequently for a while there talked about going to City Kidz. I was really surprised when she came to MountainKids with us and when we started our songs, she knew most of them. She learned them at City Kidz.
So slowly I picked up impressions here and there and had an idea of what they were about. I've been thinking for a number of months that I wanted to get over (down, actually) and see the program they run on Saturday mornings, but since September, Saturday mornings have been taken up with KinderSing.
Last Saturday and today however, have been a bit of an extended break for KinderSing until their 3rd season starts so last week I emailed City Kidz to see if they were running their program and if I could come observe.

I got a very perky email back with a very organized sounding response, pdf invitation attached, about their official tours. I was intrigued...but hoped that I'd get to see alot of the actual program in action. I was most interested in seeing how they did their singing and stage stuff, lighting, sound, that sort of thing.

So this morning we got ourselves up and ready and left the house around 9:30. City Kidz runs their big Saturday program out of an old-style theatre on Sherman Avenue, near Barton. A small room above the theatre at the back (maybe the old projection room?) served as the meeting place for the start of the tour. Two very energetic and enthusiastic women began with a bit of history and mission/goals/why we're doing this kind of information. Soon the program started and we could hear the booming sound system and the start of a praise and worship song that I recognized.
After this, we were led down to their parking lot where 6 vibrant red school buses were carefully finding their places. These buses go out to (I think) 24 neighbourhoods to pick up children and bring them back to the theatre. They run 3 of these service/programs on Saturday and are seeing a total of over 1000 children attend.
Then we came in the main doors and learned some more about the building and how they manage the program. I later asked how many volunteers they need to run their Saturdays and was told about 200. Wowsers.
We spent about 20 minutes actually sitting in the theatre and observing the program. I hadn't been 100% sure what their program consisted of before today--I figured it was some kind of kids club/Sunday School/VBS hybrid. I wasn't far off.

In a nutshell (my nutshell), City Kidz is a program aimed at inner-city kids to connect them with a safe, fun place, and with people that care about them. Their social goal is to break the cycle of poverty, which for some reason is especially high in Hamilton--specifically these children. Apparently the national statistic says that 1 in 9 children live at or below the poverty line. In Hamilton, this is much worse; about 1 in 4 (although maybe I misheard or the tour guides misspoke because their website info says 1/4 nationally and 1/3 in Hamilton). Still, it's worse here, a very curious situation.
They do all this through 2 main services: The vibrant, exciting and active Saturday programs, and a dedicated system of volunteers that are matched up with every kid and go visit them in their homes every week. It's a Sunday School administrators follow-up dream.

So, like I said before, the Saturday program was what I was really interested in seeing. Every Sunday, we (James and I) put together the MountainKids program. This is just a 1/2 hour and we've got it to the point where the preparation of it is fairly streamlined. I pick out about 5 praise and worship songs. I used to have to find/type out all the lyrics for my small team of kid leaders (I call them JP Crew), but I wizened up and last summer made a master list of all the songs from all the CD/DVD's we use and pre-prepared all the lyric sheets. So now I just have to pull it up from the file. AND, I've been trying to have a big rehearsal with JP Crew once every 2 months or thereabouts and then usually only sing from what we rehearsed until the next big rehearsal. But I'm getting off topic.
We plug in announcements, the taking up of offering, recognition of birthdays, a scripture presentation and that's pretty much it. Time to send the kiddies off to their classes.

The City Kidz program has the songs, complete with 3 media screens and lots of additional power point-type stuff flashing across. Each segment of the program has it's own title screen and slides identifying who's up there doing what. They've got a pretty significant sound and lighting system--just enough bells and whistles to make it bright and exciting for the kids. Some of the leaders wore mics on headbands (I could just ask James for the right terminology but he's elsewhere in the house at the moment) which I was very jealous of.

The content of the program was what surprised me a little. The songs I knew--Shout Praises Kids stuff, Hillsongs--popular, contemporary praise and worship. The rest of the program was comprised mainly of game show style games where volunteers were chosen from the audience to come up and do something fun/silly/wacky. The stage has two large tree sets, complete with spiraling yellow slides coming out of them. I noticed two "junior" leaders up at the top of each one, no doubt keeping an eye on any kid who had earned the right to go for a ride. Kids seemed to be randomly running up and having a turn on the slides, but I figured some system was in place or else they'd all be running up there at once. Two smaller blue slides also connected the 3-4 foot high stage to the floor, making the trip back to your seat even more fun.

They divided the room into two groups (with much screaming and yelling to prove team spirit) and the rest of the morning was spent in competition through the various crazy games the leaders had put together. Once in a while a serious moment was encouraged and the current theme was emphasized; this week being "Dream big Dreams". I heard about the "Memory Moment" that is usually slipped in at a moment when the kids are especially apt to be paying attention. The thing that surprised me was that it wasn't scripture. Perhaps sometimes it is. But today it was not. And somehow that niggled at me a bit.

I'm often reminded of something my mom said when I once remarked that after seeing a favourite Christian artist in concert a number of times, he seemed to be spending less time doing his funny comedy routines and more time doing the serious, contemplative material. Mom suggested that perhaps as he matured and got older, he was becoming more sensitive to how much he was entertaining his audiences rather than providing the truths of scripture.

I'm not making any judgement calls on City Kidz. It was just an observation. I mentioned it to the tour guide afterwards and she was happy to chat a bit about it. A couple things were made clear: They are not a church and don't operate like one. While alot of their leaders are Christians, they welcome anyone who passes the usual tests (police check, etc). Their goal is not to have a bunch of leaders who could walk a kid down the Roman's Road but rather who can build a relationship--a strong one. One that will stick in a kids life for a very long time. There's alot on their website about the process of building relationships and the long term aspects of that. She also made a couple good points I'll mention here: programs do not make a difference in a persons life, relationships do. This is a hard hitting one that I think I'll be musing about for a while. On the practical side, City Kidz specifically makes their program very fun because alot of the children come from situations where fun is not happening. I'm quite familiar with kids who've taken on adult responsibilities, even caring for their troubled parents and bypass their childhood altogether. At City Kidz, they can leave that all behind for an hour and a half every Saturday morning.
I have a feeling that City Kidz have been able to garner so much community support and corporate sponsors because of their child poverty goal. If they had gone out into the community telling one and all that they were established to see children won over to Christ, you can bet Canadian Tire wouldn't have touched them with a ten foot pole. But child poverty....that's a really hot button. I'm sounding cynical I know, but I'm really not. I think it's brilliant. It's, I guess, a little like the apostle Paul and tentmaking. He had to do something to bring in the money, while meanwhile his heart was chasing after people for the Kingdom.

The bottom line is I'm not sure why the Lord perked my interest in this organization. Maybe it was just to get some ideas for MountainKids. Maybe sometime in the future, I/we may be involved more with City Kidz. I just don't know.