[Episcopal Diocese of Western New York] This summer the Ministry Center of the Diocese of Western New York has been taken over by children, teenagers, stuffed animals and letter people.
It has been the site of the Eaton Summer Reading Program. Children from Buffalo, youth missioners from all over the country and adult volunteers from Western New York have been reading, playing, singing, having fun and getting to know each other. The goal of the program is to help children from the Buffalo schools work on their reading and writing skills over the summer.
The Rev. Sare Anuszkiewicz, program director, explained that the program began when a group of clergy and Bishop R. William Franklin gathered to discuss the book Toxic Charity. Coming out of that discussion was the realization that the majority of students in the Buffalo Public Schools were not reading at grade level and that there were few or no summer programs available to them.
She said, “Summer learning loss is one of the main factors in children who live in low income households not reading at grade level. The more that children are exposed to books and given a chance to read and write and think and explore over the summer the less of their academic achievement they lose over the summer and the more likely they are to succeed in school.” Anuszkiewicz added that addressing summer learning loss was one way to attempt to intervene in the cycle of generational poverty that is a major problem in Buffalo.
The program is named for James Eaton, the late treasurer of the diocese. When the Diocesan Ministry Center was created from a former church building, he had a vision that it would become a place where the diocese could come together and do ministry together. He was also committed to the children of Buffalo and had an ongoing relationship with a public school in Buffalo. The program was named after him to honor his vision for both the Diocese and the children of Buffalo.
Youth groups from Ohio, Newark, Southern Virginia and Western New York have all signed up to spend a week on mission trip serving as staff and helpers in the program, living in the ministry center and exploring Buffalo and Niagara Falls. Adults from the Diocese of Western New York have volunteered to be the teachers in the program.
Franklin is an enthusiastic supporter and frequent visitor to the program. He has eaten lunch with the youth missioners, played the piano with the children and just dropped in in spare moments. “I have visited the program regularly and interacted with the children, the youth missioners and the adult volunteers,” the bishop said. “I can tell you that lives are being changed. The lives of the children are being enriched and doors are being opened to them. The missioners are discovering their gifts and the power that they have to change lives and the adult volunteers are seeing the immediate impact of their work in the lives of children, as well as experiencing more about the systems of poverty in our community.”
The program began at the end of June and will run through the end of July. The children are picked up from around Buffalo in the morning, they have breakfast, lunch and snacks at camp. The program runs all day, and involves reading, writing, sight words, letters, games andcrafts. On Friday afternoons everyone goes on a field trip.
Franklin sees the program as a long term investment in the children, and the region. He said, “Literacy is the foundation, the cornerstone. A child who learns how to read grows up to become an adult who can get a job, earn a paycheck, advance, make a stable home, participate in the community, vote, and raise up sons and daughters who know how to read. This is why we wanted to start our reading camp.”
The diocese hopes to take the lessons learned this summer and make the program even stronger in years to come.