St. John's House

St. John's House

Diocese of West Virginia
January 18, 2016

St. John's House Learning and Development Center, of Huntington, Diocese of West Virginia, has submitted the final report for their Jubilee Ministry Development Grant. The grant exists to aid a Jubilee Ministry that has demonstrated a new or re-visioned strategy and methodology to make an impact both locally and beyond itself.

The Center, located in the midst of a large and economically disadvantaged housing project, gives school-aged children who live in the area a safe, supportive place to come after school. Providing learning-development activities, academic help, mentoring, advocacy and life skills instruction, the program is run by members of St. John’s Episcopal Church, Marshall University’s Communications Disorders Department, other university volunteers, and community members.

St. Johns’ application indicated that the $32,200 award would be used to continue the Center’s commitment to counteracting addiction, violence, incarceration, and poverty, as it had for the previous 20 years, while taking special care to break the region’s cycle of poverty, by strengthening every child’s self-esteem, self-confidence, interpersonal skills, and attitudes toward education.

While St. John’s House has a long legacy of helping and healing their community, they sought to renew the ministry through the services of a Community Resource Coordinator. After thanking the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society and the Jubilee Grant Award Committee on behalf of his board of directors, the children, and the staff of the Center, Executive Director Jerry Coleman explained the role and duties of this new position. He explains, “The goal of this position is to inform civic groups and individuals about St. John’s House and solicit funding and support for the program. This individual is also responsible for searching and writing funding grants.”

Having hired an exceptionally capable and community-minded graduate student from nearby Marshall University, the work was cut out for St. John’s. The coordinator was successful in soliciting support, in terms of time, talent, and treasure, from a variety of sources. For example, after being contacted by the coordinator, the owner of a local yoga studio began soliciting funding for the Center and also gave a presentation for the children. One of her students continues to visit periodically. As a result, the children are learning yoga, the importance of exercise, and good health habits, and the Center has benefitted from increased exposure in the community.

The Community Resource Coordinator also worked with the Marshall University Athletic Department and the Tri-State Transit Authority to allow children to attend a Marshall University football game—which resulted in the coordination of snacks, transportation, and tickets—all of which resulted in an excellent time for the kids. This work, combined with plenty of other examples and interactions with community members, helped to make the program a fun and attractive option for children in the area.

In addition to the Community Resource Coordinator position, St. John’s House was able to fund “Tiny Talkers,” a summer reading program designed for use with preschool-aged children. According to Mr. Coleman, “The program was a tremendous success. The parents loved it as did the children. We had children eager to go home to help teach their parents what they had learned in the program.” Jubilee Grant funding made this work possible, as these children had previously been outside the normal ages of service from the Center. Given Tiny Talkers’ success, they look forward to continuing its funding for in 2016.

St. John’s also used Jubilee Grant funds to provide newer technology and educational software to their charges. A particular area of concern, finding age-appropriate technology for middle school and older children, was mitigated through the purchase of a television and Wii gaming system, as well as providing these students a dedicated space in the building. They also purchased six reconditioned iPads, loaded with appropriate games and software; these have been very, very popular, as has the Center’s extensive library of books, CDs, DVDs, and audiobooks, with storytelling sets and materials designed for children with special needs. Knowing the value of these supplies, the Center invested in storage cabinets to keep them safe.

Understanding the creative needs of children, St. John’s House purchased large quantities of craft supplies for daily projects. For the children’s comfort, they bought a new sofa, floor cushions, and a sports rug.  In order to help with speech and hearing screenings, they also invested in portable fabric partitions to create quiet areas within their space. Additionally, they were able to secure cubicles for the children to hang their coats and store their books and other belongings.

Given The Episcopal Church’s commitment to the fifth Anglican Mark of Mission, “To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth,” it is especially good to learn of another project undertaken with Jubilee Grant funding. The staff and children of St. John’s House developed a vegetable garden on the premises. Vegetables were harvested and cooked in the Center. Every week, the children set up a vegetable stand outside the Center and sold produce to area residents. According to Coleman, “Not only did the children learn to appreciate the taste of fresh vegetables, they also learned basic sales and marketing principles. This was a low-cost project that the kids really enjoyed.”

He continued, “Thanks to the Jubilee Grant, we now have the equipment and supplies to serve the needs of the children at St. John’s Learning and Development Center. It has made a difference. The word is out and more children are participating in our program. The need for a safe haven for these children has never been greater. The heroin epidemic that is sweeping the nation has not missed [our area]. We are working closely with the Huntington Police Dept., Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and the Huntington Housing Authority to do all that we can to protect the children.”

Mr. Coleman understands the cost of staffing the program but is solidly optimistic about St. John’s House’s place in the fabric of Huntington. As more community members have learned about the Center, their support has only grown; Marshall University Medical School Students have made presentations for students and their parents, community members have organized book drives, and the program directors, student volunteers, and kitchen staff have all served as important and wonderful role models and mentors for the children.

Mr. Coleman concludes with a hopeful note for the future: “We will find a way to continue to offer a safe place where children can have a good meal and have fun. We will do what we can to bolster their self-esteem and self-confidence. We want them to value education and feel optimistic about their future. Our goal is to give them hope, for without hope little can be accomplished.”

Jubilee Grants are awarded annually by the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society. For more information, visit Domestic Poverty Ministries at http://www.episcopalchurch.org/page/domestic-poverty-ministries and like and follow Jubilee and Domestic Poverty Ministries on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/episcopaljubilee/ and Twitter at https://twitter.com/Matthew2537

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