I recently finished two weeks of my Jeremiah summer program. As I sit drinking my coffee and writing in my journal my heart is filled to the brim with gratitude for the children we served and the staff who served them.
This was the ninth year of our summer Jeremiah Project, which is a pottery, digital and performing arts program for at-risk middle school aged students. This year, as part of our performing arts segment, we hosted our first Reality Cooking show. While clad in chef hats and aprons our middle schoolers were supplied with nuggets of nutritional information and fitness strategies. I was thrilled on the last day when they could recite the fact half their plates should be filled with fruits and vegetables. Considering there are virtually no grocery stores, certainly no Publix, in the poverty communities where they reside, it will be interesting to see how our eager students might apply their newfound knowledge.
A crew from a local film school spent three full days with us, patiently holding booms and cameras as they filmed nervous, giggling teens creating such treats as tortilla soup, guacamole, bean salsa and guava pastries. Hand decorated folders housed recipes and Photoshop projects. The children appeared to tolerate daily diatribes about the benefits of creativity in their lives and futures.
Our participants came from Boys and Girls Clubs throughout Central Florida. This was our first occasion to host children from the Coalition for the Homeless. It was simultaneously wonderful and heartbreaking. Two sisters from this group have been living at the homeless shelter for three months, their mother missing from their young lives. At least three of the teens currently reside in group foster homes. Each day, following the preparation of the food, participants and staff gathered for a meal. Kids were instructed in proper place setting etiquette, while others donned aprons to serve as wait staff. The constant and consistent insistence upon hand washing might have seemed elemental but kids were receptive to the notion of germ and illness prevention. A gratitude blessing was held before each meal at which kids and adults were encouraged to share stories of thankfulness. I felt grateful these children seemed to feel a sense of place and belonging at our center which is located in tony Winter Park, Florida. One of the goals of the Jeremiah Project is to help breach the ethnic and racial divide existing between east and west Winter Park in my community. Stay tuned for Park 2 of our summer Jeremiah Project when the kids will “go down to the potter’s house” (a reference to Jeremiah chapter 18:2 for which this project is named) to create vessels on the pottery wheels.