Empowering Communities to Empower Vulnerable Children
Children Rising started with a simple challenge to Oakland clergy from Dennis Chaconas, then-Superintendent of the Oakland Unified School District: “We need you and your congregations to adopt a neighborhood school!”
Randy Roth, senior pastor of First Covenant Church in Oakland, heard that message in 2000 and took the challenge to heart. With a leap of faith, Randy left the pastoral ministry and moved into uncharted waters. His vision was based on Jeremiah 29:7 – “Seek the shalom of the city where I have sent you and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its shalom you will find your shalom.” Shalom means more than just peace. It describes a whole and harmonious relationship with God and with our neighbors, as we act on our faith for the health, welfare, and prosperity of the community.
Within a year Faith Network of the East Bay, Inc. was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) non-profit public benefit corporation. The goal? Empowering communities to teach, mentor, and nourish the children so they may develop academic and life skills to realize their God-given potential.
A Community Engagement Model Rises To Meet the Challenge
Randy was led by a spirit of servanthood and community engagement. As he met with school leaders, his first instinct was to ask: What do you need from us? We are here to serve.
On September 13, 2001 – two days after the horrific 9/11 terrorist attack – Randy and then-board chair Jon Blankmeyer met with Burbank Elementary School Principal Roberta Teller. Ms. Teller greeted them with warm hugs, saying “I want my school to be a safe place.” She hoped that we could provide something to heal and calm the school staff and teachers. “All the energy is going out, but nothing is coming in,” she explained. Randy had to admit to Ms. Teller that she and her staff were going to be guinea pigs, since Burbank would be our pilot program. She laughed and said she was game to try out this new relationship.
By mid-October, thanks to volunteers from four nearby churches, support was being provided by way of 1) Classroom Tutoring, 2) Playground Supervision, 3) Teacher Appreciation, 4) ESL Classes for Parents.
Over time, we got really good at first listening, and then providing programs that reach vulnerable children at a critical time in their lives.
We also got very good at matching members of the community who wanted to come alongside the children who need it the most. And we developed programs that include training, coaching, and tools to consistently make a profound difference in a child’s life. Only through an engaged, caring community do these vulnerable children have the fair chance they so richly deserve for success in school and beyond.