PORT RICHEY — The children gather each week to have a snack, hear Bible lessons and pray. The Good News Clubs are modeled on church Sunday school programs, with one difference:
They meet in the classrooms of several local public schools.
"We reach the kids that don't get to go to Sunday school," said Darrin Rogers, director of the local branch of Child Evangelism Fellowship, which organized the clubs. "Our mission is to evangelize boys and girls (with) God's word and get them established in a local church."
Children need signed permission slips from their parents to attend the after-school clubs, Rogers said. The clubs have grown through word of mouth; the schools aren't allowed to pass out the permission slips, but the teachers let the students know they're available upon request.
The gatherings are held at four Pasco elementary schools: Cypress, Chasco, Richey and Sanders. Each club has six to eight volunteers, and at least 50 students last year in Pasco participated.
The Christian clubs are nondenominational, sponsored by various churches. They have the principals' approval to meet on the campuses, but the schools don't promote the clubs in any way.
For many of the children, it's their "first time being exposed to the Gospel," said Missy Noder, who volunteers at Chasco Elementary's Good News Club with her two daughters. "Anytime you have one-on-one contact, they feel more loved, more accepted. Someone cares about them."
She said it helps the school system, too, because the volunteers are "in there teaching the kids how to behave, teaching them things that they might not get elsewhere."
"The teachers are in a bad situation because the parents aren't doing anything," added Rogers. "We teach them the right way to do things — respect, honesty, integrity. … They're accountable to a higher authority."
Child Evangelism Fellowship produces kits with teaching materials, paid for by the churches, and each club teaches the same lessons, verses and songs.
On a typical afternoon, the kids put their backpacks down, get a snack and a drink, and break up into small groups. They talk about their day and review a Bible verse and a story. Group leaders take prayer requests from the children, and they play games that relate to the Bible verse of the day. Then all the kids come back together to sing and go over a Bible lesson. Finally, they do a review game.
"We can teach kids about God, and I like working for God and doing stuff for him," said Ashley Noder, 13.
"It's just been great watching the kids. After the second day, they give us hugs," added Laura Noder 15.
Tina Kimbro is the team leader for Cypress and Chasco and also serves as the children's director for the First Baptist Church of New Port Richey.
"It's a very good mix. Some of the children attending those clubs attend our church regularly. Most do not attend our church. Some go other places.
"We encourage them to go anywhere for church. We tell them how important it is to go to church," Kimbro said.
"The most difficult thing is getting the word out because of School Board guidelines — rightly so," she said. "It is very much about word of mouth from the children who come."
The organizers sign a lease agreement with the Pasco County School Board in order to use classroom space. They pay a one-time annual fee of $50 but no weekly rent. In contrast, in Pinellas they pay $30 per week per school, but they're allowed to pass out permission slips directly to students, Rogers said.
Team leader Deborahan Queen, the children's director of Calvary Chapel Worship Center in New Port Richey, oversees the program at Richey Elementary.
"The purpose of it is to give kids hope. A lot of kids at that school come from broken homes and have little money," she said. "We let them know they were created with purpose. It's something stable. We come every week. They know we're coming."
She also said, "It's sad that the schools don't teach them basic values. They expect that the parents will do it."
Parents such as Jamie Corey of New Port Richey have been pleased with the program. Corey's twin daughters, Payton and Riley, 10, attend the club at Cypress Elementary School.
"I'm glad that Cypress does it. They get a lot out of it," Corey said, adding that one of her daughters was "saved" through the program. "I know that it's growing. Ms. Tina is phenomenal. It reaches out to the kids and hopefully a lot more besides my daughter will become saved."
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