On Tuesday nights throughout the fall and winter, Lee Street Christian Reformed Church in Wyoming, Mich., hosts a community outreach program designed to help kids succeed in school and help their mothers and fathers become better parents.
Through its Family Leadership Initiative (FLI), the congregation has built connections with its neighbors, providing shared meals and an atmosphere of support and encouragement for children and parents alike. The program is held at the Godfrey-Lee Public Schools early childhood center.
“The school has been very generous in letting us be here,” said Beth Meekhof, a longtime Lee Street member. Meekhof and her husband, Brian, have served as site coordinators for the initiative over the last two years. “It's a little less intimidating for a family from the community to come into this school than the church.”
On a typical night, families gather to enjoy a meal prepared by church volunteers. After the meal, the children have a short Bible lesson, get help with their homework, and play games, Brian Meekhof said.
Meanwhile, parents have their own lesson for the evening. “We talk about how to ‘do family’. We might have a topic about conflict; we might have a topic about what’s a good neighbor. We try to build family and we try to build community,” Beth Meekhof said.
Israel Alvarado said the discussions include parents sharing ideas about what works and what doesn't work for them. “It's a way to learn from each other. I may facilitate the conversation, but there's a lot of experience in the room,” he said. Alvarado started this initiative in 2010 while pastoring a Spanish-speaking Reformed Church in America plant that met at Lee Street. He now attends Calvin Theological Seminary and still participates at FLI.
Lee Street’s weekly gatherings are part of a wider movement. FLI is a project of Gatherings of Hope, a collaborative effort of congregational leaders and learning communities providing support, education, and coaching to local churches. Funding support for the initiative has been provided by the Doug and Maria DeVos Foundation.
The approach of the program is laid back and welcoming. “Most, if not all of our volunteers, are members of our church. But most of the people who come are not, and have never been to our church,” Brian Meekhof said. “It's not like we push it. A lot of them have their own churches (that they attend). But it's a way of connecting, making friends.”