What does it take to help transform the lives of urban youth?
Time, for one thing.
It has taken Trevor Rubingh, a 1988 Calvin College graduate, 20 years of learning to develop a model that demonstrates real and lasting change in young people.
He began by starting a church in the central part of Jersey City, N.J. After noting that adults in the congregation were too entrenched in lifelong patterns to sustain change, he started a church just for children and youth. A new approach emerged, and New City Kids was born.
Here’s another thing Rubingh learned about time.
“It feels like there must be a threshold of time you have to spend with kids before transformation can be reached,” he said. “We’ve discovered there has to be weekly intentional contact of between 10 and 20 hours a week, with a goal of spending 5,000 total hours per kid.”
New City Kids is based on the concept of pouring teaching and mentorship into young persons who, in turn, become the teachers and role models for younger children.
The teen leaders, called Teen Life Interns, become the faculty for hundreds of kids in an afterschool program that runs from 3 to 6 p.m. during the week and covers a dizzying array of educational, artistic, and spiritual subjects.
There is an intense tryout each year for a limited number of open internship positions.
“Our approach is basically a paid internship model to hook and reel kids in,” said Rubingh, “and beyond the income we empower these kids with tutoring, test preparation, college readiness programs, and college tours.”
Currently, there are three sites for New City Kids: two in Jersey City with 70 teenagers leading 150 kids, and a new venture in Grand Rapids, Mich., with 18 teens and 30 kids. There are plans to start a third program in Paterson, N.J., in the fall.
Rubingh points to three pictures as an example of the work of New City Kids.
First, there is a picture of a teen teaching drumming to a young child. And then a picture of that teacher being taught as a child years before—and then that second teen being taught by still another for three cycles of drumming instructors.
Impressively, New City Kids can show that 100 percent of their young leaders get into college, and 90 percent of them graduate.
“Our approach to transformation turns on the hinge of leadership development,” said Rubingh. “We demonstrate to teens that they are needed and have gifts to share. Teens teach everything we offer to the younger ones. Eventually, through one-on-one time, Bible studies, and leadership development, the ministry connects.”
The teen leaders split their young charges into teams named after colleges, and there is lively encouragement and competition. Everything at New City Kids is point-driven, and that leads to awards and recognition, both for the teens and the younger children.
Rubingh was a philosophy major at Calvin and went on to study at Princeton Theological Seminary.
“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do when I started college,” he said. “Calvin put some urgency into me, that there was brokenness in the world and I needed to be on a mission to redeem things. The college gave me a variety of tools and the freedom to tinker, to try things.”
After years of tinkering, Rubingh believes that New City Kids provides a model that needs to be reproduced.
“After years of spinning our wheels, we’ve found something that works well,” Rubingh said. “We’re now picking up steam, and I dream of using Grand Rapids as a launching pad to spread to other cities.
“How amazing it would be to bring this synergy of teens and kids to other communities of need worldwide.”