By Naima Moore-Turner
The General Commission on Race and Religion’s CORR Action Fund (CAF) aims to equip the Church to reach “more people, younger people, and more diverse people.”
That’s exactly what happened at Epworth United Methodist Church (UMC) in Gaithersburg, Maryland. The church used a $50,000 CORR Action Fund grant to expand one of its most effective outreach initiatives, the Youth Hang Out, to include a Soccer Clinic.
The Youth Hang Out originally began in the summer of 2011 at the initiative of the Rev. Jennifer Fenner, appointed to Epworth UMC in 2010. The church was a newly bilingual congregation with the addition of Camino de Vida, a Hispanic/Latino mission joined to Epworth. The demographics of the community were shifting with the arrival of more families from Central and South America, but this change and growth was not reflected in the church’s youth ministry. The Youth Hang Out had started as a summer recreational opportunity designed to break beyond the ‘regular’ youth group that met on Sunday nights. It expanded into a Wednesday evening program ministry built around the needs and interests of mostly Hispanic/Latino and African middle school boys from the community.
Still the church sought a way to really ignite local youth participation. Ivan Prieto, a church member originally from Chile, suggested starting a soccer clinic to really connect with the youth. While soccer is a major outlet for the community’s youth, participation area in sport clinics is too much of a financial reach for most local families. Epworth partnered with Linkages to Learning, a community school partnership, and Identity, a Montgomery County-based organization that supports at-risk Latin American youth and teens, to spread the word about the Soccer Clinic.
On July 21-25, 2014, Epworth held its first annual Community Soccer Clinic. Fifty-three participants joined a few Epworth children and youth for a week of fun, scripture memorization, soccer skills and relationship building. For more than 75% of the participants, this was their first experience with Epworth UMC.
“The funding from the CAF grant was the genesis of the soccer clinic,” Ms. Fenner said. “The soccer clinic helped us connect and the community really responded to the outreach activities.”
Although originally designed for youth, Epworth UMC’s weeklong summer Community Soccer Clinic, attracts many children as young as 5, immigrant families and young adult Latino men, who now serve as the program’s 30-plus volunteer coaching staff.
“The young adult Latino men who have been attracted to the clinic are a really challenging demographic to reach, but now we have them engaged,” Ms. Fenner said. “In addition, our Student Pastor, Franklin Arias, is using the clinic as an opportunity to work with our teen volunteer coaches doing leadership training and biblical reflection that they can apply with the youth they coach in the soccer clinic.”
As the years went along, coaches for the clinic have been readily available since these men have children who attend the church and the program, or simply love the sport of soccer and are willing to teach the youth, or both.
“This is now our fourth year of the clinic,” Ms. Fenner said. “In 2017 we have enrolled 120 children/youth, with 20 additional youth volunteer coaches to join the young adult/adult volunteer coaching staff. Over 80% of the clinic remains community.”
This program also provided the adults of this community a chance to bridge their cultural gap as the children and youth become more Americanized. Epworth UMC seeks to be a church that supports families, children, and youth. The Community Soccer Clinic is also a key place to invite families to take advantage of developing English tutoring and computer classes offered at Epworth during the school year.
“This builds on the values emphasized in the clinic and sends a consistent message to Gaithersburg,” Ms. Fenner said. “We want to be the church that is with you and your family.”
The Soccer Clinic has spilled over into other children and youth ministries at Epworth. In 2017, former soccer clinic volunteers connected with Vacation Bible School (VBS). This year, of the 50 youth volunteers who worked VBS, 35 were from the community and unconnected to the church. In the Soccer Clinic, of the 20 youth volunteers, only three were Epworth youth.
The Soccer Clinic has been successful connecting families to Epworth’s worshipping body. Eight families active in the clinic have committed themselves to worship.
“The program was central in bringing community youth into the church and enabling them to transition to regular church attendance and a commitment to worship,” Ms. Fenner said.
In 2016 Epworth UMC partnered with Emory Grove UMC, a historically African American congregation, to form the Basketball Clinic in an effort to reach African American youth.
“In the summer, the adults of the family are usually working and children are left home alone, so the programs the church is providing have become real outlets,” Ms. Fenner said.
Ms. Fenner strongly emphasizes that CAF grants have made a difference in her community.
“It matters if the funders believe the church can connect to young people, people of color, and people who aren’t in worshipping [communities],” she states. “GCORR not only provides but they believe in your strength, love, and power to create opportunities, make connections with local organizations, and build relationships with the community.”
The General Commission on Religion and Race’s CORR Action Fund 2017-2020 grant period began this past May with $750,000 worth of funds available for programming in the United States. Click here for the online grant application. Applications containing all required information and documentation are being accepted online through September 15, 2017.