Church volunteers offer safe haven for students after school

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 2, 2000

FERRIDAY, La. – Joseph Vinson bounded into the room after the school bus dropped him off at Sycamore Baptist Church.

&uot;Hey Joe Joe,&uot; said Bob Coy as he slapped the 4-year-old’s hand in greeting. &uot;How are you today? Are you ready for something to eat?&uot;

A few minutes later, Eva Dodge, her plump cheeks rosy from a ride on the hot school bus, joined Joseph at the table for a quick snack.

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&uot;Would you like a big cookie or a little cookie?&uot; the Rev. Richard Cullum asked 4-year-old Eva.

&uot;Big!&uot; she said, climbing up to sit in a metal folding chair that left her feet dangling from beneath her khaki pleated skirt,.

Welcome to the latch-key Bible study club.

Sycamore Baptist Church has found a new ministry: a free after-school program for children of working parents.

&uot;We want to make sure these children are safe,&uot; said Cullum, Sycamore’s pastor.

The after-school program is one Cullum has been interested in since he worked at a small church in Iowa. His idea never got off the ground there, but when he came to the Ferriday church two years ago, he brought the idea with him.

&uot;I asked the people to make it a matter of prayer,&uot; Cullum said.

So a few months ago, Cullum’s idea began to become a reality. After several planning meetings, the church — armed with a group of volunteers — was ready to begin the program when classes began in Concordia Parish.

Just two weeks into the program, the after-school Bible study is still finding its place. But church members said they hope more parents will come to use the program.

On Thursday, Eva and Joseph were the only children who arrived on the school bus from Ferriday Kindergarten Center.

The church has worked out a plan with the school system to have any children in the program dropped off at the church off U.S. 84 outside Ferriday.

But on Thursday, Eva and Joseph, running from the ping-pong table to a set of hula hoops to a dry-erase board with colorful markers, had the undivided attention Thursday of volunteers like Cullum and Coy.

&uot;Let’s play!&uot; Joseph said, clutching his ping-pong paddle in one hand and clinging to Cullum’s leg with the other.

But soon it was time for Cullum to tell Joseph and Eva a story. He offers them a tub of crayons and pictures to color while he tells the story of Moses. This week the children in the latch-key program are learning about Bible characters.

Their Bible lessons often last about 20 minutes, Cullum said, giving the children time to have a snack, do their homework and play before their parents arrive to take them home.

To be in the program, children must have working parents — either a single parent who works or both parents who work, Cullum said. &uot;We’re not here to baby-sit,&uot; he said.

And the church volunteers aren’t there necessarily to try to win anyone to their flock, Coy said.

&uot;We’re not trying to make Baptists out of anybody,&uot; he said. &uot;We just want a safe place for the kids.

&uot;Really what I think it comes down to is love,&uot; said Coy, who does not have children of his own.

&uot;Love for the children and love for the Lord.&uot;