On Sunday, about 50 youth from group homes and volunteers from Crossway Community Church gathered at Cedar Grove Park to play sports and games, eat, and have fun together during this Christmas season.
The gathering is one of three to four outings that they have together each year with youth from Olive Crest, a non-profit which provides shelter, counseling, and foster care services for at-risk children, among other services. The outings began about five years ago as part of Crossway’s efforts to be more engaged with the community.
“There’s such a high turnover rate with clinicians and staff at group homes. It’s unfortunate because the kids need something more consistent,” said Jessica Cho, the director of the community engagement ministry of Crossway called the Six Eight Initiative. “We just wanted to provide a time for some unstructured fun, where the kids can just get out in the park. We also want to provide a respite for the staff.”
As volunteers continually meet with the children through the park outings, they aim to be a positive influence and to simply love on the youth, Cho explained, rather than trying to do any proselytizing. Instead, Crossway keeps in touch with Chaplain Frank Fried, the teens’ primary spiritual mentor at Olive Crest, to hear updates on how they are growing.
“Chaplain Frank tells us, it really takes a village to love these kids,” Cho said. “No one can do it alone. When Chaplain Frank tells us about how the kids are growing, it’s really encouraging. The kids do ask him why we hang out with them and why we do what we do, and Chaplain Frank ties that into who Jesus is.”
The park outings are among the various things that Crossway members participate in through their partnership with Olive Crest. Crossway also holds backpack drives at the beginning of each school year, and Christmas gift drives.
The Christmas outing at the park was also one of many activities and events that are taking place throughout the month of December at Crossway as part of its ‘Be Generous’ campaign, a month of more community engagement projects and events, including giving gift cards for essentials to mothers and children who have experienced domestic violence; helping serve food to those who are homeless; and helping serve groceries to people in need.
Through the Six Eight Initiative, Crossway partners with several non-profit organizations throughout the year that are serving the community other than Olive Crest, including Serve the People, Future in Humanity, Home on the Green Pastures, Habitat for Humanity, Pathways of Hope, and Orange County Rescue Mission.
“It’s important for a church to not only be relevant, but also be a resource to the community,” said Cho. “Churches need to love on their community and the community needs to know that the church is a resource.”
Churches that are interested in doing more community engagement can start out by “thinking of the population they want to serve,” and asking, “What are the needs of the community?” Cho explained.
“To be realistic, it has to be convenient,” she said. “How can we serve the needs right here? Wherever we are, what can we do? It’s about being a missionary to exactly where we live.”