The Before We Get to Mars team has been working steadily to help the congregation make a decision about where to focus our work. We recently had two meetings for the congregation to discuss our primary options, Maywood and the Willowbrook Corner area in Willowbrook. We have begun building relationships in both areas, and been studying the needs in the realm of education. We will soon be making a decision about which location to focus on at the beginning of our BWGTM project, although the other area may well come into play in the future.
With the support of the congregation, the team is focusing in on early childhood education. Research shows that early childhood education makes the greatest impact on life outcomes for kids (see the Resource Page for more on that), and it is a great fit for the interests and skills of our congregation, given our wonderful Union Church Early Childhood Program.
As with any focus on education, our area of work will likely need to be multifaceted. Jennifer Keldahl recently quickly summarized some ways our congregation could get involved with a focus on early childhood education in a specific area:
- Health Care – most of these kids have limited access to health care. There could be doctors who are willing to give their time for check-ups and immunizations or we could find a partner agency. Eye exams and hearing tests are a HUGE gap for these kids.
- Dental Care – same as above but, much worse. Some of these kids never see a dentist.
- Mental Health – there is a need for parents and children. These kids have seen a lot and been threw a lot. Again, could use a partner or someone within our community.
- Parenting Support – people are overworked and tired. They are often drained and need healthy ways to cope and to be a good parent.
- Grandparents – In many communities, the Grandma is running the show and could use support!
- Meal planning and meal preparation. For example: a Sunday gathering where about 15 families would come together in the late afternoon and prepare their meals for the week. We would have the food all there, they would dice etc. and put them into pans for easy prep for the week. How amazing would it be if this included an uplifting religious piece while they prepare the meals.
- Maintaining housing, employment etc – there is paperwork involved in so much of these peoples lives. Taxes, state health care forms, maintaining their housing status…paperwork is challenging! This could be something we offer on a monthly basis.
- We could have a new baby crew that comes in and helps a family before their new arrival. It could be with formula, diapers, painting the room….etc.
- Resume preparation and preparation before an interview. This could include clothing.
- Running the laundromat.
- All of this and more is related to early childhood education!