There was a time in Crystal Lake, Illinois, when children were
left alone in homes before and after school. That was before. All
of that changed after Jennifer Arens and her staff began the
Salvation Army's Extended-Time Program.
Three years ago, the Park School District in Crystal Lake,
Illinois, asked the Salvation Army's Jennifer Arens to start a
before-and- after-school program. "We had no idea what we were
doing," Jennifer says. "We just knew that there was a great need,
and we're in the business of meeting needs. For the first two
weeks, we had only one kindergartner. After about two weeks, 20
more children enrolled; at the end of the school year, we had a
little over 50 students. Currently we have 109 students enrolled in
our year-round program and over 270 in our summer camp."
The E.T. program changes the lives of children and families. "We
have a lot of students who struggle with mental and emotional
disorders," Jennifer explains. "A number of our children have been
expelled from other programs because of discipline problems. Our
program has allowed these kids to fit in. Because we're so
accepting of who they are, the kids are able to not only accept
themselves but also to accept others."
The E.T. program is set up to emphasize academics and Christian
teaching. There's a homework room and computer lab for older
students. Academic instruction corresponds with the school system,
and the students have a group reading time with Christian
literature each afternoon.
Where other tactics have been unsuccessful in communicating
God's love to these families, the E.T. program has worked. "Our
kids are not only doing better in school, but they're also making
their parents pray before meals," Jennifer says. "We've had 10
families in two years become part of our church."
One grandmother tearfully donated money to the program last
summer. "For years this woman had prayed that her daughter and her
family would come back to church and to Christ," explains Jennifer.
"Everything she had tried failed. However, when her grandchildren
started coming to our program and began to learn more about God,
they insisted that their parents take them to church. The family is
not only back in church, but they've all come to Christ!"
Jennifer Ritchie, a single mom, came to the Salvation Army's
free family retreat. Although Jennifer has only one son, she was at
the point of exhaustion when she came to the retreat. Through a
Christian parenting workshop offered at the retreat, this mom
realized many of the issues she needed to deal with as a parent.
She also realized that her son was exhibiting signs of attention
deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). After the retreat, a test
confirmed Jennifer's suspicions. Today Jennifer and her son are
doing much better as a family, her son is succeeding for the first
time in school, and the two of them finally have the relationship
that Jennifer had always hoped she'd have with her son.
Where does the strength come from day in and day out to reach
out to these kids before and after school? "It sounds trite, but we
really couldn't do it without God," says Jennifer Arens. "Often
there are days when we really wonder how we can function. Children
screaming, sick staff, parents complaining, all while we try to
show kids the love of Christ. There have been many times in staff
meetings when we've had to laugh at ourselves and thank God for
allowing us to open our doors every day."
Before and after. It's not just about what's happening in an
average school day; it's about what's happening in the lives of
kids and families before and after the loving outreach of people
who are in the business of meeting needs.
Please keep in mind that phone numbers, addresses, and
prices are subject to change.