On any given weekday, there might be fewer than a dozen kids at The Upper Room, an after-school hangout in an at-risk neighborhood where youngsters can get help with their homework, make a craft, eat a snack or help plan an educational field trip.
But that’s exactly the kind of program the Millennium Fund for Children hoped to reach when it was founded in 1999: small efforts that make a difference in real lives.
And they do it, not by asking for huge sacrifices of residents who might be pinching pennies themselves, but by suggesting that folks donate the equivalent of one hour’s pay.
This year, those pooled resources will provide $2,000 to a simple but effective program in Summit Lake, one of the most challenged of Akron’s neighborhoods.
The Upper Room is a program of South Street Ministries and takes place in a carriage house behind the residence of Pastor Duane Crabbs. A former Akron firefighter-paramedic, Crabbs said he and his wife, Lisa, moved their family into the area to live with the people to whom they hoped to minister.
Throughout the week, nine volunteers schedule themselves to spend time with the neighborhood children, many of whom walk in after school carrying their homework.
The second-floor room has tables for spreading out books and papers or doing crafts. One recent evening, children were using one of the tables for making Christmas ornaments while munching on granola bars and yogurt cups.
The children also are treated to field trips, like recent excursions to a pumpkin patch and corn maze, and visits to community theater and a science center this summer.
South Street Ministries’ Executive Director Joe Tucker has been working with the nonprofit for four years, moved by the faith-based mission of the Crabbs. The Upper Room is just one of many ministry efforts, which range from a summer camp and an open gym to a teen girl’s crafting studio and a summer bike shop.
“There are some generational struggles here and overall lack of resources,” Tucker said, pausing to help 7-year-old D’Aviyon Murry understand a math problem.
Tucker speaks slowly and carefully, wanting to highlight the positives of the neighborhood, not dwell on the challenges. But there’s no denying that the children in this inner-city enclave need special attention.
“When I was a kid, my mom helped me with my homework, but my mom also didn’t have to work,” he said. Some of the Upper Room regulars are latchkey kids of single parents who can use another compassionate adult in their lives.
Volunteer Rachael Missman, a University of Akron senior majoring in social work, has dedicated more than a year and a half to the program. She wrote the grant application to the Millennium Fund, and the money will be used for bringing in “guest teachers” and funding field trips in areas of health, exercise, nutrition and nonviolence, she explained.
“Grants bring more structure and organization to programs that start out as good-hearted intentions,” Tucker said. “It also holds us accountable.”
Anyone interested in supporting the Upper Room, or another program receiving assistance from the Millennium Fund of Children, is encouraged to make a donation through the Akron Community Foundation, which directs the fund. Use the form that accompanies this story or go to the “Initiatives” page at www.akroncf.org/.