The children of Alta Woods

Ben Melancon high fives J'naya at Alta Woods Baptist Church where college students lead S.W.A.G., the inner-city ministry to children and youth, every Wednesday night at 6:00 p.m.
Ben Melancon high fives J’naya at Alta Woods Baptist Church where college students lead S.W.A.G., the inner-city ministry to children and youth, every Wednesday night at 6:00 p.m.

The dishes are washed (well, rinsed). The tables are covered with a new twelve-foot-long fragment of butcher paper, topped with a centerpiece of broken crayons and uncapped markers.

Mountains of PB&J sandwiches are carted to the kitchen on a wobbly table, safely out of sight from dozens of hungry hands that await them. The unmistakable aroma of a fresh batch of Kool-Aid wafts into the common room as the crew of volunteers gathers on old church pews to pray. Lord, help us. Ecstatic screeches and impatient whines are heard through the locked door. Positions are assumed. It is 6:00. Open the door.

The following events are incredibly difficult to describe. The challenge is due to the fast-paced, fun-filled chaos of a typical Wednesday night with the children and youth at Alta Woods Baptist Church. As soon as the metal door jerks open, dozens of children come sprinting inside.

Teenagers saunter through the threshold in their all-too-familiar, “too-cool-for-school” way. A handful of babies bring up the rear as they waddle in with a “deer in headlights” look in their eyes in desperate need of a diaper change.

Juquarious sees me and immediately starts dancing his signature jig that only Juquarious can do. He gives me a hug and asks for a pickle. Off in the corner I spy little Tresslyn, a three-year-old girl who has known more suffering than anyone should.

She is standing back, watching everyone with her huge brown eyes unblinking. Her hands grasp each other tightly as she bites her tongue in an effort to self-soothe. I sweep her up in a hug; her arms cling tightly around my neck.

Takara runs up to me, saying she has not eaten all day. I know she is telling the truth. I set her up in the kitchen with some crackers. Without warning, Simone and Jayla are approaching me quickly, chanting, we so high high high, we so fly fly fly!

I shield Tresslyn and embrace their hugs full force. I am shocked out of their grip by a hockey stick that comes crashing down beside me. A small child flies by me, followed by his identical twin wearing a hockey mask. Byron and DeByron greet me quickly as they squeal in unison and shuffle their small feet back into the gym.

Emmanuel comes in with his sheepish shrug. I ask him, “Learned any new songs recently?”He smiles brightly and pulls me aside, singing an original melody complete with a choreographed dance.

I praise his talent and skills and move towards Martavius, who has just arrived and tells me that his dad got a job at McDonald’s and his family is going out to dinner to celebrate! I rejoice with him as Makayla and her posse hand me one end of a jump rope. It is now 6:10.

The rest is history. There is too much fun to express, so I encourage you to get outside of your comfort zone and come experience it yourself! See you at 6:00 on Wednesday.

– Chelsey Bennet, Contributing Writer

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