Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Children's class doorway to close and coherent involvement in society

This is an amazing report from Chico, CA (just advanced to A-stage, read on and you will see why). A group of friends take the initiative to start a children’s class. They reach out to the community and they carry out the necessary preparations and consultations. In a coherent manner and in collaboration with a government agency, the class also helps address an identified need in the wider society. Unexpected opposition and challenges are overcome with confidence and mature action; approaches are modified and refined. Eventually there are 3 core activities in 2 locations, the capacity and resolve of the friends is strengthened. What an inspiring example!

The following is a synopsis of the Bahá’ís’ relationship with the California Housing Improvement Project (CHIP) in Chico, California that emerged from efforts to establish Bahá’í children’s classes.

In July 2009, the friends in the Chico cluster were visiting homes in an apartment complex associated with the CHIP program. At this time, it was evident that the complex was a candidate for a children’s class, as children were abundant. The children were helpful in making contact with the apartment manager, who then referred us to the CHIP Director of Community Enrichment. Two days later a meeting was held. The CHIP representative was presented with information about children’s classes, Ruhi Books 1 and 3, examples of prayers and art samples, as well as the national Web site www.bahai.us. . . .

The CHIP representative took all the information and presented it at a later date to his Board of Directors. Within a week, the Bahá’ís were given permission to start a children’s class inside a building in the complex that was primarily used by the Head Start program. The only stipulation was that the Bahá’ís would offer homework assistance to all the children for the first 45 minutes of the class, and then those children who wanted to stay could continue for the last 45 minutes, which would be the Bahá’í class. CHIP felt that this set-up would ensure that the program could be universally used by all children and avoid giving the impression that the State agency was advocating one religion over another.

The class started in early May, 2009, once the Head Start program had concluded at the end of the school year. We invited all the residents to a kick-off BBQ and served over 75 burgers and ‘dogs’! It was mainly a night of starting friendships.

From the start, the class was a hit. Many days the room was filled with up to 25 children ranging in the ages from 2 1/2 to 12. After a few weeks of meeting Tuesdays and Thursdays for an hour and a half, we expanded classes to include a junior youth group on Saturdays. That group includes an average of 8 to 12 kids from ages 11-16.

Over the summer because there was no homework (summer vacation), we came up with our own academic activities to fulfill our agreement with CHIP. We included as many academics as we could for the vast ages and skill range within the class. Scholastics such as writing, reading, math, science, drama, art and physical education were covered outside—and within—the Bahá’í curriculum. The class was a success and many mothers began hanging around and the youth would even come to children’s class to help out. The trust of the residents grew and the knowledge of the children flourished.

Unfortunately, the apartment manager had strong feelings against the Bahá’í Faith. This had become apparent during early meetings. The teachers of the class tried to address this by sharing news about the transformation of the children in the class, as well as inviting the manager to observe the class. Sadly, these efforts did not change the manager’s feelings, who at one point visited every single apartment in the complex, recommending the parents to NOT send their children to the Bahá’í class; the manager’s children likewise attempted to pressure the other children to not attend the classes.

At this time, it was evident that, although the classes had the goal of unity and love, they were creating distress. So we thanked CHIP for the opportunity to work with it, and in August moved our class out of the Head Start building and onto the lawn of one family. Once school began again we remained true to our commitment to aid the children in the school work.

In our initial meetings with CHIP, the representative had expressed hope that the children’s classes could be expanded to other apartment complexes. CHIP requested that we consider starting classes in a complex across town next to one of the two junior high schools in Chico. At this point we were feeling cautious, but we met with the CHIP representative manager of this second complex. We had a frank consultation with this manager to ensure that they were comfortable with the classes and that the classes would not be undermined down the road. It was agreed that the Bahá’ís would offer a children’s class and homework help one day per week at that site. There was also an official agreement drawn up between the two parties. The teachers agreed to undergo a background check, to record class attendance, to submit a Program Plan, and to obtain written permission from families of all the participants. (Except for the Program Plan, we had already done all these steps at the first complex.)

In early October, in conjunction with the cluster meeting, teaching teams visited homes in this second complex offering a personal invitation to each family for an informational dinner. In addition to giving a verbal explanation about the children’s class, written information about the class was attached to the invitation.

A couple of weeks later, the Bahá’ís hosted a dinner in the complex’s beautiful community center. The dinner was well received. We had an information table with materials such as a copy of Ruhi Book 2, children’s prayers, photos of children’s classes, brochures with the basic principles of the Faith, and a detailed explanation about the children’s class. The goal was answer all questions so that the parents would know exactly what to expect. The room buzzed with several conversations, and many families made commitments for their children to come to class.

The first class at this new complex was held was last week and was attended by 6 children (an additional child showed up just for the homework help). To date, the children’s class at the first CHIP site meets one time per week on the lawn, the junior youth group meets each Saturday. The junior youth are focused on completing study of “Walking the Straight Path” and carrying out acts of service for the community, in addition to a lot of laughing and playing.

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