Ah, summer – the perfect season of freedom from homework that can quickly turn into whining about boredom. Growing up, my mom would let my brothers and me have free reign in the kitchen during the summertime, which usually led to us inventing highly nutritious, yet questionable-tasting lunches. We did a lot of digging through the fridge and pantry while asking each other, “Do you think this would be good on pizza?” While my parents both raised an eyebrow at our “creativity” in the kitchen, they were just glad we weren’t bored.
For some families, summer is intimidating because it means having your restless children home all day for weeks. It also means finding a way to put food in their stomachs for one or two more meals each day (which has a significant impact on their food expenses). Summertime can mean having very hungry children at home for three months, on top of living in a small apartment where it’s not safe for them to play outside unsupervised. Having bored and hungry children at home all day combined with being stressed out and depressed over money doesn’t give anyone much to look forward to. This is where Summer Fun comes in.
With the hopes of building a bridge across summer, Buckner Family Hope Center staff and volunteers go to three different Longview apartment complexes for eight weeks. The volunteer teams mostly come from churches, but this year we also have a college student group and a local business involved. The goal is to make sure no one is hungry or bored. I love watching what an hour of food and fun can do. Even though it’s hot and dusty, and everyone is sweaty, the fun is almost addictive. Very few groups will sign up for only one week.
Last year at Summer Fun, a volunteer started a conversation with a mom that eventually led to an invitation for her five children to attend the church’s Vacation Bible School. Their initial connection led to the mother’s engagement in Buckner programs, job training and, most significantly, her new-found faith in Jesus. I spoke with her about a month ago while she volunteered at a Buckner event. It was amazing to watch her transformation from a Buckner client into a Buckner volunteer within a year. Fortunately, God blessed her with a new job that enabled her to move out of their small apartment and rent a home where her children can play in their own yard. Life isn't perfect for them – raising five children is still hard, but she's so full of hope.
Just the other day, a group leader asked me how to engage with the parents who stand along the sidelines while their children engage in Summer Fun activities, Because I know it works, I told her to just focus on making a friend and building a genuine relationship. Naturally, she will become someone to trust, to feel like an equal and maybe to sit with at church. Because Summer Fun isn’t about having a mission project – it’s about building friendships.
Written by Susan Williams, director for the Buckner Family Hope Center in Longview, Texas.