Grant Money Helps Mission Milby to “Invest in the Young”
Youngsters in the summer kids program enjoyed learning in a safe and friendly environment thanks to a grant from the Texas Annual Conference.
Jayson Inestroza, one of the founders of Dream on Houston, was inspired to help youth avoid a childhood like his: surrounded by gangs and violence in Houston’s Fifth Ward. Although his life as a youth was rough, he found relief in playing sports and developing a relationship with God. Jayson and best friend George SanMiguel, graduates of Milby High School, started Dream On Houston to help engage at-risk youth age 10-18 by providing an avenue where they can play and learn from local leaders and mentors. When they approached Mission Milby about developing a summer youth program, Mission Milby looked to the TAC Missions Committee for assistance with funding.
“Mission Milby is a pillar of the East End of Houston,” says grant writer Joy Green, staff attorney for Justice For My Neighbors (JFON), “and has been serving the community for 14 years.” The group partners with many organizations (including JFON) to fulfill that mission, which also reflects the conference-wide goal of “Investing in the Young.” Because this project models the listening and learning style of outreach that is being endorsed and encouraged by the Texas Annual Conference Missions Committee, the TAC approved a grant through its Partners in Mission program.
The grant money (covering wages, snacks and materials) allowed youngsters to enjoy an array of free educational, fun and safety-focused activities each weekday during the summer. Youth started the day with educational games in the computer lab (courtesy of Technology for All, headed by Rev. Will Reed) and Jayson led outdoor recreation and games to promote healthy relationships and exercise. Many of the children attending had their first conversations about college or careers, learning more about those options from visiting speakers. “The summer program improved the quality of life of each participant,” adds Joy, “it was offered in an environment where they were surrounded by trusted adults who cared about their physical and spiritual well-being.”
“The youth learned social, domestic, physical, academic and career related skills during the summer, which are skills that can be carried into adulthood,” says Program Director Maria Aguilar. Chances are, this program is also helping the youngsters learn the importance of staying involved in the community.
Adds Maria, “The majority of the money was used to provide the kids with a hot meal every day. We tried to incorporate cooking lessons so that the kids could learn to make nutritional meals for themselves at home. Every meal had a serving of fruit and a serving of vegetables along with meat and bread. We also made sure we had plenty of water since they played mostly outside and this summer was extremely hot. The kids also got to learn how to bake cookies and cupcakes. They really enjoyed decorating them but mostly they loved eating them. We also spent some of the money on sports equipment. Lastly, at the end of the summer, we had a celebration where we gave the kids a participation trophy and a bag with goodies.”
Twice a week the program brought in guest speakers, and the Dream On founders were quick to share their life stories and personal struggles. The guest speakers stressed and modeled the importance of graduation -- from both high school and college. “Our hope was to inspire the kids and to show how anyone can make changes in their life and have a better future,” says Kimberly Arana who serves as the youth leader\coordinator of the youth program at Mission Milby and is the secretary for Dream On Houston. Maria gives a shout out to Kimberly, Jayson and George along with several volunteers, Daniel Garcia, Annie Gaspar and Brandon Hernandez, for organizing, planning and running the summer program.
Success Breeds Success
Some of the individuals served through Mission Milby in years’ past have returned to Mission Milby as employees, entrepreneurs and volunteers. One young adult, who grew up attending Mission Milby’s after school program, now serves as a JFON volunteer and UMC pastor near the East End. Additionally, a mother of four completed the Martha’s Way program and is now a thriving as an entrepreneur providing custodial service to the Mission and East End.