MANATEE — Good News Clubs aren’t new in Manatee County.
For years, children have met locally in people’s homes once a week for about an hour after school to memorize verses from the Bible, learn Bible songs and do activities, which is what a Good News Club is all about.
But three years ago, Child Evangelism Fellowship, the 70-year-old national organization behind the Good News Clubs, decided that using school facilities may appeal to more parents.
A once-a-week, free after-school program at Samoset Elementary School was started in 2007 and has proved successful, growing from 28 children at inception to 170, said Roger Welty, a local leader in Child Evangelism Fellowship.
Now, parents and guardians in East Manatee can take advantage of the program as it is coming to Tara Elementary School, 6950 Linger Lodge Road, for the first time beginning this September.
It will also continue at Samoset.
Perhaps what the clubs aspire to is exemplified in the Jean-Pierre children of Manatee County, said Melanie Goodwin, Child Evangelism Fellowship coordinator for Manatee and Sarasota counties.
Kattie , 17 and her brothers, Jaunice , 14, and Schneider, 12, were born in Haiti and live in the Samoset area.
Jaunice and Schneider participated in Good News Club when they attended Samoset Elementary.
Schneider attended Good News Club for three years.
During that time, the children not only memorized Bible stories, but they also got valuable structure for their lives, Welty said.
“Along with the Bible lessons, learning activities, songs and memory verses from the Bible, we teach them to obey mom and dad and we explain about morals and character,” Welty said. “The No. 1 thing the program does is teach them respect and moral values. I think those are two important things children need growing up today.”
After children attend Good News Club, those who wish may attend Christian Youth in Action, a Child Evangelism Fellowship program taught for six weeks at Clearwater Christian College which teaches the students how to instruct younger children, Goodwin said.
All three Jean-Pierre children attended the college.
This past summer, the children, along with fellow graduate, Rachel Herriman, taught at Child Evangelism Fellowship’s summer clubs, called 5-Day Clubs because they run all week long.
Kattie, who now attends Southeast High School, will be a Good News Club teacher at Samoset this coming school year. The younger boys are heading in that direction as well, Goodwin said.
“I would say the Jean-Pierre children have an unusual desire to share the gospel,” Goodwin said. “Their interest in the Bible has grown. Kattie is very passionate about it.
“The younger boys were great clubbers,” Goodwin added. “They came to club every week. They never missed.”
But Goodwin said that it’s OK if a child is not as passionate as the Jean-Pierre children and just wants to absorb the learning and not become a teacher.
“Our goal is to give them the information of the Bible if their ear is ready to hear and their heart is willing to embrace,” Goodwin said. “There is never any pressure put on a child.”
Child Evangelism Fellowship leaders recruit a church to supply the dozen or so adult volunteers needed to work with 128 students one day a week after school.
In the case of Samoset, Woodland The Community Church on State Road 70 stepped in.
Sarasota Baptist Church at Lakewood Ranch has committed to supplying the volunteers at Tara, Welty said.
“We try to turn it over to a church after everyone is trained,” Welty said. “We do background checks on all these people and provide the insurance for the school.”
One thing the program always seems to have to overcome is the perception that school buildings can’t host church events, Goodwin said.
“Someone had challenged us on the right to be in a school and the Supreme Court made a decision June 11, 2001, that Good News Clubs must be granted the same after-school access to school facilities as any other organization,” Goodwin said.
The organization does not meet during school hours.
Goodwin said she grew to love Good News Club when she visited her first one. She was surprised at how much interest she saw from children. They appeared to her to be yearning for something they weren’t getting anywhere else.
“I saw that kids are the most responsive age group to the gospel message,” Goodwin said. “There is a natural humility in children. Children want to know the truth. They know they are surrounded by things that aren’t necessarily the truth. When they learn we have a road map to truth, they are very receptive.”
Parents who are interested in having a child attend either the Samoset or Tara free Good News Clubs can call Goodwin at 545-1162 or 462-1145 or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, ext. 6686