Hope Has A New Hangout
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 19, 2019Hope has a new hangout.
In 2015 COMBAT launched the Hope Hangout literally right across the street from Ruskin High School in southeast Kansas City. Housed in the fellowship hall at the Bethel Family Worship Center, the Hangout provided the school’s students more than just a safe place to go after classes. At the Hope Hangout, they played games, ate nourishing food, made friends and learned priceless life lessons—about being respected and respectful; about accepting responsibility and resolving disputes peacefully; about setting goals, making plans and pursuing dreams.
Hope Hangout Director Marva Moses mentored more than 300 children who passed through the doors of the Worship Center. And now she expects to mentor hundreds more at a different location, just down the road from Ruskin High School—about half a mile—inside the new Hope Hangout at Burke Academy, the alternative school for the Hickman Mills C-1 District.
“The school district has been great partners for us all these years,” Moses said as she completed the Hangout’s move in late November. “They’ve given us access to the students, sent a lot of students our way, and now we’re taking it to another level having the Hangout right inside the alternative school.”
‘They Have Opportunities’
The Hangout will continue focusing on after-school and summer programs, but Moses expects to now spend more time working with Burke Academy students individually during regular school hours. Giving her the ability to engage with more students prompted school administrators to literally open their doors for the Hope Hangout.
“Marva is dedicated to our students, and we’re really happy to have her and the Hangout serving them,” said Carl Skinner, Ph.D., Hickman Mills Deputy Superintendent of Student Services. “Marva is someone who they find accessible. They can talk to her, and she’ll listen. Her voice carries weight with them. She really knows how to get through to them. They know she’ll be an advocate for them.”
Moses’ goals include getting alternative school students “access to activities that might only be available at the mainstream high school,” including job training programs. “I want them to know they have opportunities,” she said.
Where STRIVIN’ Started
The Hope Hangout represents the origins of COMBAT’s Striving Together To Reduce Violence In Neighborhoods (STRIVIN’) initiative. Four years ago, when police data indicated the Ruskin Heights area was among Jackson County’s hottest “hot spots” for crime, Vince Ortega, then COMBAT’s Deputy Director, discovered very few COMBAT-funded social services were being provided in the neighborhood.
“We had a neighborhood in need, but at the time few services were being provided directly in that neighborhood,” said Ortega, who was named COMBAT’s Director last year. “So, we started the Hope Hangout. Bethel Family Worship Center provided us the space, and Marva really made it happen.”
Although the church was not involved in the program’s services, Bethel Family Worship’s Senior Pastor, Rev. Dennis Lester Jr., said, “Just having the Hope Hangout housed in the church was a source of great pride. The Hope Hangout is about serving the community, and this is what we want to do as a church.”
He added, “Initially, this was about finding a space to just launch the program—to get it started. But after 4½ years, you can’t say this was just temporary. We love Marva. We’ve loved having this program in our church and welcoming the kids into our church. They know this a safe place available to them seven days a week. But now the Hope Hangout is going to be right inside the school. That’s going to be a big advantage to serving more kids.”
Rev. Lester emphasized the Hangout symbolized Bethel Family’s mantra to be “God’s Church—The Hope Of The World.” Moses was seated beneath a banner with those words printed on it as she interrupted packing the Hangout’s last few items in the church to take a call from a student frantic about having gotten into trouble at school.
Moses calls the students she helps “my babies,” and she unabashedly says, “I love them.”
In a Fox 4 report last spring about the Hope Hangout, two Ruskin students referred to Moses as “Mama Marva.”
Treyon, an aspiring veterinarian, told Fox 4, “Mama Marva mentors us, talks to us, teaches us how to love ourselves, respect others and follow our dreams. Hope Hangout is a good place. It’s helped keep me out of trouble.”
And at its new Burke Academy location, Moses, Dr. Skinner and Rev. Lester are all excited about the potential for Hope Hangout to reach out to more kids.
“Marva is someone these kids can count on,” Skinner said. “She is one constant in their lives, and she cares. For some of the students at the Hope Hangout, Marva is a second mom. For a few of them, she is their first mom.”
COMBAT Initiative Focuses On The Need For Joint Effort To Reduce Violence
This COMBAT initiative brings together school administrators, police officers, elected officials, mental health professionals, social workers, faith-based leaders and concerned citizens to address violence in Jackson County’s most vulnerable neighborhoods. With a focus on developing a collaborative, comprehensive and coordinated plan in each “hot spot,” STRIVIN’ recognizes that no one individual or single agency can “save a neighborhood.” It takes working together—striving together—to make any neighborhood a safe place to call home.