Reaching out of the pulpit

Downtown church helps kids, fosters strong presence

Downtown church helps kids, fosters strong presence

November 04, 2007|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

The church parking lot is the closest thing her children have to a playground, said Talita Rodriguez, 36, of Hagerstown.

On Tuesday evenings, Rodriguez's son and step-daughter head to the parking lot of Otterbein United Methodist Church for a weekly after-school program and basketball practice.

"They look forward to coming up here on Tuesday," said Rodriguez, who lives not far from church on Mulberry Street. "There's no park around here, but this is the next best thing."

Cindy Brown, the church's director of programs, said the after-school program started in the spring of 2006. The basketball program came along after several kids in the after-school program asked whether the church had a team.


Both meet on Tuesday evenings and are open to children in kindergarten through eighth grade.

The aim is to provide kids with something positive to do and foster a stronger community presence in downtown Hagerstown, church administrators say. Attendance extends beyond the church's congregation, as many of the Tuesday-night kids and parent helpers aren't members of the church.

Outside of home and school, many of the kids have no place to go.

"It's keeping them out of trouble, I'll tell you that," said Betty Williams, 31, of Hagertown, who's son Amonte, 10, and step-son Dyshez, 10, play for the basketball team, the Otterbein Otters.

Tiaj Washington, 15, Rodriguez's son, plays point guard for the team. He joined the league last summer.

"It's just fun," said Tiaj. "All my friends are here." He added that his favorite pro basketball player was Dirk Nowitzki, the German forward/center for the Dallas Mavericks.

Otterbein has offered more to Rodriguez's family than after-school activities and a game of roundball. Church members helped Rodriguez mourn the death of her step-daughter Trisiviah Rodriguez, who was shot to death July 31, 2006. She was 20 years old and left behind a 4-month-old baby girl.

"I had a strong family, but Miss Cindy, she's been great to me," Rodriguez said.

Volunteers for the Tuesday night programs - many of whom don't live near downtown - said they feel a stronger connection with the community that surrounds their place of worship.

"I go by this street a million times on my way to work and before, I didn't know anybody. Now, I know the kids if I see them," said Tom Statton.

The church basketball league plays Boys & Girls Club teams, said Buck Browning, the club's director of development.

"A church that isn't involved in the community isn't anything more than a social club," Browning said. "If everybody ignores (neighborhood residents), then what are we doing for them? What are we doing to make their lives better?"

For more information ...

The Otterbein United Methodist Church's after-school programs are held Tuesday nights from 6 to 8 p.m. For more information call Cindy Brown, the church's director of programs, at 301-739-9386.

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