Every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, the large white school bus with the bright green “FirstWorks” logo makes it rounds to the homes of 40 families surrounding Highland Heights United Methodist Church. The children and youth excitedly jump on the bus to be transported to a very special after-school academic program housed at the church.
A 501 c 3 mission, FirstWorks, under the leadership of Frederick Cunningham, the agency’s new Executive Director, welcomes at-risk children to be tutored and guided by caring professionals and volunteers.
Upon arrival, the children are greeted with hugs and smiles from Cunningham, the volunteer tutors, and teachers awaiting them. The “Kitchen Angels,” volunteers who contribute and serve dinner to the children, have prepared a healthy, delicious dinner.
After dinner, the children are guided to their classrooms for study time and homework assistance on Tuesday nights and on Thursdays the children are encouraged to express their artistic side with crafts and music projects. Guest speakers visit on occasion to inspire and advise them on sound career choices and life skill issues.
This year the program’s theme focuses on the “whole child”, their present, and their hopeful futures.
Cunningham explains FirstWorks’ aim, “We are so excited! We are planning a change in direction in that we have enrolled children from this neighborhood – near the church. That is our target population. These children, many who live in poverty, come from uncertain backgrounds and face many obstacles to creating a certain future. Every day they are tempted with drugs and crime due to lack of supervision, and a lack of guidance. We have tried to “walk in their shoes” to see what we can do as an after-school program to help them graduate to the next step in life. Our long term goals include guiding each child to college or trade school. Academics, life skills, and self esteem are the areas we concentrate on with these children.”
Further down the road, FirstWorks plans to become a model for other non-profit children’s programs. Cunningham stated he foresees planting satellite locations of FirstWorks throughout the county.
Among the many activities planned for the children include a “girls night out” to help the female children bond with their mothers and female members of their families. They will be invited to the church to have their hair styled and given fashion advice. They will be encouraged to discuss female issues with teachers and other role models. The male children will also have a “boys night out” to bond with the male members of their families with a visiting barber to style hair and enjoy a pizza dinner. The children also enjoy twice a month outings on Saturdays when the bus takes them to educational and sports outings such as the Children’s Museum, fishing, or skating.
FirstWorks, Inc., in its 25th year, was founded at downtown’s First United Methodist Church by the Rev. Thomas Wilson to support at-risk children and youth. The program was originally named “Final Net.”