It is not often that a community invites a church to start a programme in its midst. So, when 12 years ago the small West Auckland community of Huia approached Laingholm Baptist Church with a request for an after-school activities club, it seemed too good an opportunity to turn down. Just as well it didn't. Today the Friday Club and its off-shoot, '@youth', serve 120 primary school children and 25 Intermediate age children, and the numbers keep growing.
For the first five years, the church ran the programme from a local home, but soon word of mouth advertising was stretching capacity well beyond what its four walls could cope with. So, in early 2004 the club moved to buildings at the church. This has allowed more room for the range of activities the children enjoy.
“For about half the programme each child is put into a group with other children of around the same age and has an adult Friday Club Group Leader to look after them. This leader is the child's special leader at Friday Club and looks after the child's welfare and safety. Many fun activities are done in groups with the leader. We also run a half hour activity time with games, cooking, science activities and crafts,” says Friday Club Team Leader Alison Diprose.
Each term has a theme. A recent one was Narnia, in which children could walk through 'the' wardrobe to Narnia, visit Mr Tumnus, Trufflehunter, the Dwarves and the Beavers, walk through Aslan's How and sit on the thrones at Cair Paravel. They could even have Turkish Delight from the White Witch if they dared! Often themes are Biblical. Examples include David and Goliath, which reflected on facing challenges together with God, or 'Jesus the Miracle Maker', which taught children about Jesus.
The children each receive a book on the theme topic with stories, puzzles, activities and discussion questions. They work through the book at Friday Club sessions and can take it home at the end of term to remind them what they have learnt. They also receive birthday cards and special cards if they have been sick, had bereavement or some other upheaval in their lives.
“We can provide meals and home baking for families going through a difficult time,” says Alison. “Parents are welcome at any time, and we provide afternoon tea and a comfortable place to relax.
All of this takes a lot of volunteer effort and it is why the church greatly values its dedicated team of around 40 Friday Club helpers.
“By developing a warm and caring community for our volunteers and looking after them well we have a very good volunteer retention. Many leaders have helped for six or more years. We also have a wonderful group of teenage leaders, many of whom have grown up through the programme and then volunteered to come back and lead. They are tremendous and we couldn't now run without them,” says Alison.
While volunteer recruitment and retention is critical, funding is another challenge. The church does not charge children to attend - admission is by donation – so most of the funding for refreshments and activity costs comes via grant applications. Still, the struggles are worth it.
Alison tells the story of visiting one local community family that was under a lot of stress. She was greeted at the door by the son, who excitedly showed her the Bible he had received from his leader the previous year at Friday Club.
“I've read the whole Bible, even this bit at the back where they explain what all the difficult words mean,” he said to Alison proudly, showing her the glossary.
“It was wonderful to see how he had valued this gift, and to see in the welcome of the whole family what being part of our Friday Club community had meant to them,” says Alison.
“More than 70 per cent of these families do not attend Laingholm Baptist Church. Friday Club is a wonderful environment for the church to get to know and interact with community families, and an accessible and easy way for community families to come to know the church.”