An afternoon visit to Bayshore Christian Ministries in East Palo Alto offers a walk in a garden of sorts. Staff and volunteers consider it their mission to till the soil, sow the seeds and water the plants – in this case, the 400 students who benefit from the nonprofit agency’s academic, spiritual and leadership programs.
Founded 28 years ago with the aim of bridging the socioeconomic chasm between the affluent Palo Alto and the more diverse East Palo Alto communities, Bayshore Christian Ministries opens its doors to children, providing a refuge in a busy world for students who may come from single-parent families, struggle in school or simply seek a warm welcome from the staff.
“It’s so fun to be here,” said Nancy, 11, a fifth-grader who attends the KidSmart program on weekdays. “Since I started coming, I’ve done better in school. I like it.”
The organization offers activities for youth of all ages, from elementary school to post-college, including after-school tutoring and literacy, Bible clubs, summer enrichment programs, community service projects, sports, arts, business and technology. As children progress through the program, Bayshore Christian Ministries adds a leadership and discipleship component that challenges teens to grow in their faith and become “servant leaders.”
“We don’t want people to think about the negative when they think of East Palo Alto,” said Executive Director Rolando Zeledon. “These are amazing kids. We’re walking alongside them – not ahead – so that at the end of the day, they want to give back. We’re planting seeds of responsibility.”
The KidSmart program, managed by Diana Liggs, caters to children in elementary school, who receive homework assistance, play outdoors, indulge in a nutritious snack purchased from Second Harvest Food Bank and are exposed to music and the arts. Participants receive individual help with their homework, often targeted, thanks to guidance from teachers at the students’ respective schools. Parents must volunteer in some capacity with the program and pay a nominal fee on a sliding scale.
“Our approach is holistic and relational,” Zeledon said. “Our core is spiritual, but we also equip students academically and with life skills. We try to expose them to other experiences to broaden their outlooks.”
Donations from last year’s Holiday Fund enabled Bayshore Christian Ministries to expand its KidSmart program to meet the growing demand – participation has burgeoned 36 percent over the past year, reaching an all-time high. This year’s grant, according to Zeledon, will allow the organization to winnow its waiting list and accept more children.
One of the great joys for staff, Zeledon said, is seeing alumni walk back through the door to serve as interns at Bayshore Christian Ministries or to tell tales of their successes in the community.
Bayshore Christian Ministries has scheduled an open house 6-8 p.m. Dec. 13. Potential volunteers are invited to attend.Tony Velasquez, Bayshore Christian Ministries intern, works with a student in the nonprofit organization’s after-school KidSmart program. Courtesy of Bayshore Christian Ministries