In the West Brighton Housing Projects in Staten Island, New Hope Community Church is working hard to live up to it's name. I had trouble keeping up with Rev. John Saldanha, their executive pastor, as he itemized all the programs his church has or hopes to develop for the children in their community. Rev. David Beidel is the church's senior pastor.
The projects are a magnet for trouble. The island has 10 public housing project developments with 4,431 apartments. Almost every kid ventures out of these homes knowing that someone whom they know have been involved with serious problems or crimes - murder, drug addiction, theft, rape, burglary, assault, robbery, fraud, gang-related violence...the list goes on. The street conversations range from "angel dust" drugs to "Tec 9" and "Smith & Wesson" pistols. Some of the kids will become gang members and never graduate from high school. In 2008 the city claimed that Staten Island had at least 55 gangs with Bloods predominating in the West Brighton area. Stepping out the door, a kid has to wonder, is the situation hopeless?
Last year, Urban Hope NYC, a non-profit community development arm of New Hope church, started an After School Program to help the kids in the project. Their 15 students received homework help, mentors, and a safe place to go to after school. Healthy snacks were provided for the kids.
The church is trying to encourage leadership qualities in the older youth by training them to be mentors to the younger kids.
Saldanha says that fourteen kids in one Bible study entered into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Consequently, some of the parents started to attend church with their kids.
The church found that a lot more kids were clamoring to to go to summer camp. The word about the camping experience spread through the housing project. The buzz has led church leaders to plan for more camps and spread the word to other churches that camping can help their community and build their church at the same time.