This is a story without a happy ending. Yet.
Unless you count the solid spiritual muscle the Spiritual Assembly of Littleton, Colorado, packed on over the past year.
A year spent building experience and confidence as Littleton Baha’is worked hand in hand with others from around its cluster of communities to introduce neighborhood children’s classes.
Muscle ready to be flexed again to regroup from a summer of setbacks and to get core activities back on track.
Marti Bitts, Assembly secretary, traces this evolution to July 2011.
“Many individuals over the years have partaken in direct teaching and service events or campaigns elsewhere in Colorado,” says Bitts.
But she says the Assembly was not fully engaged in the process to expand the Faith within the cluster itself.
And when the cluster agencies invited communities to volunteer to host a cycle of intensive activity in a neighborhood, the Littleton Assembly was silent.
Then Thomas Grushka, the Assembly’s newest and youngest member, spoke up.
Bitts quotes him: “Hey, I’ve had Ruhi Book 3 [Teaching Children's Classes, Grade 1] but no experience. I’ll commit to starting a children’s class for six months. Who will join me?”
Thus began what she calls “an unprecedented period of activity.”
The Assembly identified a neighborhood that seemed ripe for children’s classes, made a presentation at the cluster’s quarterly reflection gathering, and had its proposal adopted.
“Within two weeks of committing to do something, we had the cluster behind us and planned door-to-door visiting to invite 5- to 10-year-olds for ‘virtues classes for community building,’” recalls Bitts.
“I think that our spiritual muscle building took off when six members of our Assembly found themselves in our living room filled with 12 more cluster members hugging and praying with us, and accompanying us to our target neighborhood.”
In two days of visits, several children expressed interest in attending classes. Though their parents by and large don’t speak English well, the kids do by the time they have completed kindergarten. And they eagerly participated through the summer months.
“We were surprised at how many children were allowed to attend, particularly if we went to their doors and walked them back and forth from the park,” says Bitts.
“The families seemed very trusting. … One observer remarked that the children and parents could perceive our pure intentions.”
Littleton Baha’is participated in numbers, too, says Pouri Azghandi, the cluster coordinator of children’s classes.
“There were so many people involved,” she says. “We probably had more adults there than children.”
“One Assembly member, an English-Persian-Portuguese speaker, found that he could relate to students’ fathers in Spanish,” she says.
“Our young man [Grushka], who is blind, who got the entire thing started with his adventurous courage learned how to be a Grade 1 teacher alongside the seasoned Azghandi.
“Others discovered equipment to bring, stories to read and snacks for children.”
Background support aided the effort as well.
“Keeping all this going depended on our Area Teaching Committee; the encouraging support from Douglas Allen, our local member of the Northwest Regional Baha’i Council (he even assisted with the squirrelly boys at a couple classes); lots of emails and phone calls; and devotion on the part of all involved,” says Bitts.
“We became gradually more adept at consultation and decision making.”
Then came fall, in an area of the country where that means heading indoors.
A change in location to the public library, in combination with several families moving from the area, led to the number of participants dwindling week by week, says Azghandi.
Baha’is conducted another outreach in the neighborhood, “hoping to reconnect with students who had disappeared by late October and offer to drive them to the library,” says Bitts. ”Good connections, good initial turnout. …”
But by March, she says, “attendance again dwindled to one.”
Conversations aimed at getting neighborhood parents involved — largely with the assistance of Leticia Vega-Cordova, who had to travel a distance from Castle Rock each time — were unproductive, says Azghandi.
As were further canvasses of apartments, notes Bitts.
So when only little Estephany was left, eager as she was, the class could not be continued.
“She’s 6 years old and I didn’t want to stop it,” says Azghandi. “But she was getting lonely, she was going to be the only one, [and asking] ‘Why are the other kids not coming?’ So we did stop it.”
Is that the end?
No, say both Bitts and Azghandi.
Hopes are high that offering math and reading help at the library this fall will attract several children who then might wish to participate in a children’s class.
“If not right in Littleton, then we would invite them to the cluster children’s classes several miles away, where the nucleus of Baha’i children live and gather with a few schoolmates,” says Bitts.
Vega-Cordova, the intrepid translator, also has grown through the experience, says Bitts, and is planning to use her new skills as a Baha’i pioneer.
“She has observed several styles persons display in group interactions. She has gone through the ups and downs of failed expectations, exceeded expectations, miscommunications, group dynamics and, therefore, personal growth that will add to her effectiveness as a pioneer overseas.”
Azghandi saw the same in Vega-Cordova.
“She made so many beautiful contacts with the parents,” she notes. “She talked so beautifully that this isn’t just a little community, this is spiritual teaching for the whole world — how we can be connected, how we can be doing this together.”
Leading Bitts to say, “She persisted with prayer and faith, and inspired us all with her dedication to the project.”
Inspiration adding to the spiritual muscle that could bring sustained core activities to Littleton.