Relationships planted the seeds for Baha’i core activities at a homeless shelter on Long Island, New York.
Relationships helped them sprout, too. And service by the youths of a Baha’i summer project helped nurture them to full flower.
It all started when April Lowry was sharing the teachings of Baha’u’llah with a co-worker.
The colleague mentioned she was doing arts and crafts with kids at a shelter in the Bay Shore section of Islip, and expressed a concern that when her term ended there would be no follow-up.
So, working through the co-worker’s mother, who is employed at the shelter, Lowry got permission to start an arts program centered on virtues.
Unfortunately, Lowry recalls, the task was just too much to take on alone and soon ended.
“It was just me with 50 kids and it was overwhelming. … [S]ometimes it’s hard when kids don’t sit down and do what we expect them to do.”
Enter the Long Island Baha’i summer youth project and its 30 participants. Among several activities planned by the young people was a “family fun day” at the shelter.
That sparked in Lowry the idea of tying the day to the launch of a children’s spiritual education class there.
The launch was such a success that now two children’s classes — one for 4- to 6-year-olds and one for 7- to 10-year-olds — are being conducted by local Baha’is. The junior youth spiritual empowerment program has been introduced to older siblings.
With the shelter’s blessing, the classes and junior youth group serve both shelter residents and the wider community, says Lowry.
“Every time we need something from the shelter they’re open to it,” she says. “They have the rooms all set up and we’re welcome to use their kitchen. Anything we ask, they’re open to our ideas.”
One concern of area Baha’is was the inherent turnover of participants, since families stay in the shelter for only three months.
“I said that’s true, but they’re going to go out into the communities and maybe each community should be ready for them,” says Lowry.
Already, she says, the animator of a junior youth group in Brookhaven, a few miles away, has discovered that a participant in her group is a former shelter resident.
“So we see a cycle going on and it looks as though we’re doing the right thing.”
It helps that the shelter gives the Baha’is the new addresses of families that have moved out. The Baha’is then make sure each is welcomed to the new neighborhood and informed of core activities there.
Meanwhile, back at the shelter, Lowry says the children have embraced the program.
“They wait for us,” she says. “Last Sunday I just pulled up and they ran to the car and they helped me unload and they were happy to see us.”
Now the Baha’is hope to attain the same support from parents, who tend to see the classes as a chance to relax without kids around.
“We’ve found that I can give the kids all that information, but it’s not going to be that sustainable idea until the whole family gets a grasp of it,” she notes.
“And if the parent doesn’t get it, it’s not going to be a sustainable thing.”
To meet that challenge, the Baha’is are planning gatherings aimed at introducing some of the principles involved to parents. It will be “tea and cookies at first,” Lowry says, then the Baha’is will “let it develop.”