First Fridays connect church and community

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Monthly child care ministry touches families

by Lori Belden Pope

It’s 5:30 on the first Friday evening of the month in Eugene, Ore., and a handful of parents are dropping off eager children of all sizes at the entrance to the North Park Community Church fellowship hall. There to greet them is Terri Kargel, a member of NPCC for 36 years, along with some of the 12 or so people she calls her “First Friday Crew.” Children remove coats and Kargel ushers them into a room set up with games, puzzles and close to a dozen other activities such as Legos and jewelry making. The children scatter to choose their favorite activity. 

So begins another evening of First Friday Ministry. First Friday was originally the brainchild of Kargel’s daughter and NPCC church member, Maryn Glender. Glender, the mother of two biological and four foster children ages four through 10, had the idea of providing a night out for parents of young children as the small North Park congregation was exploring ways to reach out to young families. The ministry was approved by the church council, organized by Kargel and set into motion in August 2008.

The Friday night program is designed to provide parents with care for their children free of charge so they can pursue a “date night” without worry and expense.

Kargel and her husband, Garry, both retired teachers, say they work to create a program that will minister to the children and parents alike.

The first part of the evening is devoted to activities of the children’s choosing, followed by a dinner of child-friendly foods prepared by church member Judy Long. Following dinner, the evening is filled with games, typically led by Cheryl Spinelli, whose husband pastors the North Park congregation, singing, crafts and seasonal activities. The evening also includes a biblically oriented movie such as a “Veggie Tales” that Garry Kargel selects. Jim Long runs the audio-visual and sound that turns the worship center into a mini theater.

Terri Kargel says that the ministry has been advertised by flyers, word of mouth and postcards that church members give to prospective families. She says that she even hands out flyers in Wal-Mart to families she sees with young children. However, she goes on to say that a large percentage of the children that have attended First Friday are from the neighborhood around the church.

The church covers the expenses of the meals, supplies and obtaining copyright privileges. Kargel says that the majority of expenses have been in the initial purchase of games and craft supplies. In putting together her crew of helpers, who range in age from middle school students to 80-year-old Pauline Williams, Kargel made sure all participants were cleared through criminal background checks.

Garry Kargel is an amateur photographer who this fall set up a miniature photo studio at the church, complete with props and backdrop. He took family portraits of at least 10 First Friday families, and gave each family a free eight by 10 and four four by six photos and a CD of their photos to take home.

While the program is in its infancy, Terri Kargel says it has already spawned new enthusiasm within the church and also a new venture: a science camp planned for next summer. The hope is that the First Friday children will form the core group and that advertising will attract neighborhood children.

The original hope was that children or their parents participating in First Friday would become interested in worshipping at the church as well, a situation that Terri calls “ideal” but admits has not yet happened. What she says has happened is that the children have formed friendships with each other, and parents have expressed a great deal of gratitude for the program.

Pastor Mike Spinelli says that at least half of the children attending First Friday come from single parent homes. He says it has been fun for him to see children enjoy extra attention that parents might not be able to give at home. In summing up the success of the program, Spinelli says it has a been a blessing to be able to “touch the lives of children we might not otherwise have known.”

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