Off to See the Wizards

Off to See the Wizards April 17, 2007

One of his friends called it “the best event in a young boy’s life”. (Who would have thought such an event could happen at church?)

Sammy, my 8-year-old sport-obsessed child and said friend, along with some siblings piled into the car and rode down to church last Thursday, off to see the Wizards.

The Washington Wizards, that is.

Last Thursday four members of the Washington Wizards came to Calvary to serve lunch to the kids in our after school programs. Lots of media gathered, along with about 150 kids and some star struck parents, staff of Washington Sports and Entertainment along with Calvary programming to usher in the re-opening of Abe’s Table.

For many years Abe and Irene Pollin (owners of the Wizards) helped financially support a program to feed the homeless at Calvary. The Pollins are well known in DC for their philanthropic involvement, but I do have to say that I think it takes extra guts for a well known Jewish couple (well, any well-known person, really) to partner with the efforts of a Baptist church (even one as unusually wonderful as Calvary!).

So, when Calvary’s new space opened up and we reassessed the ministry opportunities in our neighborhood, it soon became apparent that reopening a program to feed the homeless would perhaps not be the best way to meet community needs in our changing neighborhood (our program would add a fourth to three already serving a four-block radius).

But the kids need to eat, we thought.

Since reopening the new space, Calvary’s youth and after school programming has grown by leaps and bounds. Part of this is the collaboration we’ve been able to share with resident partners also working with youth: The Washington Theatre Lab, Brainfood, Kid-Power DC and the Washington Youth Choir. Very quickly it looks like we’re living into the prediction of Kid-Power DC’s Executive Director, Max Skolnik, who insists Calvary’s facility will soon become “the premier center for youth programming in the city”.

(A-hem. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.)

But it looks like Mr. Pollin believes in the dream, too, because Abe’s Table has re-opened with the mission of sending all the kids who come to Calvary for after school programming home . . . with a nutritious dinner four nights a week.

Last Thursday kicked it all off, with Abe’s Table T-shirts for everyone and the most delicious fried chicken I have ever eaten in my life. Some highlights of the event were: the unveiling of the new Abe’s Table sign; the sight of all the kids gathered in one place, tangible evidence of the lives involved in these efforts; performance of a rap song written by our after school kids just for Mr. and Mrs. Pollin . . . all of this.

But the best thing of all, the very best thing, was the experience of standing behind the players as they served lunch (they wore tall chef’s hats, in case they weren’t tall enough already) and watching the little faces in front of them: disbelief, awe, hope . . . all radiated off those faces, heads craned all the way back to look straight up.

It made me remember what it was like to see the world from a kid’s point of view, with all the possibilities and promise that life has to offer. Life will probably stifle that soon enough for those kids (and in the cases of some of these kids I can’t believe they can still summon looks of wonder and the possibility of hope) but for this one day they followed the Wizards around with eyes as big as the plates that held their mashed potatoes.

(As for my children, they reported with glee to their father at dinner that night: “Man, Mom looked short up there!”)

Later I got to thinking: maybe Max was right. Perhaps this experience was “the best event in a young boy’s life”.

But it was also pretty notable for the girls . . . for those who are not so young . . . for the many who have believed and invested in youth ministry and programming at Calvary for years and years and years . . . and even for the huge business of professional basketball.

Thanks, Calvary staff and partners, the Washington Wizards and Mr. and Mrs. Pollin. Together we’re making those little looks of hope and possibility even more common in lives that rarely have cause to look up with wonder. And that possibility, those looks of hope, are better even than fried chicken served by Antawn Jamison in a chef’s hat.

In fact, the experience the Wizards created . . . well, it was almost like magic.

The Washington Wizards don’t just make occasional, press-worthy appearances, either. Not too many folks know the players and staff are regular volunteers working to serve dinner to the kids in our programs. That’s putting hands and feet to faith, I say. Want to be part of the effort? We need committed volunteers in the late afternoon and evenings Monday through Thursday . . . believe me, you’ll get more than fabulous fried chicken; you may even be the recipient of a few of those incredible little looks of wonder. Email Director of Youth and Outreach at Calvary, Mary Andreolli, for more information about how you can help.
"Well, you savor your specialness!"

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