St. Mark’s Episcopal Unveils New Youth Program At Ribbon Cutting Ceremony
by James Coulter
More than 60,000 youth are incarcerated in juvenile jails and prisons across the country; even worse, African American youth are five times more likely than white youth to become incarcerated, according to data from the Department of Justice.
The more young people have the skills to succeed in life and stay out of trouble, the less of them will fall prey to the criminal justice system. This is the intent of a new youth program that was unveiled at St. Mark Episcopal Church in Haines City.
On Thursday afternoon, the church hosted an open house and ribbon cutting ceremony for its new Life Center, a facility which will offer programs and services to the local Haines City community.
One of the programs to be offered at the Life Center will be its new Rising Stars Rites of Passage, a youth program that will train children with vital life skills such as problem-solving, conflict management, and effective communication.
The 12-month program will be provided to young people ages 8 to 15, with classes to be hosted at the church’s life center on the first and third Saturday of every month. Reverend Angela Ifill hopes that the skills taught to children will enable them to successfully transition into adulthood.
“The same challenges that we face, the same thoughts that we have about what is going on in the community [and] in the world, is the same that young people experience, many of whom do not have the skills to deal with what is going on,” she explained.
Sheriff Grady Judd has especially expressed interest in the program, as it will ensure that many of the children who attend it will hopefully not end up within the criminal justice system, Rev. Ifill said.
Rising Stars Rites of Passage will be one of many community programs and services at the Life Center through Isaiah Initiatives, a local non-profit organization of which Rev. Ifill is founder and CEO.
Rev. Ifill started as the interim rector for St. Mark Episcopal Church earlier this year in April. Since then, she and church staff have been visioning and considering ways for their church to be more proactive within the local community.
“One of those ways is reimagining our ministry so that we can be better known in the community,” she said. “The church belongs in the community, and that is what we are working toward.”
Aside from the many programs offered through the life center, the church will also be utilizing portions of its property to be set aside for a community garden and prayer garden. One garden will grow plants and other vegetation through the effort of local community members, while the prayer garden will allow community members to come and pray during after church hours.
“We all have a lot on our minds, we are living in a challenging world, and it is good to have a place away from home, away from the kids, to be quiet,” she said.
Such a focus on community services proves compatible with many of the plans by the Haines City Commission to refurbish portions of the downtown area into community spaces to better facilitate local residents, explained Derrick Feacher, City Manager.
Feacher mentioned how he and other city officials are working on proposals to redevelop the downtown area, especially with their recent acquisition of the old plaza across the street from the church where the former Hungry Howie’s eatery once resided.
“You will see change taking place over the next couple years to redevelop this downtown area, and your congregation in this church will be a part of that, so when people come here, you can invite them into your family here at St. Marks,” he said.
Karen Tiner, a board member with the Northeast Polk County Chamber of Commerce, echoed Feacher’s sentiments, explaining how the church’s involvement plays an important role with the redevelopment of Downtown Haines City.
“I am excited about this on many levels,” she said. “The city itself is trying hard with CRA to make the most out of this community and the downtown area. We are very excited because St. Mark’s has a new mission with this life center…With all this going on, we have a lot of energy going on in the downtown area, so we are thrilled this is going on with St. Marks Church.”
St Mark’s Episcopal Church is located at 102 S 9th St, Haines City, FL 33844. For more information, visit their website at: https://www.stmarkshc.com/