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a foundation of faith
Story by Audrey Hanes; photography by Amy Long

When a group of pastors and community business leaders joined forces in 1997 to create an after school organization to aid underserved children and youth in the Jonesboro area, their goal was to develop Christ followers while building strength, wisdom and character. CityYouth Ministries’ new executive director, Kim Shumpert, has eagerly taken up that calling and is passionate about making sure that all of the nonprofit organization’s students have access to opportunity and faith-based programming.

“I have a passion for seeing that all kids have access to opportunity,” said Shumpert. “The way I see it, trying to build a successful life without having access to opportunity is like trying to build a house without tools. … I want the community to realize that we all have a gift or talent to give that will help provide tools for our future community builders. When people support the work we do here, they’re supporting how we develop the belief system that young people will use to function as they get older.

“Our mission is integrated across all of our activities to fulfill the vision of improving family engagement, enhancing community responsibility, advancing academic achievement to improve college and career readiness and building positive social support systems for our students. We believe that equipping young leaders is essential to ensuring a positive trajectory as they become the builders of our community. Everyone has a tool to offer these young leaders as they fill the toolkit they will use to benefit our city.”

Before taking the helm of CityYouth in August 2013, Shumpert had long been involved with children and ministry. Upon graduating with her bachelor’s degree in public administration from Harding University in Searcy, the Chattanooga, Tenn., native moved to Jonesboro to intern at Southwest Church of Christ. There, she met her husband, Brad, and the couple worked for more than 10 years in Batesville and at Southwest in youth and campus ministry. After moving to Little Rock for several years so that Brad could attend law school,
the couple found themselves back in Jonesboro with their two daughters, 10-year-old Kiley and 7-year-old Robyn.

“I’ve worked with young people for 18 years,” said Shumpert, who is currently working towards her master’s degree in public administration from Arkansas State University. “I did inner city ministry when I was working in Chattanooga. We also went through Kairos church planting with Southwest. Regardless of what occupation we’re in, we see our ministry about developing young leaders. That’s what our passion is.

“When I was in Little Rock, I had the opportunity to work with a charter school – grades kindergarten through 12 – and develop programs for that. It was a new school, so I got to be involved with and do some really innovative things with kids. We started an urban garden, and we received a grant to start a teacher residency program within the school. A lot of stuff that I learned
there is stuff that I now get to bring (to CityYouth).”

CityYouth is free and open to all students in first through 12th grades in the Jonesboro area, although space is limited. Students in first through third grade attend after school on Mondays and Tuesdays, students in fourth through sixth grade attend Wednesdays and Thursdays, junior high students in seventh
through ninth grades attend Thursdays and Fridays and high school students in 10th through 12th grades attend on Mondays and Fridays. This schedule allows for each age group to be able to participate in CityYouth’s programming twice each week. Transportation is provided for those in the Jonesboro Public
School system, as well.

When students arrive at CityYouth each afternoon, snack time and free time are followed by four key rotations: health and wellness, Bible, learning lab and city groups, which focus on team-building games, writing exercises, portfolio building and more. Each student is assessed with the 40 Developmental Assets
Survey, which allows CityYouth to identify and try to fill in gaps in learning and development and to build its programming around what students need most. The nonprofit organization also recently received a grant for youth leadership development so that it can grow its CityYouth model. The older students will be able to work on a project to raise awareness about the prevention of underage
drinking and other risk behaviors.

“The theme for 2014 is ‘Who I am’ – to work with kids to discover what their God-given talents are,” said Shumpert. “We build that into all of our activities and everything that we do. We don’t want kids to compartmentalize the Christian part of themselves. We want them to realize it’s a part of everything they do and it’s who they are all the time.”

Shumpert says she is thankful for the nonprofit organization’s dedicated staff and supportive board of directors. The executive director is also grateful to the Jonesboro community and says that CityYouth Ministries would not exist without its support.

“In order to really understand the importance of what we do, you need to come experience and see for yourself; the difference we make is in relationships,” said Shumpert. “Our role is to walk alongside our students and be the connection between school and home and the community at large – to help build support
networks for our students that will give them long-term success. The Jonesboro community has always come out to support us whenever we’ve needed it. They’ve helped us to build something that is customized to the needs of our community.”

Due to the shift in the economy in recent years, Shumpert says several grants that CityYouth relied on have disappeared, making community support even more important.

“We’re the only program outside of school that does what we do,” she said. “We have a value to provide that faith component; we feel that’s the glue that makes everything stick. … I want the same thing for these kids here that I want for my own kids. I feel that there’s a way for us to partner with the community to make that happen.”

Shumpert says that the need for an organization like CityYouth is clear. Data shows that 26 percent of students in the state of Arkansas don’t have a place to go after school and that 44 percent of those students would be involved with an after-school program if one was available to them. CityYouth currently serves almost 300 students ranging in age from first grade through 12th grade during
its school year and summer programs.

“If we didn’t exist, 750 meals a month during the school year and 1,400 per month in the summertime would not be served,” said Shumpert. “Kids would not receive 40 extra minutes of learning time weekly. They wouldn’t have one-on-one mentors to get them on grade level reading. They wouldn’t have access to health and wellness programs like cooking and gardening and exercise. They wouldn’t receive peer mediation, team building and social intervention. And they wouldn’t have a safe place to be until their families could be with them.”

As for the future, Shumpert wants to raise the bar for the students who utilize the organization’s activities and services.“One of the things I want to see happen is that we are able to raise the standard of service delivery that we have and raise the expectation of what our students can achieve,” she said. “We are
restructuring our programming in order to meet those goals. We want to bring more access to opportunity to kids who can’t afford it otherwise. What we can do depends heavily on the strength of the partnerships that we can build.”

CityYouth already has strong partnerships with United Way of Northeast Arkansas and many other local agencies, including Jonesboro Public Library, Hispanic Services Center Inc., the Community Benefits Services Committee with the Jonesboro Regional Chamber of Commerce, Jonesboro Public Schools,
North Jonesboro Neighborhood Initiative, Jonesboro Collaborative Hub, Jonesboro Out of School Time Coalition, Child Advocacy Center, CASA, Arkansas Single Parent Scholarship Fund, Food Bank of Northeast Arkansas, Salvation Army, Jonesboro Parks and Recreation and Families Inc., as well as with many local churches and ASU student organizations.

“We are currently looking for more partnerships so that we can expand our offerings,” said Shumpert. “We would like to be able to develop a volunteer-led fine arts program for our students. Also, we are looking for current or former educators who can help develop curriculum for our learning lab so that we can successfully support the schools, as well as provide better tracking of academic progress for our students.”

Since last August, the organization has undergone a series of vital changes, allowing for additional programming and making it easier to volunteer with CityYouth.

“We have completely restructured our programming, have updated our technology, have rebuilt our website, have added online volunteer self-scheduling and have secured funding to implement a brand new youth leadership program called CityGroups that will launch this summer,” said Shumpert. “We have also partnered with ASU to offer, for the first time, a multisite, all-day summer camp program for grades one through six. All
(are) free of charge to our families.

“Students will continue to reinforce academic skills throughout the summer while growing deeper in their understanding of Christ and His love for them. They will enjoy activities such as daily Bible, swimming, team sports, cooking, mentoring and much more.”

Next up is CityYouth’s Journey of Faith Banquet, one of the organization’s primary fundraisers. It will take place on June 5 at Southwest Church of Christ at 6 p.m.

“I love watching those ‘aha’ moments with kids,” said Shumpert of what she enjoys most about her work with CityYouth. “Because of the time of day and the situation we receive the kids, we get to see them in their raw state. We’re their home away from home. We get to have lots of teaching moments with them.

“I love when we’ve taught them something and they turn around and teach another student or when they mimic a leadership quality.

I love to watch that growth. I love when our kids show respect for someone different from them. … I have a passion for raising expectations for kids. I find that when you raise those expectations, kids will rise and meet you there. We’ve had a lot of young leaders emerge since I’ve come here, and that’s been fun to watch.”

For more information about CityYouth Ministries, located at 118 Burke Ave., go to cityyouthmin.com, call 932-9398 or find City Youth Ministries on Facebook.