When Appriss’ Community Committee heard about Grace Kids! A Church for Children and the opportunity to serve and share a family-style meal with a congregation made up entirely of kids, the decision to help was unanimous says Kate Chmielewski, the committee’s co-chair. In fact, the hardest part was choosing what food to bring for the meals and deciding whether they should serve brownies or cookies for dessert.
“We served spaghetti for our first dinner with Grace Kids, and let them build their own submarine sandwiches at our second,” she says. But, as it turns out, the 40-60 kids who have attended each of their dinners seem excited with whatever is served. The food is important, of course, because many of the kids in this South Louisville neighborhood come from low-income families and regular meals aren’t always a given.
What seemed to matter more than the type of food they shared was the fellowship found in sitting down together and enjoying a meal. Chmielewski says the pastor of Grace Kids, Reverend Corey Nelson, set the tone before they even had a bite by telling the kids that the people who had come to prepare, serve, and share a meal “love you and care about you.”
Caring about the kids was by far the easiest part says Chmielewski and getting to know them was a wonderful experience. “They were funny, they were silly, and you just had to smile,” she says of spending time at Grace Kids. “I was constantly reminded of my own kids.”
The church itself exists because of those children and the unique path that led Pastor Corey (as he’s better known) from the Marines to the ministry. When he took over Grace United Methodist Church in 2013, he notes on the Grace Kids website that the church was covered in graffiti and there were bullet holes in the walls. He says his ministry served “drug addicts, gang bangers, prostitutes, alcoholics, and the homeless,” but no matter what was happening in the church “if there were cars in the parking lot, kids flooded the building.”
In his first week, he told the kids to come back on Friday for a movie and popcorn and more than 30 children showed up. The church was immediately a safe haven for the kids in a neighborhood where the park was dangerous and there were few, if any, kid-friendly activities or places. “They get themselves to church at night, in the rain, and the bitter cold,” Pastor Corey wrote of the kids in the neighborhood. “We cannot keep them away.”
It wasn’t long before he realized that he was being sent a message that it was impossible to ignore. In early 2017, he approached his District and Conference Leadership and asked that the church be devoted exclusively to children and youths. On September 5, 2017, the church was re-launched as “Grace Kids! A Church for Children.”
Including Sunday worship, the calendar for the church is packed with activities nearly every day of the week. They continue to offer Friday night “Family Fun” events in addition to offering “The Hangout” two or three times a week. And, three times weekly, volunteers bring in food to share with the children of Grace Kids. Meals are served Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays for around 60 kids, a few church-affiliated adults, plus the volunteers serving that day.
Chmielewski strongly encourages anyone interested in sharing a meal with the awesome kids at Grace Kids to sign up on the Meal Train website. There’s a calendar showing open days and the menus for days that already have volunteers signed up. For those who can’t swing a full meal for the kids, there’s also an option to make a donation. The important thing is to get involved, she emphasizes.
Finding ways to help others in the Louisville community is one of the many reasons Chmielewski loves working at Appriss. For her, the story is never about Appriss and its community service, it’s about the amazing people and organizations they get to work with. “We don’t just talk the talk here, we walk the walk,” she says. “The committee receives its funding directly from Appriss, but the employees have full discretion as to what charitable organizations to support with it.”