Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Christian Activity Center – Bringing the Healing Love of Jesus Christ to East St. Louis, Illinois, USA

Children at the Christian Activity Center take a break
from their activities to smile for the camera. Clearly they love where they are.
(By Bridget Flood) Any agency that strives to prepare youth for successful futures is praiseworthy. But when that organization is situated in East St Louis, IL, a city which for decades has faced major challenges in successfully raising its young people, the mission can sound like a far-fetched goal.
Chet Cantrell, executive director of the Christian Activity Center in East St Louis, would beg to differ. Cantrell has been in his position since 1989.  During his tenure he has made incredible strides, but he is quick to credit his partners in the project.   Specifically Cantrell recognizes Incarnate Word Foundation’s unflagging support.  “Their fingerprints are everywhere,” he said.  “They have been transformational.”
The Center is a haven for children and youth 5-18 (grades K-12th).   About 1,000 participants come every weekday at 3:30pm (10am in the summer) and stay until 8pm (6pm in the summer). Each child is offered a hot dinner meal, reading and math classes, homework help, computer training, fine arts (yoga, karate, dance), recreation, medical care, college access, workforce training, and mentoring (Bible study, devotions, Sisterhood, Power Hour, etc.) In addition, CAC sends children to summer camps and on mission trips (Belize, Canada, New York, Florida and Louisiana).
Cantrell’s numbers are impressive.  His children have a 97% high school graduation rate with 74% having some college advancement. His program participants have a 5% teenage pregnancy rate, and 3% crime rate. Both figures are significantly lower than for the East St Louis community as a whole.
Cantrell says the foundation’s grants, which began about 10 years ago, not only helped sustain his center but have provided seed money as well. One grant helped the center develop a relationship with Intel which is ongoing.  Other grants have helped the center hire and train staff and develop ongoing training programs. The center now has a nurse practitioner and a trauma therapist. 
And the opportunities for partnership are only growing. Last year Cantrell began an ambitious project of turning roughly 22 acres of dangerous overgrown vacant land into a green space for gardens, athletic fields, concerts. In that year a transformation has begun. The site has been razed, it was the home to the center’s first community concert in May, and the potential is endless. Cantrell knows he can’t move forward alone, and he knows the Incarnate Word Foundation will continue to be a strong partner in a common mission, to bringing the healing love of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word, to the children of East St. Louis.
Children at CAC attending a daily Bible Study class

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