Chilly fall weather brought a hiatus to the VCO youth garden, but not to enjoying food! Thanks to the initiative of VCO volunteer Sue Rosenkranz, the Community Room at the Fresh Pond Apartments on Wednesday nights is filled with delicious smells ranging from carrot cake muffins to mini pumpkin pies and kale avocado salad. Sue was inspired to start “Cooking Nights” from her experience as a kid baking Christmas cookies with her family and her desire to spend more time with kids she’d met in Homework Club, another VCO program.
Cooking Nights utilizes the herbs and vegetables grown in the VCO Youth Garden and teaches kids how to work together, follow instructions, and practice their reading and math skills. Wendy Huang, a VCO volunteer, recalled the eagerness of the kids to learn: “Two kids were almost fighting over the chance to stir the rice we were cooking. But they ended up being receptive to holding the spoon differently so rice didn’t go all over the place and taking turns.”
Cooking Nights has also facilitated deeper relationships between kids, volunteers, and families! Gannet, the mom of a Cooking Nights participant, was so excited by Cooking Nights that she invited Cooking Nights volunteers to enjoy an Ethiopian dinner of Doro Wat, a chicken stew, and injera bread. As the group ate, Gannet explained all the different ways injera is made. We look forward to more tasty treats and friendships in the new year when Cooking Nights resumes for 5 weeks in January and February. To sign up to volunteer for Cooking Nights and other VCO programs visit vineyardcommunityofferings.org.
Each Sunday this Fall a group of roughly 20 kids came out to hone their soccer skills, form new friendships, and learn to be leaders on and off the field. All Stars began in the fall of 2011 as a follow-up to Soccer Nights, our large-scale, multi-age program run in the summer. All Stars was developed to work with a smaller group of kids in grades 4-7 and to give more intentional focus to soccer skill, leadership development, and relationships, including those between participants, between participants and volunteers, and among volunteers.
At All Stars each week kids learned a new soccer skill, which they then practiced through team drills, competitions, and scrimmages. Kids also learned leadership principles by focusing on the acronym LEAD: Listening, Enthusiasm, Adaptability, and Delivery. To put these principles into action, participants got the chance each week to be chosen as Team Captain. It was fun to see kids step up to the plate and challenge themselves to lead their peers in skill competitions and scrimmage time, whether it was by assigning positions, talking strategy at half time, or leading a post-game debrief about what went well and what they could work on for next time. All Stars this Fall was totally awesome!
Every Tuesday night at the Fresh Pond Apartments more than a dozen students show up for ESOL class (English for Speakers of Others Languages). Staffed by 7 volunteers and representing three different area-churches, ESOL classes have become a place for both learning and community.
The night begins with a language warm-up activity, a review of the previous week’s lesson, and an introduction of new vocabulary and grammar, all of which is centered on a relevant theme. Leader Dani Hearsey reflected on how thrilling it has been to watch people “of different ages and cultural backgrounds with minimal English skills at the beginning [of class] slowly build confidence” in speaking. Arlene Hudson, a longtime VCO volunteer said, “It’s my first time teaching ESOL and I’m loving it!” ESOL will be continuing in the Winter; consider joining the fun!
Last Saturday, November 3, was our 4th Annual Soccer Nights Harvest Party. The Harvest Party is one of our most celebrated events every year, as it’s a chance to recapture the fun and excitement from Soccer Nights and combine it with the best parts of Fall. This year’s event was a total blast – more than 200 people, including 114 kids, 71 parents, and 37 volunteers, came out to enjoy the fun games, delicious (and sugary) treats, and gorgeous weather! It was fun to see so many familiar faces from the summer, to reconnect and celebrate Soccer Nights and our neighborhood together. “The Harvest Party is great because a lot of families got together,” says Aamir, a former Soccer Nights participant and current Harvest Party volunteer. “A lot of people were happy because they got to be reunited by the Harvest Party.”
The Harvest Party was full of fun activities, from the bounce house, to pumpkin bowling, to leaf crown-making, to no-hands donut eating contests, and more! Manny Nicolas, veteran Harvest Party volunteer and king of the popcorn machine shares, “People would walk by and say ‘wow, I didn’t know this was going on,’ and I’d say ‘stop by and take a look!’ To see their faces and how we lit up the neighborhood in one Saturday, that was my highlight.”
Thanks to all who donated baked good and fruit or volunteered their time to make the Harvest Party a success!
Knowing VCO’s track record for mobilizing community members, the Fresh Pond Apartments asked VCO to team up to kick-off a sustainability initiative for North Cambridge youth. The initiative began on Saturday, October 19th at the Trash Olympics using competitive games involving everyday trash and recyclables to inspire and educate residents about proper waste management.
From the recycling free throw to trash jeopardy, kids competed at a variety of stations, testing their earth-saving expertise. The event concluded with an awards ceremony at which winners were adorned with recycled gold medals while the Olympic Fanfare song played in the background.
The Trash Olympics may be over, but the games will continue! More than 25 kids joined the “Trash Troop” and will compete for 30 days to keep the Fresh Pond Apartments clean.
Who turns the lights on for us at Russell Field? Who has the key to access storage for hundreds of soccer balls? Who will keep our ice cream sandwiches frozen? For years, the answer to all these questions and more has been Sergeant Kathy Murphy of the Cambridge Police Department. Until her recent retirement, Murph, as she’s affectionately called, was a long time community affairs sergeant for the Cambridge Police. During a recent Sunday service, in which we shared stories from the work of VCO and encouraged the church to keep finding joy in loving our neighbors, Sgt. Murphy joined Steve Watson on the stage. She shared stories from her life and career in Cambridge and talked about the tremendous community collaboration that makes Soccer Nights such a success, impacting hundreds of kids and families each year in North Cambridge. Thanks, Sergeant Murphy, for your loyal service and partnership!
Join us for our newest initiative: Cooking Nights
Wednesdays from 5:45pm-8:15pm
January 8, 15, 22, 29, and February 5
Fresh Pond Apartments
While we love nothing more than Soccer Nights here at VCO, this January we'll take a brief hiatus from soccer to try our hand at cooking, a much warmer (and more delicious) activity.
Cooking Nights is a 5-week workshop where kids grades 2-6 will develop their culinary expertise. Each week kids will make (and eat) a different recipe or two. Don't worry, you'll get to try some too.
Volunteers are needed to help kids complete weekly cooking activities, come up with recipe ideas, and purchase supplies. 2 week minimum commitment required.
Jokes on you if you miss out. To sign up to help click here.
In September, VCO staff traveled to the Big Easy, not for gumbo and beignets, but for a national conference run by the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA). With renown speakers and workshops on everything from mental illness to youth empowerment, VCO spent the week at the conference learning, reflecting, and connecting with others doing similar work.
CCDA is a national network of followers of Jesus who are committed to seeing urban neighborhoods thrive. It was founded by a man named John Perkins* in the late 1980s and has been working since then to equip and inspire followers of Jesus to play a role in addressing some of society’s deepest hurts: urban decay, youth violence, homelessness, and racial injustice, to name a few. CCDA’s underlying principles have been instrumental in influencing and shaping the strategy and direction of VCO. CCDA has set a precedent for us to truly be part of our North Cambridge neighborhood, teaching us to listen to what community members are saying, to help people access resources, and most importantly to look for, develop, and follow the leaders within our neighborhood. Thanks CCDA and New Orleans for for giving us another dose of inspiration this year!
*John Perkins is speaking in various Boston locations this month. Visit the “CCDA New England” Facebook page to learn more.
Friday, September 20th, VCO spent the entire day on the corner of Mass Ave and Rindge Ave, as part of International PARKing Day, an annual event around the globe where parking spots are transformed into mini parks! Our Soccer Nights-themed park, named “The Parking Spot of Dreams” after our 2013 theme “Field of Dreams,” included t-shirt-making, free coffee and snacks, and a display of residents’ dreams for North Cambridge.
As the day progressed, more dreams were added and it was fun to see how diverse people have many of the same dreams for our neighborhood – that it would be a place of peace, safety, and rich community. Overall, it was a memorable day! Not only did we meet neighbors we’d never before had the opportunity to know, and reconnect with kids and families from Soccer Nights, but we also mastered the art of narrowly avoiding being hit by buses as they rounded the corner. Our takeaway? PARKing Day is an awesome way to meet neighbors and promote community – just don’t choose a spot on the corner of a major street!
The buzz of 31 energetic volunteers at the VCO BBQ and training on Sunday, September 22nd gave a great start to another fall of VCO weekly programming: Homework Club, Soccer Nights All Stars, ESOL, and Fresh Pond Apartment’s Computer Center. With Homework Club and Soccer Nights All Stars in their third year, returning kids and volunteers were excited to reconnect with each other this September. This year, we made fine-tuned edits to improve the quality of the programs. Each night of Homework Club now ends acknowledging a student of the day: someone who demonstrates Homework Club expectations of asking and offering help, listening to leaders, and trying their hardest. At Soccer Nights All Stars, each week four kids are given the responsibility of Team Captain, where they organize and organize and coach their team through a scrimmage and lead a skill competition against other teams. We’re excited for Fall changes and a new season! Stay tuned for more Fall program stories!