by Stephanie Ford
Jaynee Van Wormer, 2008 graduate of Houghton College, is helping to bring hope to children in Buffalo.
"I'm not just flitting in, doing something dramatic and then leaving," Jaynee said, "I'm someone who's there, and I'm on their side."
Jaynee serves at Cornerstone Manor, the Buffalo City Mission's women's and children's shelter. Cornerstone Manor is a Christian organization that supports homeless men, women and children seeking restored lives. Jaynee facilitates summer and afterschool programs for the children that reside within the shelter.
Jaynee describes how little Dave slumped to the corner of the shelter's white hallway during the mission's summer camp. Kids' laughter and chatter echoed from behind the classroom door. Dave's skinny arms enveloped his knees, and tears glimmered in his dark eyes.
"Nobody likes me," he told Jaynee. "I'm a bad kid, and I never do the right thing. Nobody loves me."
As tears dripped down his cheeks, Jaynee said, "This bad behavior is not who you are. The truth is that God loves you and nothing will ever stop that love."
Later, Jaynee brought Dave back to the classroom, and they played with a ball. Jaynee says, "I feel like I've been able to be a truth-speaker. These kids often come from domestic violence and other unstable living situations, and they're made to feel so small. I like to be able to tell them, 'This is who you are. ...'"
Each day, Jaynee teaches an afterschool program for kids who live in the shelter. Jaynee helps the kids with homework, leads academic games, teaches a short Bible lesson, and plays games with them.
Throughout the week, Jaynee also organizes whole-family activities, including field trips, cooking, and game days.
"We're trying to provide a program where the kids can feel secure and stable" Jaynee says. "Kids who are homeless tend to do so much worse in school, and it's really to do with the instability. I can be a stable person whom they can trust."
One of Jaynee's most motivational experiences while working with Buffalo's homeless children happened during the mission's summer camp. Jaynee ached for Mike.
"I always tried to include him and draw him out by asking questions and showing interest in his projects," Jaynee says. "He was really withdrawn and scared to try new things."
One day, the group traveled to a nearby campground. Several kayaks and canoes lay by the sandy lakeshore, and a counselor offered to teach Mike to kayak. Mike climbed into the kayak and soon began gliding across the rippling water.
"He was just grinning from ear to ear the whole time," Jaynee recalls. "It was so neat to see him coming out of his shell and finally having confidence in himself!"
At the end of the summer, the once withdrawn Mike received the "Mr. Popularity" award.
Jaynee was thrilled.
Jaynee's heart for people in Buffalo began in her sophomore year at Houghton College, as she participated in the Journey's End refugee tutoring ministry. After graduating, she then served more than two years with AmeriCorps in Buffalo before joining the Buffalo City Mission.
"In her quiet, unassuming way, Jaynee reached out in afterschool programs serving refugees and other English language learners and helped them connect with one another," stated Chuck Massey, director of the Office of Urban Connections for Houghton College.
Jaynee's supervisor, Penny Janson, director of education and training, says, "The goal of Jaynee's work is to help the homeless children learn about God and experience some of the normal joys of childhood. Jaynee is an amazing blessing to the education department of the Buffalo City Mission."
Through serving in the mission's summer camp, teaching in the afterschool program, and organizing family activities, Jaynee is helping to bring hope to "children in difficult situations." Children like Dave and Mike are receiving regular doses of genuine love, and they're thriving.
Jaynee's favorite verse is Philippians 2:5, "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus."
"It's all about loving and serving people," Jaynee says.
Houghton College is a liberal arts institution that challenges students to academic excellence - in the context of a relevant Christian community - and empowers them to enrich the world. The college of 1,200 students is located in Western New York, just 65 miles from Buffalo and Rochester. For more information, visit www.houghton.edu.