I Visited Mission Hope for Kids
In this series, we're visiting Southeast's Mission Partners to understand their vision and how God is using them in the community.
By Carla Williams
Years ago, Nelle was on the children’s ministry team for her church in Elizabethtown, KY. As they were bringing in unchurched kids from the community for outreach events, Nelle and her volunteers realized that the kids were hungry. They were distracted. They were struggling academically. They had inadequate clothing. And they were desperate for trustworthy, consistent adults.
Nelle and her team longed to share the Gospel with the children, but they quickly recognized that the kids really needed holistic care–mind, body, and spirit. From that realization, Mission Hope for Kids was born.
Today, Mission Hope for Kids serves more than 180 vulnerable students each week through homework help, literacy training, math development, nutritious snacks and meals, field trips, clothing and hygiene products, faith-building, and intentionally consistent adult mentors. They have campuses in Elizabethtown and Radcliff, KY, with another campus launching this Fall in Leitchfield, KY.
This life-changing ministry is only possible because of the 150 volunteers who faithfully serve each week. God has provided men and women who have received His love in abundance and have chosen to pour that love into the Mission Hope kids. There are mentors, missionaries, kitchen teams, administrative helpers, drivers, organizers, advocates, specialists, and more who invest their time into the futures of the kids.
My Day at Mission Hope for Kids
When I arrived at the Elizabethtown location, Nelle gave me a tour of the colorful facility. We walked through the youth rooms, preschool area, dining room, classroom spaces, computer lab, library, kitchen, boutique, and chapel. The walls were covered in hand-made artwork, encouragement, and photos of the students. It was clear that this is a place where the kids are loved and celebrated.
Nelle walked me to the pantry, which provides all the snacks and meals each week. “We’re a loaves and fishes kind of ministry,” Nelle laughed, looking into the narrow room where somehow God provides everything they need each week. She freely acknowledged that it’s all by His grace and provision that they are able to care for so many students. He always gives them just what they need at the right moment.
While we talked, Nelle’s explanations about the ministry frequently led to individual students’ lives. She knew their names and their struggles, and her face lit up as she talked about the new trajectory of their stories. She talked of the boy who came to Mission Hope for Kids anxious and lonely, and has now graduated confident and joyful. Nelle’s eyes sparkled when she told me about a teen girl who just chose a university for the Fall, even though her future seemed bleak just a few years ago.
The brokenness the students were born into doesn’t determine their future hope. Though they’ve been called poor, alone, worthless, and unwanted, God’s overwhelming grace, poured out through the volunteers at Mission Hope for Kids, is giving them new titles: loved, valued, chosen, and equipped.
Before our tour had ended, the students began arriving and the building was full of laughter and community. Mission Hope for Kids partners with several local and county schools, which bus the kids directly to the ministry, and then Mission Hope staff and volunteers drive the students home at the end of the evening.
Soon, I was sitting at a table with third grade students and their consistent and kind mentor. While crunching on carrots and peanut butter, the kids energetically talked to me about their lives. In all the best ways, they were just ordinary nine-year-olds. They switched seamlessly between their favorite (and least favorite) subjects at school, plans for the future, anecdotes from their day, and questions about me and my life. You would never know from our interaction that their stories were already full of hardship and brokenness. Whatever they had to navigate at home, Mission Hope was clearly a safe place for them to thrive.
As we cleaned up the snack, my table of third graders took on the mentor role for me. They prepared me for what we would do next, and explained some of the rules and expectations. We walked patiently in line to the library, which was impressively stocked with books of all kinds. While an adult read with them, I couldn’t help but be impressed as she casually helped them develop literacy skills like inference, observation, cognitive thinking, and vocabulary.
Before I knew it, we were on our way to the next destination, the homework rooms. Students who had homework to finish were able to focus quietly and receive adult help when something tricky came up. For the kids who had already finished, there were structured math games that helped build their skills while fostering teamwork and community.
While the third graders were hard at work, Nelle came to invite me to join the preschool students outside for a special event. A retired military pilot had come in to teach the youngest kids all about flight. They were making paper airplanes, playing with flight toys, and watching the volunteer fly his drone through the air.
Watching the kids’ amazement at the various activities, it again struck me how normal this scene seemed on the surface. They looked like happy kids, having an everyday memorable experience. But for those children, it was anything but commonplace. There were adults surrounding them with love and undivided attention. They were in a completely safe space. They had full bellies and nothing to worry about except how high their spinners could fly. It struck me that one of the greatest gifts Mission Hope was providing was a sense of normalcy for their kids, if only for one night a week.
After their curiosity was exhausted, I trudged inside with the troupe of preschoolers and found my way back to my adopted group of third grade students. While I’d been outside, they’d moved on to the computer lab, which is linked directly with their various school programs, so they could practice the learning skills they’d been focusing on during the day. They caught me up on what I’d missed, and we all sat down for a delicious dinner.
When the dinner trays were put away and all the tables cleaned up, we moved into our last activity of the evening—faith time. The kids lined up at the chapel door, most of them proudly clutching a children’s Bible. They sang kid-friendly worship songs with perfected actions and settled in to hear an obviously beloved missionary from Child Evangelism Fellowship share her testimony.
Though the room was full of wiggly students, no one spoke while the missionary shared, and then there was a sweet discussion about what it means to love and obey God. One little girl asked how to best follow God on the nights when her dad drinks too much, and I remembered once again that Mission Hope for Kids is serving a key role in kids who simply might fail without it.
Before I knew it, faith time was finished and the kids were gathering their bookbags and following the volunteers who would take them home. I knew they were going back to uncertain situations with no control over many of the factors that will shape their lives. Despite that, they experience holistic love at Mission Hope for Kids—the kind of love that feeds them, equips them, protects them, listens to them, fights for them, and points them toward God, who gave His own Son for them.
Now, because of Jesus and the Mission Hope team who loves Him, vulnerable kids in Kentucky can have sincere hope for the future.
To learn more or get involved, visit missionhopeforkids.org.