New program to get kids off streets, give brighter futures

By Josh Harvison - bio | email

MARKED TREE, AR (KAIT) – Officials with the Youth Outreach Ministry in Marked Tree Monday showed off its new home. According to Bill Craft, who has organized the ministry with the help of church leaders across the city, a resident purchased the building at 804 Elm Street and then leased the building to the ministry for one dollar each year.

"We started working on it last September," said Craft.

In September of last year, church leaders and members of city government attended a meeting with Rennell Woods, Executive Director for City Youth Ministries in Jonesboro. Back then, they discussed a plan to bring a summer food program to children in Marked Tree.

"One out of five kids in Arkansas is at risk of going to bed hungry every night. I really believe it's probably a higher rate in northeast Arkansas," said Craft. "If the older children want to come, we're not going to turn them away. As a matter of fact, what we'll do is teach them to serve and help serve here."

Craft said the ministry will be a faith-based program designed to introduce children to God and provide them an opportunity for a better future. He estimates to help 30-40 kids in the summer food program. He expects to help more children with other activities.

"If we can't do anything else, if everything else about this program fails, we want to feed these kids," said Craft. "This is faith based and if we can save these children before they get into that age group, with so much temptation, peer pressure and what have you, if we can strengthen these children spiritually, then they'll stay away from that."

Each Saturday, volunteers across the community work to renovate the building at 804 Elm Street. The building has been a restaurant, grocery store and movie store in the past. Click here to be directed to Youth Outreach Ministry's Facebook page.

"All our labor has been volunteer, paint was donated; all kinds of materials have been donated for it. Our plumbers in town, a few plumbers have volunteered their labor and have come over and work for us," said Craft. "We're trying to get a board member from every church."

Craft said the organization is still accepting donations.

Vanessa Crockett is a board member with the Living Waters Ministry in Marked Tree. She said she has seen how children can be impacted when they're hungry.

"It breaks my heart when I see the next child that they don't have a descent pair of shoes or they have holes in their clothes or their hair is dirty, their face is nasty," said Crockett, who also works at a daycare. "I have 3 and 4 year olds and it might be some of those who go to bed hungry and a lot of kids, you can tell where they lack their love. They require more attention. They basically beg for that attention."

Crockett said she hopes the program will teach her own children good morals. She also hopes it will provide them an avenue to express themselves in a positive way.

"Some of them have nothing to do, it'd be great for me just to have them to have something to do, and not just something to do but introduce them to Christ," said Crockett.

"A lot of kids around here don't take vacations in the summer, but they can say, well I did this new thing this summer, I did this, I was taught this, I learned this, I had this, so I just want to make a positive impact on their summer."

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