Help Imagine Syracuse find a kidney for our dear friend Dottie Clark!!!

Our beautiful kids!!

Keisean and Eugene!

Monday, January 11, 2010

DeWitt Community Church Mission of the Month Speech

DeWitt Community Church graciously allowed Imagine Syracuse to be their January Mission of the Month! These generous folks were the angels funding our entire first year of programming. If you missed the speech this Sunday, here it is:

My name is Jessie Keating and I am the Executive Director of Imagine Syracuse, a free arts and enrichment resource for inner city children. I would like to start by thanking DeWitt Community Church’s Christian Caring Committee for selecting us to not only own a coveted space on the annual Mission of the Month list, but to put us FIRST on the list this year!

Most of you know who we are, but let me give you a brief history of how we came to be. As your former Youth Minister, I started this organization nearly a year ago with a very special group of young people – your very own daughters and sons, granddaughters and grandsons – right here in the basement of your very own church. I stood at this podium nearly a year ago with the seed of an idea, and YOU, the members of DeWitt Community Church, were the angels who funded it. Without you, we could not have accomplished all that we have. God had a plan for us. You see, He took us to the Dominican Republic two summers in a row where he took hold of our hearts. And then he turned our hearts toward a place less than 5 miles away – the Near West Side of Syracuse. The 10th poorest neighborhood IN THE COUNTRY. Where we woke up to the fact that a very unequal playing field exists for the most innocent of humans – his Children. Inner city children face a 50% dropout rate in the Syracuse City School District. And while many reasons exist for this sad statistic, there is a glaring omission in their education: access to arts, enrichment and athletics. These key aspects to growing children into productive young men and women are left out for one simple reason – economics. And we, as the“haves’ have nothing short of an OBLIGATION to force change and right a social and unjust wrong. These kids deserve the same opportunities as ours.

DeWitt Community Church and its members stood up a year ago and said YES to God. BECAUSE OF YOU, Dottie and Bob Clark, and YOU Kim Zook, And YOU Maggie Dennis, and YOU, Joe Hall, and YOU Sarah Hall and Grammy Hall and the Roney Family, and Peggy Ogden and Dan, Maggie and Lila Keating and Carol Russo and Rene Marchak and Greg Avellino and Rose Avellino and Jessica Straub and Rebecca Ferguson and Mark Sommers and alllllll the rest of You who volunteered and opened your hearts and your checkbooks and took leaps of faith … here’s what we – YOU AND US - accomplished together in less than one year:

We now run a program for 35 children 4 days a week on the Near West Side. On Tuesdays it’s the Imagine Language Institute, teaching Spanish, French, Italian and soon Mandarin. On Wednesdays it’s Imagine Careers, bringing in guest entrepreneur role models in the African and Latin American communities, taking children on field trips, exposing them to art, culture, business and educational opportunities, teaching monthly poetry and writing workshops. On Thursday we run TIME FOR ART, teaching 44 diverse artists from Frida Kahlo to Zen Gardening. On Fridays we run Dance programs. YOU have taken our children horseback riding at Arise at the Farm, to Matthew 25 Farm in Tully to learn agriculture, to CNY gymnastics, to Waste Management to plant wildflower fields, to Syracuse Stage, to the Turner to Cezanne exhibit at the Everson Museum, to the DOME to be on the field across from Martin Luther King III to witness the renaming of the football field to the Ernie Davis Legends Field. YOU bought a hot, nutritious meal for every child every night at Imagine. This list goes on.

Every day, we aspire to one goal: to ignite the minds of these children so that they, themselves, can light their OWN way out of the dark cycle of poverty. Every day, before program begins, our children recite the Imagine SYracuse promise—it’s the only thing we ask of them in return: I promise to dream out loud, I promise to hold my head up proud, I promise to never be another face in the crowd. I WILL graduate high school. I WILL graduate college. I WILL become my best possible self.

WE now stand at a crossroads. Our nonprofit status is pending. Our board of directors is forming. And we need our own space. We’ve been blessed by our partner, Huntington Family Centers Inc., with a space and a group of children to pilot year ONE. Now we need room to embrace every middle-school aged child in that neighborhood. We are looking at a ridiculously low cost, 25000 sq ft space in the neighborhood. The SU School of Architecture has agreed to design it. We just need the funds to buy it, to gut it, and to open its doors. Our vision is a funkier, artsier version of the Y, or maybe even the Jewish Community Center. We need dedicated space for dance, classrooms, a tech lab, a children’s art gallery, an athletic facility with work out equipment and elementary level gymnastics equipment. And it has to be beautiful, urban, modern, inspiring…no more dingy basements, tiny windowless rooms, grey walls. Phase by phase, we will become the one-stop shopping answer to prayers for families and for after school programming in the neighborhood desperate for resources.

Yeahhh, we need a million or two. Yeah, I know that’s a big number. We also need a hundred or two, to keep the hot meals coming, to pay for field trips, to pay our teachers, to buy art supplies. I’m not afraid to put the numbers out there. God has had us in the palm of his hand since moment one, and he’s not letting us off the hook now. Nothing good comes easy, but we will stay in the trenches until it’s upon us.

Let me close with a quote by Theodore Roosevelt that I’ve now pasted to my bathroom mirror – I’ve taken the liberty to be gender inclusive here. “"It is not the critic who counts: not the person who points out how the strong person stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the people who are actually in the arena, whose faces are marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strive valiantly, who err and come up short again and again --because there is no effort without error or shortcoming -- but who know the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spend themselves for a worthy cause; who, at the best, know, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if they fail, at least they fail while daring greatly, so that their place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."

Thank you, DCC, for stepping into this dusty, sweaty, bloody arena with us. This triumph is as much YOURS as it is Ours. If we fail - and I don’t think we will - we fail daring greatly, together.
Thank you.

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