WEIRTON - A group of girls from the Brooke Place group home have been coming one Saturday each month to Evangel Baptist Church, where members teach them to cook, sew and even to play the organ.
The idea was to help provide the girls with skills they may use in the not-so-distant future when they become young women.
But it also serves another important purpose, as it allows the girls to spend time in a positive, caring environment with several women, and a few men, who later may serve as role models.
COOKING LESSONS — Rita Wright and other members of Evangel Baptist Church in Weirton showed girls from the Brooke Place group home how to make turkey fajitas, pasta salad, peach upside down cake and other food during a recent visit to the church. Wright and other church members have volunteered to teach the girls various life skills and spend time with them one Saturday each month. -- Warren Scott
ORGAN LESSON — Greg Williamson, a member of Evangel Baptist Church in Weirton, asked a question to Linda Gaskins, the church’s organist, following a lesson Gaskins was giving to a girl from Brooke Place. A few girls from the group home have expressed interest in taking organ lessons from Gaskins during monthly visits to the church, where they also learn cooking, sewing and other skills. -- Warren Scott
During a recent visit, several women of various ages gathered with the girls in the church's kitchen. The women took turns explaining how to prepare turkey fajitas, pasta salad, salsa and a peach upside down cake for lunch.
In another room, a few women sat beside girls as they used sewing machines to stitch together pieces for a quilt. As they looked over the girls' shoulders, the women offered instruction and some memories.
"I used to make suits for my husband and sons because we were poor," said Betty Trickett, who added she also earned money for her family by making wedding dresses from scratch.
An observer noted the scenes reminded him very much of girls working with their mothers and granddaughters.
Jean Bartholow, a volunteer and former child care worker at Brooke Place, acknowledged though the girls often come from troubled homes, they miss the connections with family members or lacked them to begin with.
"Most of them call me Grandma. Of course, I am the oldest person there," she said.
Church member Rita Wright said she met a Brooke Place staff member by chance.
A retired nurse and former foster mother, Wright asked how she might help and learned officials with Family Connections, which operates the group home, were seeking opportunities for the girls to learn life skills.
Wright quickly recruited several church members to teach the girls about cooking and sewing and received approval from Family Connections for the girls to meet with them on a monthly basis.
"It all came together in about three days," she said.
"Sometimes God works quickly," said fellow church member Dana Hair.
The visits are voluntary and the girls are accompanied by staff with Brooke Place. They also may choose which activities they participate in.
"We want it to be fun," said Wright, who added there are plans to invite the girls to plan their own menus.
At the start of a recent visit, Wright asked them what they enjoyed doing the previous month and what they would like to do in the future.
During their first visit, Linda Gaskins, the church's organist, learned a few of the girls were interested in learning to play the organ.
"They are excited and eager to learn," said Gaskins.
One of the girls, whose name may not be used because of the group's home confidentiality policy, said before she came to Brooke Place, she played the saxophone and was in her school's choir.
While chatting with the girls, Wright and others get to know a little about the girls' interests. A few brought books with them and commented they enjoy reading very much.
While living at Brooke Place, the girls attend local schools and past residents have graduated from Brooke High School.
Occasionally someone outside Brooke Place will stereotype girls from the home as being bad girls.
Asked if she had any concerns about that, Wright said she had none and the girls' conduct during their visits has been very good.
Michael Smith, director of Brooke Place, said the behavior of girls who come to Brooke Place, good and bad, is no different from other teens, though often they are coming to terms with traumatic incidents in their lives.
"They want to be normal kids," he said.
Last year, in observance of Child Abuse Prevention Month, the girls were invited to participate in an activity known nationally as the Clothesline Project.
The girls could select a red, blue or green T-shirt - the colors symbolizing rape, bullying or abuse, whatever issue had significance to them - and write their feelings about it on the shirts.
The shirts were displayed on a clothesline in the home.
Smith said he's very happy to have the girls work with the church members and often seeks ways for the girls to be involved in the community.
That has included service projects such as collecting litter along local roads.
Asked what she thought of the visits to Evangel Baptist, one of the girls said, "I like it. It's fun. It's better than just sitting around."
Wright said she hopes to have women of various professions and talents speak to the girls or share their skills. She and the other church members also are seeking someone who can repair the old sewing machines they use and donations of ribbon yarn, 5 millimeter knitting needles and stitch stoppers.
Anyone interested in helping the church in these ways should call Wright at (304) 224-1599.
Staff and volunteers with Brooke Place meanwhile are planning its annual fundraiser. Dubbed "There's No Place Like Home," the event will include food, dancing to music by Mr. Mike and the Music Machine, a live auction conducted by Bennie Parr and a cash bar.
Set for May 3 at the Serbian-American Cultural Center, the event helps the group home to provide for the girls' basic and personal needs.
Those seeking tickets or interested in serving as a sponsor should call Bartholow at (304) 527-3303.
(Scott can be contacted at email@example.com)