Source: Orthodox Church in America
Our church community, like so many others, includes a number of families who have moved from various areas and find themselves lacking nearby relatives or a reliable babysitter. The church becomes their family.
"Parents Evening Out" was designed to help this particular group of people. It is a service provided by our youth to parishioners in the community that have children who are in need of babysitting.
This program is a positive experience for all involved: Parents get an evening out, teens and children get to fellowship together, and the program may be used to raise money to support a desired cause.
How It Works
Determine the number of teens that are available on a given night to baby-sit. A sign up sheet for parents is placed in the fellowship hall and an announcement is placed in the bulletin. Sign up is required and limited, based on the number of teens that are participating. The sign up sheet includes a waiting list in case of cancellations, and a contact person to call if a parent needs to cancel.
The number of teens required is based on the ages of the children that have been signed up. If there are several children under the age of two, more teens are required. Based on the experience of our community, the largest group of children that are signed up is between the ages of 7 and 9. Generally, one teen for every five children in this age group is adequate. Parental "overseers" are also needed, and the number is based on the ages of the children listed. Three parents are sufficient for a group of twenty-five children from 7-9 years of age. We stress that it is the teens that "baby-sit" and care for the children, so that it remains a ministry of the teens and not something that the adults do.
Parents bring their children (ages 1 month to 12 years) to the parish with any items with which the children want to play, including games, cards, toys and videos. Some children bring pajamas. The teens volunteering spend the time with them playing games, reading, providing snacks or tending the needs of the babies. Many activities occur simultaneously according to age groups, and include everything from Twister, board games, movies, arts and crafts, to quiet story time.
Parents of the younger children that require diaper bags are asked to have written instructions for bottle feeding or other particular needs. Sleeping babies are placed on blankets in the rear of the church that has adjoining doors to the Fellowship Hall where all the action takes place. This allows for supervision of the sleeping babies, but not entire separation.
Children may brown bag their dinner, but the church provides a light snack and drink. We have asked for donations of these items.
Parents complete an emergency contact form and are asked to keep their cell phones on or leave a phone number where they can be reached. Time is limited to four hours. Parents rotate supervising the teens. This is a service to the parents free of charge, though donations are accepted in a donation box placed at the door.
This program has been so successful in the kindling of fellowship among the youth, that we’ve had young people sign themselves up to be baby-sat without the knowledge of their parents. It can also fulfill the need of service hours for the teens.
We have had the greatest success on Friday evenings, giving parents an opportunity to have an evening out alone, but also have done this on other days. Other "themed days" include "Valentines Evening," "Summer Break Away," and "Christmas Shopping without the Kids."
Our parish has also used this time to engage in outreach projects such as gifts at Christmas. During the Advent period we have assembled "shoe box gifts" for poor and underprivileged children. We have also provided the children an opportunity to make a Christmas gift for their parents and send it home wrapped.
Lee Ann Pisarchuk is active in St. Justin the Martyr Church, Jacksonville, FL where her husband, Fr. Theodore, is pastor. Lee Ann is especially involved with the youth in the Sunday School, at youth camps and retreats. She is a part-time pediatric nurse and the mother of two boys.