Would you wake up early every morning to make sure that children, who are not kin to you, get to school?
These early birds do so every day as volunteers to help a Far Rockaway community of children they fervently love, making sure they stay off the streets, and get their education.
Pastor Ron Taylor and Elvis Leon of Beach Church, in Rockaway Beach and Meaghan Holley of nonprofit organization, Rockaway Rising in Edgemere, as well as other volunteers do this every day religiously.
When Taylor invited me to get on his bus and see for myself, I did not know what to expect. However, I was immediately enamored by these children with their colorful personalities, amidst the challenges they face on a daily basis.
As we were driving to the housing project, where they pick up the children, Taylor began to share the genesis of how this all started.
“Rockaway Rising approached us to help transport these kids to school,” Taylor said. “Meaghan of Rockaway Rising, said that these kids are chronically absent. We simply want to help their parents get them dressed for school, transport them in a bus, and make sure they get their education.
“They found that a lot of kids were out and about during the day, and not going to school. Regular school buses do come, but they honk their horn, and when no one comes out, they just take off. Some kids would walk to school, but when you are a kid, and not motivated, you just do your own thing.
“For the parents, understandably life is out of control, and getting your kid to school sometimes could be the lowest thing on your Totem pole. However, Meaghan recognized that these parents and their kids needed help,” Taylor said. “And now, the parents totally welcome us. They know we care, and have no personal stake. It’s just a free ride to school for their kids,” Taylor said.
And so, the evolution started from one bus that was donated to Taylor, that he and Elvis Leon personally drove and later donated to Rockaway Rising. Then they got another bus, plus the 101 Precinct police officers also volunteered to transport these children to school.
“In the beginning it was a little stressful because we had to personally enter these families’ homes and get their children dressed, and then bus them to school. However, now Meghan spearheads that on her own. Not an easy feat. It’s such a wonderful partnership with Meaghan and her team at Rockaway Rising, and the 101 Precinct.
“It is so rewarding because we all developed trusting relationships with the parents. They began to embrace us, like family. Like President Theodore Roosevelt said, ‘People don’t care about how much you know, until they know how much you care,’” Taylor said. “These parents connected with us because they know we don’t get paid to do this, none of us do. Personally, I just love the Lord, and sincerely want to help the community.”
When Taylor and I arrived at the building, seeing the stream of children come out, jostling with each other, gave me an adrenaline rush. I became the unofficial bus monitor. One third-grader dropped his hat in the bus, and I ran into the school, searching for him. He needed his hat! A security guard approached me, and laughed, “You must be from the happy bus.” I proudly responded, “Sir, yes, I am!”
Taylor, a native of Missouri, first came to Rockaway after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy.
“After Hurricane Sandy, NYC was all over the news nationally, and people reached out to our ministry for help. We started just with relief efforts: a soup kitchen, giving out batteries, flashlights and diapers, whatever folks needed. Then a local from Beach 97th Street gave us his garage as a meeting and storage space to help with relief efforts. People started besieging us with a host of questions: Why are you helping us? What are you doing? Where is your place at? So then because we were near the beach, we started calling ourselves ‘Beach Church,’ and the name just stuck.
“As for recovery efforts, we went from relief center to recovery center. We linked arms with some Amish people in Pennsylvania, who helped with rebuilding homes. Together, we rebuilt 175 homes on the Peninsula,” Taylor said.
“I just love the Lord, and I’m grateful that he blessed us with Beach Church. Our love for the community, made Rockaway home. God blessed us with our current vicinity on Beach 97th Street. Now we are in a space, where we strive to be a valuable resource for the community. We run a food pantry every Saturday, and hosted computer, ESL, citizenship, and even Zumba classes.
“God just opened a door for my family to get into the community and help. In life there are callings and there are assignments. I believe that getting involved in people’s lives, knowing their stories, brings us together.
“I am from Missouri. In the Midwest, people are more apt to open themselves and be a little more vulnerable. I think people in the East are so jaded. After being taken advantage of, they have a real hard time opening up. I never through I would be planting a church in Rockaway, but Sandy changed it all,” Taylor said.
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