Traveling Sunday School for Kids Reaches Out to Inner-City Cleveland
by Cunthia K. Berry

The first time Bonnie Sliva visited one of the inner city Cleveland projects, she knew there was no turning back. She saw six-year-old children who were acting as caregivers to younger siblings, children who were hungry and had no coats or shoes. "I never realized things were so bad so close to home," says Sliva, one of the founders of Cleveland Kids Church (CKC) Ministries.

For two years, CKC has been helping meet the basic needs of these inner-city children by faithfully providing a hot meal and "kids church program" each week to residents of Lakeview Terrace, Bellaire Garden and Riverside Park on the west side of Cleveland. Meals and programs are held in the community rooms, with permission from the Cleveland Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA). The ministry is reaching 300 - 500 children and their families.

"Have you ever seen kids running to be in church?" asks Sliva. "We present a high energy program that makes these kids hungry to be in church!" A typical evening includes Christian rap music, games with prizes, memory verses, and a quiet time of teaching and prayer, followed by a free dinner.

"We receive hundreds of letters from kids, thanking us for coming and for praying with them. We believe in reaching and loving the children right where they are," Sliva adds. She estimates that single moms are raising 80 percent of the children and 30 percent are in homes where drug addiction prevails.

In addition to the three programs on weeknights, CKC emphasizes personal, door-to-door visitation for each child on Saturdays. Sliva and her two co-founders, David Riolo and Dave Shoemaker, take donuts that are donated each weekend by Fragapane Bakery and walk the streets of the projects, meeting moms and reminding them of kids church the following week. On Sunday mornings, the threesome leads a family worship service at Bellaire Gardens.

Whenever CKC is able to secure donations of clothing, food, school supplies or Christmas gifts, they joyfully distribute these gifts to the families. "Our mission is to provide every child in the inner city of Cleveland the opportunity to experience the love of Jesus Christ. We also believe that every child should have his or her basic needs met with food, clothing, shelter and lot of love, " explains Sliva.

Aside from occasional offerings from individuals or churches, CKC has been running on the passion, convictions, and finances of the three co-founders, all of who maintain other jobs. Sliva, from Olmsted Falls, works part-time as a home healthcare provider, which allows her the flexibility to manage the CKC office. She brings 12 years experience in children's ministry from Brooklyn, New York with Bill Wilson's Metro Ministries. Riolo, who is Sliva's brother and also an Olmsted Falls resident, works as a machine operator. His life was changed through the Teen Challenge program, so he has a true understanding of what inner-city families are up against. Shoemaker lives in Cleveland and works as an auto mechanic. He has 20 years of experience taking the Gospel to the streets through Tommy Barnette's First Assembly of God Church in Phoenix.

The vision of CKC is for more people to sense a passion for the inner-city children of Cleveland. They hope to expand their outreach to the east side of Cleveland, to provide bus vouchers, and to eventually bring thousands of children under one roof to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The most urgent need of CKC is financial support and monthly sponsorship of the children who are being touched by this non-denominational ministry. CKC is praying for helpers to get involved, churches to cook meals, and grant writers to step forward.

"Come one time and the children will melt your heart," Sliva promises.

For more information, contact CKC, P.O. Box 81659, Cleveland, Ohio 44181, 440/235-7339.

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