Melanie Jones, Arts & Enrichment Director

Black and brown children make up the majority of the economically underserved in Rochester, a city shaped by historic redlining and resulting educational disparities. I dream of a world where these children matter and thrive. Children in Rochester’s struggling communities live within a fifteen-minute drive of the top schools in our region, but their circumstances prevent them from enjoying the same kind of childhood as many of their affluent suburban peers. The COVID-19 pandemic and the heightened racial tensions of the last 18 months have called greater attention to the need to disrupt these inequities.

One way we are working to address these disparities is with our Arts & Enrichment Program, a partnership between Third Church and Wilson Commencement Park (WCP). The program brings hands-on educational, artistic, cultural, social, civic, and family programming to children who might not otherwise be able to have these experiences.

Third Church established the partnership with WCP four years ago. WCP offers program-based, affordable housing to low-​income, single-parent families. Each family is assigned an on-site caseworker who connects them with programs for parents and youth, all designed to nurture self-sufficiency, wellness, and healthy relationships. Arts & Enrichment is one such program, offering educational and cultural extracurricular activities for children and families, after school during the academic year, and as a day camp (Summer Sizzle) in the summer.

Field trips for children or for children with their parents are a key component of Arts & Enrichment, and families frequently provide input into places they would most like to go. Past off-site experiences have included trips to the Memorial Art Gallery, the Public Market, Camp Whitman, Lagom Landing, City Hall (including a tour with their council representative and pizza in the boardroom), WXXI, Explore & More – The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Children’s Museum in Buffalo, a local pet store, Hidden Valley Animal Safari in Varysburg, NY, the New York Museum of Transportation in Rush, A Frog House, and even a yoga class with more than 50 fuzzy and friendly alpacas! 

Arts & Enrichment responded creatively to the challenges presented by COVID-19. During each session children received bags packed with activities, snacks, and zoom links for playing and learning at a distance. In the summers of 2020 and 2021, we did more outdoor activities and trips to balance the time spent in front of devices.

Additional partners and supporters in recent years have included the Presbytery of Genesee Valley, Rochester Public Library, Nazareth College, Jordan Health, Wegmans, Kuumba Consultants, and of course, members of Third Church, who have led activities like juggling, knitting, painting, folk music, and cookie-baking with our kids.

Do you have a skill, talent, or fun aspect of your job to share? Anything that might stimulate curiosity and imagination? Reach out to Melanie Jones (mjones@thirdpresbyterian.org) to explore how you might connect with the program!