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Students, alums serve children in uptown Harrisburg

On any Monday night during fall or spring semester, all of her friends know where to find Hope Mead – in the Uptown neighborhood of Harrisburg. Each week, she leads a group of students to serve 20 to 30 inner-city children at Abba’s Place.

Abba’s Place is a 14-year-old ministry that started at New Heritage Christian Church when Messiah College students attending the church noticed the need for more adults to serve the children’s ministry. Since its inception, this weekly Bible School ministry has been led by Messiah students and sustained through alumni involvement under the direction of the church’s pastor, Scott Barkley.

According to Barkley, “Abba’s Place, from where we stand, serves as a line of defense in terms of deterring children from a life of drugs, crime, teenage pregnancy, poverty and other negative life paths.” Through the program, Messiah students have influenced children to complete high school and go to college.

Student leadership
An art education major graduating in 2012, Mead began serving at Abba’s Place during her first year at Messiah.  She kept coming back because she grew to love the kids she serves. “Seeing each one of their smiling faces every week was so encouraging and a wonderful break from the intensity of classes and homework.”

By Mead’s sophomore year, she was ready to step into a leadership role which includes organizing and recruiting student volunteers for Abba’s Place. She has identified a large number of benefits for Messiah students who volunteer with the ministry. “They get an opportunity to focus on someone other than themselves, to learn about another culture, to be encouraged by the love, the joy and the energy of the kids.” Messiah students also benefit from an upfront look at the needs of the local community.                    

Abba’s Place would not run without Messiah students. They are the playground supervisors, the worship leaders, the planners, the teachers, and the friends of the children.

Alumni involvement
When Abba’s Place started it had a mascot, Duct Tape Man. Fourteen years later, Duct Tape Man or Chad Swartzentruber ’00 is still serving the ministry—albeit without a duct tape mask or cape. Affectionately known to the group as “Mr. Chad,” he works in the church’s daycare and has become a cornerstone in children’s lives in the community. 

Throughout the years, students have become attached to the community and the children and find themselves still involved with Abba’s Place years after graduation. According to Swartzentruber, “Alumni give continuity to the program. They help teach the new volunteers what to do. They help the children adjust to new people.”

Barkley understands that Messiah students and alumni are receiving as well as giving through their involvement with Abba’s Place. “I have stated for years to new students that while you are coming into the ‘hood’ to give of yourselves, I promise that you will take back to the campus more than what you left with in terms of the experience. The alumni, if they hang around, are able to see firsthand a ‘return on their investment’ – far exceeding any investment on Wall Street.” 

Abba’s Place serves children ages pre-kindergarten to fourth grade on Monday nights and children ages fifth grade through high school on Wednesday nights during the school year.

If you are interested in learning more about Abba’s Place and how you can be involved, contact the Agape Center for Service and Learning at 717-796-1800, ext. 7255.
Story by Rachel Crownover `09, a member of the College’s Alumni Council and volunteer at Abba’s Place since 2006.

2 Responses to “Students, alums serve children in uptown Harrisburg”

  1. Rachel C Says:

    Thank you for giving us the opportunity to share this story!

  2. Ellen Ferris Shaffer, '05 Says:

    I was so encouraged to see this story featured front and center on Messiah’s homepage. Abba’s Place played a huge role in my own college experience, and I’m grateful for the 4 years of lessons and relationships it brought me. I can only hope my impact on the amazing kids there was as great as their impact on me. So great to see that this ministry continues. Keep it up Hope, Chad, Rachel, Rev and everyone else involved! 🙂