GREENFIELD — At 11 years old, Riley Phelps doesn’t see a lot of money-earning opportunities in her life.
She saves up coins when she finds them on the ground. When she finds change in pockets while doing laundry at home, her dad lets her keep it.
But she knows someday, as an adult, there will be a job, an income and decisions to make. And a weekly after-school program for her and fellow sixth-graders has offered her some guidelines to keep in mind when that day comes.
On Thursdays, Phelps and about a dozen classmates from Greenfield Intermediate School walk across Park Avenue with an adult to Trinity Park United Methodist Church. They’re part of Flight Hawk, a six-part series of sessions covering various life lessons. The group has talked about peer pressure and labels. It has talked about cooking and family relationships. Next week, the plan is to build a birdhouse and in the process learn how to use a hammer.
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But so far, the finance session “was the one that really stuck with me,” Phelps said.
Jack Weidner, 11, also points to the give, save and spend lesson as a favorite.
“I liked learning how to preserve your money,” he said. “If you spend (first), you won’t have enough money left to give.”
Other students pointed to different sessions they found memorable.
“We talked about labels,” said Destinee Roberts, 11. “They told us how no one can label you — only yourself.”
Trevor Hale, 11, said he found a social media discussion informative.
“They talked about sites that I didn’t know about,” he said. “They talked about how cyberbullying is bad. … You don’t send something you don’t want people to hear. … Once it’s sent, you can’t take it back.”
Phil Strahm, youth pastor at Trinity Park United Methodist Church, said the goal is to help students think through some of the issues they’ll face before they get to junior high.
Flight Hawk for sixth-graders is not school-sponsored, meets at the church and offers a faith-based perspective on the issues group leaders cover.
“It’s a completely different program with a completely different structure,” Strahm said.
Troy Doubman, pastor of youth ministries at Brandywine Community Church, said Flight Hawk “seemed like a good next step” when Strahm presented the idea to some area youth pastors.
“We all said, ‘Yeah, I’m in,’” he said.
The number of churches involved has varied from session to session, with as many as five or six helping. He and Strahm are leading this session, assisted by some other adult volunteers from various churches.
In each six-week session, the adults lead about 15 students. Strahm said organizers offer Flight Hawk several times a school year; this is the second session this academic year. Students go through the program once, and the number of participants for each six-session series is capped.
“We wanted to create groups small enough that we could still have good conversations,” Strahm said.
At a recent session, Strahm and his wife, Michelle Strahm, launched the conversation by cooking with half of the group at a time in the church kitchen, making no-bake cookies.
“We just talk about the importance of families,” Phil Strahm said. “We encourage them to talk to Mom and Dad about the structure of their family meals.”
The other half of the group was in the gym with Doubman, discussing the Bible story of Jesus healing 10 people of leprosy and only one coming back to say thanks. It fit with late November and Thanksgiving, but Doubman also talked about everyday family situations when expressing gratitude is easy to forget. Then the groups switched sites before everyone headed to an upstairs game room.
Alexis Owens, 11, said she doesn’t have a favorite session or lesson; she likes them all.
“It gives me some inspiration,” she said. “(It’s) kind of cool how they know so much about God. They can prepare us for our future lives and future problems we might face.”