As it marks its 20th anniversary, this Rockford nonprofit is working harder than ever to provide a safe and positive environment where some of the city’s neediest children can find love and shelter.
Rock House Kids, 1325 Seventh St., Rockford, is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. This Christian ministry provides inner-city kids a safe and positive experience in spite of their difficult situations, with the goal of helping them have better lives now and in the future.
Executive Director Deanna Lacny has worked at Rock House Kids for about five and a half years and was named director last year. Her top priorities as director are to build awareness of the ministry through social media and advertisements, and to get more kids involved.
“A lot of people still don’t know we exist,” Lacny says. “We’re all about building relationships and want our kids to feel safe and cared for.”
The after-school program provides children with hot meals, supplies and volunteers who help with homework, teach good values and stress the importance of staying in school.
About 250 children per week, ages 6 to 18, attend from 5 to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Children can get help other times of the day, too. The evening program is year-round, but in the summer there are extra activities, field trips and camps.
As director, Lacny right away made necessary building repairs and received donations of two 15-passenger vans to pick up students who otherwise could not get to the ministry. More vans and drivers are needed to reach even more kids in other parts of the city, she says.
About 25 volunteers work with the kids each night, but about twice as many are needed. The only qualification is to be a caring adult with a Christ-centered belief. Gloria Visel of Winnebago is a retired businesswoman who started volunteering one night a week four years ago. Having never worked with inner-city kids, she tried to keep an open mind by having no expectations, while at the same time being willing to learn about the kids and herself.
“I have to admit I was a bit afraid, not for my safety, but because these kids are so different than ones I had worked with in the past,” says Visel. “I felt I didn’t really understand what these children needed, but I didn’t need to know, I just needed to be there and be encouraging.
“Middle-class kids are always being built up and given opportunities,” Visel adds. “A lot of these kids never hear encouraging words. There’s no stability in their lives. They come from families with financial difficulties, violence, addictions and a missing parent or two, often being passed around from one relative or friend to another. They use a lot of their personal energy just trying to survive and get through the night, so learning has been difficult for them and they find it hard to trust people.”
Visel knows the ministry can’t take the place of the families, but it can reduce stress in the lives of the children and their families by giving them the time, attention and resources including clothing, shoes, coats, blankets and school supplies.
“Research has shown that one caring adult can make all the difference in a child’s life, just by being there and being a constant,” she says.
Churches, corporations, individuals and non-government grants support Rock House Kids. Other than the paid management staff, it is run by volunteers and has steadily grown in the location where it all began.
In the former Midwest Scale building donated to Rock House, the ministry has slowly taken over the building as donations have come in, with only one section of the building yet to be developed, which will be a computer learning lab where students can do their homework, work on job searches and develop resumes with help from tutors. Long-term goals include adding more classrooms, an activity room, an all-purpose room with basketball courts and a movie theater.
Other improvements through the years have resulted in more classrooms, a small chapel, a larger chapel, a lunchroom, volunteer area, an enclosed playground and a new entrance with a crosswalk.
See how you can volunteer by visiting rockhousekids.org or by calling (815) 962-5067.