This year marks the 75th anniversary of Child Evangelism Fellowship, a nondenominational ministry that sponsors the Good News Club in six Lycoming County elementary schools.
Students attend the club's hour-long classes weekly, usually from October through late March or mid-April, for Bible-based instruction and fellowship time.
CEF hopes to expand its program into more area schools soon, if adequate funding and volunteer teachers can be found. A class at one school costs $800 to run for an academic year and is funded entirely from local contributions, according to Paul Kinley, of Cogan Station, who works with the CEF afterschool Good News Clubs.
Kinley helps promote the CEF's Good News Clubs as part of his work with Interlink Ministries, an Ohio-based group that provides logistical support and advice for worthy Christian missions programs.
"I create an awareness of the afterschool club program, recruit teachers and helpers and seek sponsorships from area businesses to underwrite part of the program cost," Kinley said.
Classes at Salladasburg and Jersey Shore Elementary schools, both Jersey Shore Area schools, began during the 2011-12 academic year.
CEF also has afterschool clubs at Avis, Hepburn-Lycoming, Ferrell and Myers elementary schools. A club at Cochran Elementary School also is planned.
Good News Clubs in Lycoming County average about 19 students per class, or about five percent of the student population. More than 133,000 students attended Good News classes in 2010, at more than 3,000 school locations, Kinley said.
"The children are taught Bible stories, they are told a 'real-life' missionary story, they sing Christian songs," Kinley said. "The volunteer teachers and helpers lead the children in prayer, the children are given a memory verse to learn, and sometimes games are played in conjunction with reviewing the materials from the previous week."
Kinley added that volunteer teachers and helpers must apply, complete a background check and attend a two-hour teacher training seminar.
"Most of our teachers and helpers come from local churches," he said.
Volunteers - CEF has more than 2,700 worldwide - also must collect references and are asked to fill out sheets rating their strengths and weaknesses. The legal requirements are far removed from the days when volunteers could show up, uninvited, at a CEF program and teach the gospel. CEF's Good News Clubs were the subject of a 2001 United States Supreme Court ruling (Good News Club v. Milton Central School District) that ruled religious groups could have equal access to public school facilities, if other non-school groups may use the space.
The Kennedy family, of Williamsport, also spends much of their time in the mission field on the Good News Club, along with other CEF programming. Bill and Mary Ann Kennedy direct operations in Lycoming County and train volunteers.
"We're raising up the next generation to go out and make a difference for Christ," said Bill Kennedy. "I'm sitting down with them and praying with them and watching them grow in Christ."
For more information about Child Evangelism Fellowship, visit cef online.com and lycoming cef.com. Businesses interested in donating to the program can visit kinley family.net/cefbusiness sponsorships.