Wandani. The word doesnt seem to belong in inner city Milwaukee. It means companions in Swahili, say the organizers of Wandani Youth Outreach, a program sponsored by St. Marcus Lutheran church and school located at the corner of Palmer Street and North Avenue.
Wandani's mission is to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to the inner city of Milwaukee and to assist urban youth to prepare for lives of positive service to their communities, according to the programs literature.
|Jeske leads or organizes ELCA-WELS-LCMS ministry seminars each year,|
without a peep from Mark Schroeder.
But if someone teaches justification by faith - POW!
So it is perhaps appropriate that the word wandani varies its meaning depending on context: in addition to companions it also means allies or followers.
For us this is a Christian ministry, says Peter Fraser, Wandani's director.
Of course behind it is the Christian faith. We don't force that down peoples throats, he says. We try not to proselytize.
Wandani started modestly with a grant from the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) in 1997. Funding has also come from the Christian Stewardship Foundation and the Kid Brothers of St. Frank.
From an evangelical community study group meeting once a week, the program grew to include Bible study, arts and crafts, karate and open gym. In 1999, Fraser and two others took over Wandani and it started to assume its current shape.
Today there are Wandani activities every day of the week except Friday, including the recently added girls night and liturgical dance. Basketball is still the biggest hit, with junior and senior high open gym Monday and Wednesday respectively, and Wandani Wolves club games Thursday and practice on Saturday.
Most of the parents are really grateful there's a safe place for their kids to go, Fraser says.
|Jeske has patented the lopsided smile.|
It's About God (And Basketball)
The program provides a surrogate family for urban youths an explicitly religious family, and one both its leaders and participants say helps develop a sense of discipline and respect for authority.
It's about God, says Daron Evans, 15, a Wandani regular for Monday night basketball. It's just like roots, like our house rules and stuff: Don't cuss, don't yell, don't argue with your brothers and sisters, cause one time you're going to need them.
A three-year Wandani veteran tells a similar story. Before I came here I didn't want to listen to anybody, says Tim Groce, 14. Now he says he listens and uses respectful language.
Both boys say they think they would be in trouble if not for Wandani.
Leaders cite an altercation that almost happened as evidence of the values Wandani instills.
There was going to be a fight, but one of our guys stepped up and made it stop, says Brian Davison, St. Marcus staff minister who supervises basketball Monday and Thursday. It looked like it was going to be a gang fight right here in our gym.
Davison says he was later told, You know, Brian, the only reason nothing happened tonight is we respect what you do.
Wandani alumni have also stepped up as program leaders.
One of them is Marvell Dean Jewell, 20, now a paid staff member who referees basketball games.
Jewell has since joined St. Marcus church. He says he can relate to kids because he was in their position.
The biggest thing is respect. Good sportsmanship. Knowing how to carry yourself, Jewell tells his little brothers.
And at the same time kids are having a good time, Jewell says, they're learning about God.
During each Wandani session, a leader reads a Bible passage and interprets it. Kids in gym shorts roll their warm-up basketballs away and gather at mid-court to sit and listen silently to the Bible, as Davison tells them about heaven and hell everyone will be judged, he says, but you must be a believer to enter heaven. After this devotion, the teenagers take the court.