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Churches unite to help Long Beach kids

June 29, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
With deep budget cuts to after school and summer programs statewide, churches like First Congregational Church in Long Beach are opening their doors to more children than ever before.

"We take every single kid in no matter what age they are even from the age of four to the age of 14," said Gabriel Cruz, a youth volunteer.

Church officials say even though funding for educational youth programs has dropped dramatically over the last three years the number of kids coming into the program to get help has quadrupled.

"The funding has decreased enough so that we do not have an opportunity to take these kids out where we want to or give them the kind of materials that we want to." Cruz said.

Despite church donations being down, First Congregational Church and more than half a dozen other local churches in Long Beach have combined their efforts to provide children free youth services.

"Programs that are ranging from karate classes to classes about homework and volunteering," Long Beach Councilman Robert Garcia said. "All these type of activities could not be possible without the support of the incredible eight - not just pastors that are heading these churches but the entire congregation."

Officials of the eight churches forming the alliance say they are sharing resources, time and more to help kids. Some children say the free youth programs help keep them out of trouble.

"I used to be one of those bad kids, I got stopped once for being out of curfew, but now since I come to St. Luke's [Episcopal Church] - this awesome church - I have changed a lot," Alberto Hernandez said.

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