Aren Rennacker is a busy man. He’s a full time student. He plays varsity basketball. He’s a resident assistant in Grainger Hall dormitory. These things are all major time commitments. You’d think this 21-year-old would take advantage of his weekends for a little rest and relaxation. But like many other student volunteers at Pacific Union College, he’s up at dawn on Sabbath mornings—shuttling local children of broken homes to KidzReach, one of PUC’s most powerful student ministries.
“It’s just an amazing ministry that’s reaching out to those who really could use it,” says Rennacker. “And I see it as a direct response to Christ’s command to deny self and serve other people who are suffering.”
KidzReach connects children of incarcerated parents and similar troubled backgrounds with volunteers who are committed to providing a positive influence. On Sabbath mornings, the student volunteers fan out across Napa and Lake counties to pick up the children at their homes and bring them to church. The children are fed breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Beyond that, the kids spend the day in the care of the volunteers—playing in the park, or just hanging out with stable, loving, Christian young adults.
KidzReach was born out of a local prison ministry, when the founder of that group began to worry about the families the inmates he was serving had left behind. To assist with this project, he began recruiting PUC students to help take care of these kids, providing for their spiritual and emotional needs.
Many of the children remain with KidzReach for years, and the change in their attitudes and behavior becomes evident with time. “You always see the impact that they’ve had from growing up in a rough environment,” says Rennacker. “Spending the time with them you see that they still have the heart of a child, and that comes out.”
Perhaps even more importantly, this program creates a path to Christ and a community of believers that might not exist otherwise for these children. “They want to go to church,” says Lauren Waychoff currently the longest-serving PUC student in the program, and the unofficial leader.. “And it’s not because they get to go sit in a pew—it’s because they get three meals, they get to hang out with people they don’t see all the time, and they get that positive attention.”
That positive experience becomes an important part of the lives of both the children and the student volunteers. “The kids wait for this all week long,” says Waychoff. “During the summer, it’s the worst time of the year for them because the PUC students go home. They’re always calling me asking, ‘When are we gonna do KidzReach?”
“When I’m with them, it doesn’t feel like I’m giving my time,” says Sonia Moses, another volunteer who has been with KidzReach for a year. “They make me feel so happy!”
So perhaps the time volunteered by a busy student isn’t so important after all. “Half of [what keeps me involved] would be that it’s a great ministry,” says Rennacker. “And then you start to love these kids.”