“These kids need more than a 30-minute ‘come to Jesus’ speech.” This realization hit Chuck Allen in 2000, while he was facilitating an after-school club for kids.
A vision for a ministry to students began to churn in his mind – a vision that would eventually be realized in the Urban Scholastic Center, a ministry with the goal to develop “socially responsible Christian leaders” among Wyandotte County students.
When Chuck first had the idea for USC, he was working as a youth pastor. But as his vision for USC grew, he realized he needed to leave his job as youth pastor in order to work full-time toward building this new ministry.
Some questioned his decision, asking how he would support his wife and four kids if he left his job. Chuck quotes Hebrews 11:1 as the verse that anchored his family.
“I didn’t have to see how we were going to be supported,” Chuck said. “I just knew that God was saying, ‘You need to do this full-time.”
Understanding Chuck’s willingness to step out in faith requires rewinding several years to his days as a college student at Kansas State University. Chuck grew up in Wyandotte County, but when he left to attend K-State on a track scholarship, he vowed never to come back.
Then a series of injuries interrupted his plans. His first year of running, he pulled his left hamstring. His second year, his right hamstring. His third year, a popliteal cyst formed on the back of his kneecap. After this third injury, he began focusing more on Jesus and his education.
That following summer, he completed an internship at a juvenile detention center – one located in Wyandotte County. “I wasn’t there for more than two weeks before I knew I was supposed to be working with kids,” he said.
Because he didn’t have a degree in education, though, he blew off the thought and finished his degree in graphic design.
But that summer, Chuck went to Boulder, Colorado to attend a Promise Keeper’s conference. There, sitting in a crowd of thousands of other men, Chuck heard God’s call.
“I know the desires of your heart,” God impressed on him. “I’ve revealed them, and you’re supposed to be working with kids.”
And so, on the way back home, he told the guy sitting next to him on the bus that he was going back to school to get a degree in education.
Chuck earned his degree and taught in public schools before becoming a youth pastor. Then, after leaving his position as a youth pastor, he began going to local elementary schools to help however he could.
When Chuck first walked into Mark Twain, an elementary school USC now works with regularly, he introduced himself to the secretary and told her, “I really would love to work with any boys you have who are in trouble.”
He chuckles now, remembering her reaction.
“Really?” she asked incredulously. “Well…come on!”
He began volunteering nearly every day and then started recruiting others to come with him and mentor the kids there.
A year later, he introduced USC’s after-school program (Life Enrichment), and then he started Beautiful Feet, an initiative to provide shoes and sports equipment to kids who couldn’t otherwise afford them. Chuck knew that students who participate in school sports are more likely to graduate from high school, so he worked hard to help many student-athletes get on a team.
Today, USC’s range of programs has expanded to include a holistic after-school program, pre-game meals for three local high school sports teams; Soul Food, a Wednesday night gathering of food, worship, and Bible study; 15 volunteers serving at five local schools; and a literacy program that has given 70,000 books to kids.
Chuck faced a number of challenges when he started USC. At first, it was difficult to find support from others in the community. Many thought the things he was trying to do were impossible.
They would say, “You won’t get anything done unless you talk to [these community leaders].”
“Yeah, but I talked to God. So why do I need to talk to him and him and him?” Chuck would ask.
“Because they’re pillars of the community.”
“But I have a pillar. And he doesn’t wear a suit and tie or drive a fancy car.”
Finding the right volunteer and financial support has been difficult too. Although the number of volunteers from within the community continues to grow, many still have difficulty contributing financially. USC has many dedicated volunteers from outside the community, but, still, some have trouble comprehending the breadth of issues kids at USC face, and are not sure how they can help.
But the desire to teach kids to see the power of Christ in their lives motivates Chuck to continue what he is doing.
He has experienced the power one individual can make on a child in his own life. When he was young, his baseball coach, Bob Waters, had a huge impact on him. Chuck often went over to Bob’s house after practices to eat and hang out with his wife and kids. Because he spent so much time with Bob and his family, he remembers Bob as the first man he saw who behaved like a husband and acted as a strong father.
Today, he seeks to have a similar impact on kids at USC. “You can do great things, despite your circumstances.” he tells them. “I lived in the inner city, I ran away from school when I was a kid, I got suspended several times, but by the grace of God, I graduated from K-State, I’ve been married more than 21 years and God has allowed me to start an organization to help kids be successful…. If I can do it, you can do it.”
As Chuck often reminds USC volunteers, “You have no idea what’s going to happen to the seed that you plant inside a kid.”