Teen violence swept the streets of East St. Louis when Director Rev. Chet Cantrell arrived at the Christian Activity Center in 1989. CAC's purpose at that time was to keep kids alive.
CAC's building was three large rooms/ages 6-18 all together. There was no structure or funding for curriculum, and no funding to hire educators, counselors, chaplains, or coaches. CAC started with graffiti removal, walking into the heart of street violence and gang wars, and visiting mothers of murdered teens to counsel against retribution. The city was in a downward spiral in this post-industrial era. Congregations fled for safer ground just as East St. Louis's families’ need and despair was compounded by dwindling resources in the city. CAC’s immediate sphere of influence, the Samuel Gompers Homes (“The Gompers”), had become the acme of violence in what was aptly called: America’s Deadliest City.
The desperate city asked Baptists to do something to help stem the tide of juvenile crime and violence in this neighborhood. After a series of attempts to reestablish ministry that included five directors in seven years and a near-closing in 1988, a nationwide search was conducted and the current Director, Rev. Chet Cantrell, was hired to begin work January 6, 1989. 2018 marks Cantrell’s 29th year at the helm of CAC.
With God’s increase and His people joining Him
on mission here, CAC transitioned in 2013 from an agency minded toward saving lives - to one on a mission to change lives.
Under Rev. Cantrell’s direction, CAC has grown in youth service from 13 teens (1989) to 450+ children & youth - ages 5-18. CAC's base of support has grown from 30 churches and families contributing $90,000/year (1989) to 1,154 donors contributing $1.8 million/year.
CAC’s supporters have equipped us to raise children’s grade point average from 2.10, to 3.30 after 12 months in our care. Additionally, investments by families in our kids impact a 74% college advancement rate (compared with 13% in our city). Donors have additionally enabled CAC to reduce juvenile crime/court involvement from 80% to less than 5%.
With God’s increase and His people joining Him on mission here, CAC has transitioned in 2013-14 from an agency minded toward saving lives - to one on a mission to change lives. God’s people’s investments in His work here have positioned CAC to become a school afterschool - hiring degreed faculty and redesigning space into small classrooms to provide curriculum-based programs in faith, academics and health.
We anticipate the outcomes listed above to grow exponentially under this new program design, and we are ready to carry programming to the places our kids live.
The Christian Activity Center focuses its year-round programming around three core areas: faith, education, and recreation.
Spiritual Development: Children can participate in faith-based programming, including Kids4Christ and nightly devotions.
Fine Arts: Youth explore visual and performing arts through drama, dance, music production, cooking, architecture, martial arts, ceramics, and more.
Athletics: Youth engage in soccer, dodge ball, water games, baseball, weight lifting, basketball, cheerleading, and dance, as well as therapeutic activities such as sand play and trauma counseling.
Bridging the Gap: Students receive homework help, one-on-one tutoring, and skill-building workshops to supplement core competencies in reading, writing, and math.
Computer Clubhouse: Children explore creative software programs, tutorial curriculums, and all sorts of digital technology in the Computer Clubhouse at CAC.
Pathways: Youth prepare for college emotionally, academically, and financially through writing workshops, college tours, FAFSA completion, career assessments, and college admissions coaching starting in 6th grade.
"CAC has helped raise me. They have loved and cared for me and my family. Through Sunday morning worship services and the staff's love of God, I am a strong Christian living for Him. Because CAC donors care for kids, I have been able to attend Governor French Academy in Belleville where I have a 4.0 GPA. I don't know what my life would look like had it not been for CAC." -Tamia, age 16