The First Baptist Church of Westbury celebrated its 47th anniversary this June. Not only did members commemorate the church's birth, they honored their latest accomplishments under the guidance of Reverend Dr. Lionel Harvey.
Four years ago, Rev. Harvey joined First Baptist Church and set progressive goals for the community of New Cassel/Westbury. "There are so many wonderful things that I want to do because I see that there is such a need," Rev. Harvey said in 1999.
Collectively, Rev. Harvey and his fellow church have done just that. With the mindset of keeping child outreach a priority, Rev. Harvey has guided the church, for the past four years, to organize a vacation bible school/camp. This year, the camp will be held at Powells Lane School through Aug. 1 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Daphne Edgeworth-Wilson, an active church member, said that registration is open to children, ages four to 15, from all communities. "The camp is an outlet for many underprivileged children," Edgeworth-Wilson said. "Some of these children who attend have never even been to the movies."
The vacation bible school/camp is growing progressively every year in an effort to reach out to the entire community and beyond. Parents are encouraged to evaluate the program at the end of the camp.
"We do an educational piece, arts and crafts, sports, etc.," Rev. Harvey said. "This year, students from Hofstra University will volunteer with the bible school." He emphasized that 40 to 60 members of the church community have volunteered to give their time; some for the entire length of the camp.
Wilson said one of the roadblocks involved with advertising the camp is the language barrier amongst many children and their families. "These children will bring home the information to their parents but the parents cannot read or understand it," Edgeworth-Wilson said.
Despite this problem, Rev. Harvey and fellow church members have put a great deal of energy into making information regarding the camp available. "We've spread the word by sending letters to businesses in the surrounding areas, to government officials and churches," Rev. Harvey said. "We'll continue to get the word out as best we can."
Although the church mainly funds the camp, Rev. Harvey and church members have sought after and received some outside funding. "Our bible program is meeting the needs of the community so local businesses should have no problem giving money," said Rev. Harvey. "They owe a commitment to the children - their businesses are kept alive because of them and their families."
The cost of the camp is $25 a week ($120 per child) and includes two meals and transportation. Rev. Harvey coined the camp as "one of the cheapest camps around I know of."
Aside from focusing their outreach efforts toward children, the church holds a soup kitchen, serving Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Rev. Harvey said they haven't served soup once yet and instead try to serve gourmet meals.
"By giving a hot meal, we're doing our part to meet a sometimes overlooked need in the community," Rev. Harvey said. "We serve approximately 500 to 600 people per week."
The church has received large donations to the soup kitchen from the Entenmanns' Company, which continues to be a reliable venue.
When he is not presiding over his congregation, Rev. Harvey is busy overseeing the process of beautifying and bettering the ethnically diverse New Cassel/Westbury community. As president of the Unified New Cassel Community Revitalization Corporation (UNCCRC), he is working alongside the Town of North Hempstead toward these efforts.
"A lot has been accomplished so far; we've cut down trees, redone sidewalks, reduced the speed in town [to 30 miles per hour] and built a pharmacy and a bank," Rev. Harvey said. "It's been a long process since we've started about three years ago, but the community has been wonderful."
Rev. Harvey and church members were also recently successful in stopping the construction of a liquor store on Prospect Avenue.
"We have nothing against the liquor business but a liquor store isn't the first thing this community needs," Rev. Harvey said. "Once we have better stores built, then we can talk about having a liquor store."
Rev. Harvey commended his congregation for their efforts toward turning his vision into a reality. "From the beginning, my vision has been to build a viable community that people can be a part of," he said. "And together, as a church community, we're working hard and achieving this goal."