Gwendetta Albright’s 50-plus years of faithful Awana service at a church in Chicago has changed lives in hundreds of families

Gwendetta Albright grew up on the west side of Chicago. She trusted Christ for salvation at a summer camp at age 13. She then started serving as Gwendetta Albright leads the Awana program at Roseland Bible Church in Chicagoan Awana leader two years later in 1958.

She hasn’t stopped since.

“I love Awana and know how effective it is,” Gwendetta said. “People ask me, ‘Why don’t you retire from Awana?’ Why in the world would I want to do that? I want to be here and keep serving.”

Prepared to serve
Dick and Audrey St. Marie played an important role in Gwendetta’s younger years. Audrey attended the North Side Gospel Center, the Chicago church where Awana was founded by Art Rorheim and Lance Latham. Audrey got to know Gwendetta through Awana and trained and mentored her in ministry skills and other areas of life.

“I met James Albright and after we had been dating a while, James asked Dick if he could marry me,” Gwendetta explained. “They were like parents to me. Dick married us at our church.”

Gwendetta married James in 1968. They have three daughters. A fourth daughter was stillborn at birth.

In 1977, James became pastor of Roseland Bible Church on Chicago’s south side. They soon started Awana and this year celebrated 32 years of Awana programs at their church.

Overcoming challenges of inner-city ministry
Roseland Bible Church ministers to about 40 kids in Cubbies (preschool) through Trek (middle school) each Tuesday night. Most of the children and teens who participate in Awana live with their grandparents and their single mom. Fathers are not an active part, or even present, in a majority of the families.

The church is located south of downtown Chicago on 111th Street.

“A few years ago, there was some gang activity,” said Gwendetta, who oversees Awana at Roseland. “It was between kids north of 111th versus kids south of 111th.”

Gwendetta and her leadership team formulated a detailed discipline policy to avoid any serious issues among the kids attending Awana. Parents and kids know upfront what kind of behavior is expected and the consequences for bad behavior. She knows from experience the importance of creating a safe environment.

“I was the seventh youngest of eight children in my family and grew up on the west side of Chicago,” said Gwendetta, now a retired elementary school teacher. “I never wanted to go to Awana growing up because my four older brothers would come home from club and tell me how the west side boys had beaten up the north side boys. It scared me to hear those kinds of stories.”

The role of Awana in the Albright family
Despite challenges that made it difficult for Gwendetta to participate in Awana, she knew how it could benefit her own children. All three of her daughters attended Awana throughout their childhood. Her 31-year-old daughter, Joanna, lives in Branson, Missouri and serves in Awana at her church. Richelle, a physical therapist who lives in Chicago, now serves at Roseland with her mom and dad and is in her 10th year as a Sparks (kindergarten to second-grade) leader. Her children also participate. Roseland Bible Church has run the weekly Awana children's ministry program since 1972

“I know that many of the verses my daughters learned in Awana have come back to them at important times in their lives,” Gwendetta said. “Even my brother-in-law who attended Awana and went astray a few years with an alcohol addiction found verses he had memorized as a child come back to him to help him overcome his addiction.”


‘Be transformed’
The Awana leaders at Roseland chose Romans 12:2 as their theme verse for the year: Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will.

One Tuesday night, Richelle taught the Trek middle-school girls about the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5. She challenged the girls by asking, “Do people see a difference in how you live your life? Do they see any fruit?” She wants these girls to be transformed in their character and attitudes so they can positively influence their families and peers and stand firm in their faith amidst difficult circumstances.

The leaders wear black T-shirts depicting a transformer and the theme verse. It’s their prayer that kids would be transformed by the love of Christ and live according to God’s plan. They also model how Scripture memory can transform hearts and minds. Each week, leaders recite a verse. They’re currently memorizing Psalm 78 through Awana TruthScripts, a Bible memory programs for congregations.

Growing up and giving back
Ray is a Trek leader who grew up attending Awana at Roseland.

“Awana equipped me in many ways,” Ray said. “The Bible verses have stayed with me throughout my life.”

Another leader, Vernette, is an Awana veteran who desires to see kids’ lives transformed by Christ’s offer of forgiveness and eternal life. She has served in Awana for 34 years—ever since her daughter was a Sparkie. Each week, she brings her granddaughter to learn more about God and His Word.

Gwendetta’s sister, Judy Adams, is a retired school principal who now teaches at Chicago State University and serves in Awana. Her three kids participated in Awana and now her grandchildren attend Awana at Roseland.

God has worked in the lives of thousands of children and youth through the ministry of Awana at Roseland. He has used Gwendetta and James as faithful servants in the local church.

It’s Amazing
What God
Has Done

Otto Melby was a carefree 13-year-old from a loving Christian family in Chicago when an unexpected event rocked his world.

When his father passed away in 1949, Otto struggled profoundly with the loss. His mother became deeply concerned as she watched her son grow increasingly confused and angry with God and those around him. It was clear to her that he needed a male mentor to fill the void left by his dad’s death.

Read More

Using Her Gifts to Serve Others in Full-Time Ministry and Awana

A few months ago, Mandy Hornbuckle’s box of Awana memories tumbled out the back of a truck going 60 miles per hour down a Texas highway. The box contained old Awana uniforms, pins and her Citation Award, the highest achievement in Awana.Mandy Hornbuckle earned the Citation Award for learning Scripture verses and truths

As the box hit the pavement, the contents scattered all along the road.

Read More

Celebrating 50-Plus Years of Faithful Awana Service

Gwendetta Albright’s 50-plus years of faithful Awana service at a church in Chicago has changed lives in hundreds of families

Gwendetta Albright grew up on the west side of Chicago. She trusted Christ for salvation at a summer camp at age 13. She then started serving as an Awana leader two years later in 1958.

Read More

First Family Church: Using Awana to Reach Kids and Parents for Christ

A few years ago, Roger Stuart’s life changed dramatically. He trusted Christ for salvation through the ministry of First Family Church in Overland Park, Kansas.The Sparks children's ministry club at First Family Church in Overland Park, Kansas

“I came to First Family Church in hopes of finding a great children's ministry for my daughter,” Roger said. “I was more concerned with her spiritual growth than my own. But listening to my pastor preach, I felt like he wasn't talking to a congregation of 2,000; he was talking to me and my own personal struggles.

Read More

Hope Amidst Hardship

For 12 years, Carlton Carty knew only intense poverty and suffering. Now, thanks to an Awana program in central Jamaica, he knows Jesus as Savior.

The first time they met, Carlton Carty made an immediate impression on Brad Rostad—but not exactly a good one.

Read More

An Oasis
of Hope

The Awana program at the only evangelical church in Gaza is extending God’s love, truth and grace to kids and families in this volatile region.

Thursday and Friday afternoons, a haggard bus drives a circuit through garbage-strewn neighborhoods in one of the world’s most volatile and densely inhabited areas of the world, where half of the population is under age 15.

Read More

31 Years of Service Brings Generations to Lasting Faith in Christ

If you’re ever looking for someone from the Wallace family, there’s a good chance you’ll find them at Harvest Bible Chapel in Lake Zurich, Illinois on Monday nights.

Every Monday starting at 5:30 p.m., four generations of Wallace family members serve in Awana. Bob, age 85, and Lucille, 82, along with their daughter Diane and granddaughter Jill, are faithful leaders in the Sparks (kindergarten through second grade) and T&T (third to sixth grade) clubs. A great-grandson, Brayden, is only 1 and stays in the nursery but is certain to someday be in Puggles (for 2- and 3-year-olds).

Read More

The Model Awana Leader

Jim Barker was facing a dim future when his aunt brought him out of the backwoods of Tennessee to live in Chicago during the Great Depression.

Jim resided in one of the poorest sections of the city. He was painfully shy. He had a meager educational background. He wasn't good at sports. His Southern accent made him a target for insults. He didn't own a car and rarely had money in his pocket.

Read More

Baseball Continues To Be a Tool to Proclaim the Gospel

Alvin Davis has hit his share of home runs over the years. As first baseman for the Seattle Mariners from 1984 to 1991, Alvin racked up 160 home runs and batted .280 in 1,206 games. He homered in his first two big-league games and once belted a grand slam with both Ken Griffey Sr. and Ken Griffey Jr. on base. Alvin Davis played eight seasons and made the All-Star team with the Seattle Mariners

Alvin was named 1984 American League Rookie of the Year and was also selected that year for the All-Star Game. He was the first inductee into the Seattle Mariners Hall of Fame in 1997.

Read More

to Awana and Helping Their Own Kids Develop Lasting Faith

You may know what it’s like to get one or two kids ready for Awana and to church on time. But can you imagine getting six kids organized and out the door?

The Pilgrim family lives in Huntsville, Alabama, and all six children participate in Awana at Whitesburg Baptist Church every Sunday night:

Read More

Building a Worldwide Kids’ Ministry From the Ground up

Art Rorheim is co-founder of Awana. Art built Awana from the ground up from its early days as a weekly club program at the North Side Gospel Center in Chicago.

Art was introduced to youth and children’s ministry in 1935 at age 17 when Lance Latham, his church’s pastor, asked him to serve as a club leader at the North Side Gospel Center.

Read More

Leading Awana to Influence Generations of Kids to Follow Christ

Since 1999, Jack Eggar has served as President/CEO of Awana. He has provided strategic leadership for the ministry’s efforts to equip churches and parents in raising children and youth to know, love and serve Christ. Under his guidance, Awana has expanded its impact from a total of 9,000 churches around the world in 1998 to over 22,000 as of 2011.

Knowing that parents are the key influencers in their children’s spiritual development, Jack invested vision and passion to give direction for the recent launch of the Modern-Day Joseph and Awana at Home initiatives.

Read More