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Church hones its own vision

First Congregational Church has started a new play program for toddlers called the Congo Tot Lot, set up in the fellowship hall of the church. - Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

While many people proposed ideas for Austin’s Vision 2020 project, a local church took some of those ideas and started its own initiative.

First Congregational Church, 1910 Third Ave. NW, will begin its own play program for kids starting Feb. 2. After reading about many of the Vision 2020 proposals, First Congregational’s youth and family ministries board decided it was time to offer something of its own to the community.

In the past year, First Congregational has been exploring ideas of how to reach out to the community. Vision 2020 — a grass roots community betterment project looking for 10 ideas to implement by 2020 — may have been a catalyst.

“We have a couple people that have been somewhat involved with the Vision 2020 process, and through that, they discovered that one thing the community is looking for is a place for toddlers,” said Dawn Kruse, leader of the youth and family ministry team.

Because of excess space at the church, First Congregation members saw an opportunity for a play area where parents could bring their toddlers to socialize with other kids. While the program — the Congo Tot Lot — won’t be a daycare where parents can drop off their kids, it will offer parents an avenue for socializing their children. Parents can visit with other parents and meet church members, as well. Volunteers from the church will also act as supervisors.

According to Kruse, this program is something that has been lacking in Austin.

“In the winter, there is not really an indoor place for kids to go and play,” Kruse said. “So we’re hoping that this can fulfill this need for some families in the community.”

The Congo Tot Lot will be open from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. on Thursdays. While First Congregational members don’t know what type of response they will get, they know they have space for roughly 10 toddlers at a time. The youth and family ministry team placed a soft-surface floor in the play space, and toys include a slide, tunnels, tents a play kitchen and more.

The church will host a trial run of the program this Sunday before opening it to the public from Feb. 2 to mid-April.

Members may find that the new program forms unity and faith within First Congregational. Last year, the church began a group called the Dream Team, which encourages church members to be more involved at First Congregational. This new toddlers’ program may do that.

“We’ve really embraced this Tot Lot idea as a way we can provide and serve not just the community, but the other members in our church, as well,” Kruse said.