Ministerial Association president to receive Hero for Children award

The State Board of Education will honor the president of the Brownsville Ministerial Association as a Hero for Children for his work providing meals and other help to the city’s homeless youth.

BMA president Kenneth Parks is the driving force behind Kids Cafés, a program that coordinates light meals provided by area restaurants on a rotating basis on Saturdays for children living at several area motels.

The children qualify as homeless under the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act because they lack “fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence,” and meet other qualifications under the act.

Diana E. Clough, project coordinator for the Brownsville Independent School District’s Homeless Youth Connection Project, nominated Parks for the award.

“He’s a true hero to our children in need because what he does for them is provide food for them on Saturdays (when) there’s no school. They look forward to it. It’s provided by different restaurants that alternate. He’s taken the initiative. He collaborates and coordinates with the restaurants that are participating. … He’s doing it all, sir,” Clough said when asked why she made the nomination.

The purpose of the Homeless Youth Connection Project is “to identify students in homeless situations and enroll them in school,” Clough said when asked to put a number on child homelessness in Brownsville. She said her program had identified just under 1,000 such children so far this school year. It closed out the last school year with “well over 1,500” identified homeless children, she said.

BISD has long recognized that children in marginal situations often don’t get enough to eat on days when there is no school. Various community groups have stepped in to fill the void.

Parks’ involvement began shortly after he arrived in Brownsville in 2009. He works in the maquiladora industry and is an associate pastor at ChristChurch of the Valley. Through the Ministerial Alliance he helped start and coordinated an evening Snack Bags program that provided food to children who did not receive regular meals outside of school. The Ministerial Association started a food bank to support the program, which restaurants and various community organizations support.

When BISD began serving evening food service meals a little more than a year ago, the Snack Bags program morphed into the Kids Cafés on Saturdays. Six restaurants provide the meals on a rotating basis, Denny’s, Chili’s, Pizza Hut, Buddy’s BBQ and Grill, Johnny Carino’s and Chick-fil-A participate.

Parks said he got the idea for Kid Cafés from Bruno Serato, a friend in Anaheim, Calif. who serves similar meals to 1,000 kids at 250 motels in that city, which notably is home to Disneyland.

“It goes back to my roots as a believer,” Park said. “It should be about helping people, giving people a hand up, not a handout. I believe we need to be able to take care of the poor, but (here in Brownsville) there’s just not the jobs.”

Both he and Clough said the children are appreciative of the meals, as well as the school supplies, clothing, shoes, transportation and other assistance the Homeless Project provides.

Park quoted something Mother Theresa said about serving those in need: “I can do things you cannot do. You can do things I cannot do. Together we can do great things,” she said.

Parks is among 15 people across Texas who will receive the Hero for Children award at the State Board of Education’s Sept. 11 meeting. Clough and BISD Superintendent Esperanza Zendejas will accompany him to Austin for the presentation.