By Jeanne Starmack
At the end of Matta Avenue, a small side street off Mahoning Avenue on the West Side, a familiar story is unfolding.
At the West Side Community Center, housed in a small church building, 45 children will gather over the next three days to tell that story — how Mary and Joseph became parents of Jesus, the central figure in Christianity whose birth is the reason for celebrating Christmas.
Rehearsals began Monday for kids who participate in Neighborhood Ministries’ after-school programs.
Of more than 300 who attend programs at the agency’s three centers — one on the West Side, one on the East Side and one in Campbell — 45 from kindergarten through sixth grade are practicing to perform the story of the miracle birth for parents Thursday.
On Monday, those with speaking parts were to begin rehearsing.
But even the younger ones were eager to show off what they’d learned so far about the message of the season.
Judah Leonard, 5, a McGuffey Elementary School kindergartner, rehearsed a song. “God made me,” he recited. “In my Bible book, it says, ‘God blessed me. God loves me.’”
He and his brother Jeremiah, 7, will be shepherds in the play.
Their grandmother Dottie Leonard, who works with kindergartners up to second-graders for the agency, said they’ve been practicing.
“It’s a lot of fun,” she said. “They do it every year.”
“It’s great to have a place like this for character- building,” she added.
Neighborhood Ministries, a subsidiary of American Baptist Churches, USA, has been in the area for 100 years, said Gerald Hamilton, who ran the rehearsal for the agency.
It is funded through American Baptist Churches and through grants, he said. It is one of 17 similar centers throughout the country.
Besides its after-school programs, it has clothing and food giveaways. Its area headquarters are at the Youngstown Metropolitan Housing Authority’s Kirwan Homes in Campbell.