“Lucecitas” shines bright for youngest kids at St. John the Baptist Parish, Perryopolis
By ELIZABETH SMITH
Julianna Mendez Baluch grew up attending many churches across the country as the daughter of a Navyman. As she married and started a family, Mendez Baluch joined St. John the Baptist Parish in Perryopolis—and quickly felt something was missing.
“At all of the Navy churches there was something for the younger families,” Mendez Baluch said. “Not having
a birth-through-age-5 program here was very lonely, as a mom. It was something I always expected for my kids, to make those friends and connections within the church that are so critical.”
This is how Lucecitas – a bilingual, early childhood program that means “little lights”—was born at St. John Parish. With the blessing of Father Rodolfo P. Mejia Jr., Mendez Baluch launched the program last year, which offers lessons and socialization in both Spanish and English for infants and young children, along with their parents.
Father Mejia said he immediately realized Lucecitas would offer vital programming to the St. John Parish community and “gave her the green light.”
“(Lucecitas) It is widening
human development with the idea that we should not be restricted to our very own language,” he said. “It also fills a need to better understand the faith, which was originally spoken in Greek, Arameic, Hebrew and then handed down to us in our modern language. So now, we bring the children to that: when the faith was spoken first.”
The inaugural session of Lucecitas included activities and lessons like songs, crafts, dancing, Bible stories tailored
to each age level, Spanish vocabulary and speech, and science experiments. Mendez Baluch, who is a homeschool teacher to her three children, said exposing children early to both Spanish and the Catholic faith is key.
“Learning a language at a young age
teaches children a different way of thinking,” she said. “The younger you learn, the better you learn. Even if there is a gap, children will understand (foreign language) better when they are in high school because they have heard those sounds and can better process it.”
She added that she chose to call the program “Lucecitas” because “we all need to shine a light in the world.”
“Making positive connections and memories in the church helps people, even if they are not Catholic,” Mendez Baluch explains. “If we shine that light, people see that we are doing good and will think ‘your God is good.’ Then, if families join the church or children get baptized, hopefully that starts here with them feeling like this is a safe, nice place.”
As Lucecitas returns this fall, Mendez Baluch has a goal to ultimately create preschool for ages 4-6 with a more structured Spanish curriculum; a homeschool class for children in first through fifth-grade, also with set curriculum; and, a playgroup
class for birth through 6 that allows parents to relax, talk and let their kids play.
Lucecitas is free and open to the entire community, which Mendez Baluch said is critical.
“Everyone should have access to preschool socialization and a bilingual program,” she said. “I don’t want cost to be a barrier for families who might need it but can’t afford it.”