The families in your city will soon be in full-blown, back-to-school mode. This offers an incredible opportunity to reach out to your community. Many congregations sponsor drives for supplies and clothes to outfit returning students. Find stories, resources and videos that show school spirit at UMC.org/schools. And here are several additional possibilities.
Collaborate for Long-term Impact and Lasting Relationships
"For us, it's about establishing a partnership," said the Rev. Jim Kinder, a pastor at Christ United Methodist Church, Mobile, Ala. His church began by sitting down with the principal at an under-resourced school. What was the agenda for that meeting?
"We went in asking what they needed," Kinder said. "That was it. No specific idea, just the passion to partner with them in caring for the kids at their school." For them, it has meant everything from trimming bushes to spending a week reading to children in the library.
Partnerships allow churches to go beyond meeting a single need. As volunteers develop relationships with the staff and the children, the outreach goes far beyond buying boxes of crayons.
Members at First United Methodist Church in Grand Junction, Colorado started serving free meals to the students at the alternative high school nearby because the school has no cafeteria, only a vending machine. Volunteers provide more than a hot lunch every Friday. "They can come and get a warm meal and they can expect friendly faces."
School budgets are often too slim to buy the fun incentives that encourage students to grow academically and avoid discipline issues. Main Street United Methodist Church in Hattiesburg, Miss., has turned their volunteers into pizza missionaries once a quarter. They collaborate with a local inner-city elementary school to sponsor quarterly pizza parties for exemplary students.
Ministering to the Teachers
Teachers have far more opportunities to affect the lives of the children in your community than do most pastors. However, in all of the fundraising, supply drives and pizza parties, teachers are often forgotten. After the school year begins, why not cater a nice come-and-go lunch for teachers to enjoy during their planning period or order a giant carafe of gourmet coffee to place in the workroom before school starts? Minister to these ministers. Show them your church knows how much they mean.
Fresh Vegetables for All
"It was the vision of a church member," said the Rev. Vona Wilson, a pastor at First United Methodist Church, Franklin, Tenn., to grow fruits and vegetables in unused parts of their property. They began with a small crop of pumpkins and distributed more than 20,000 pounds of fresh produce last year. Learn how to draw more than bees with a community garden.
A member who is a school teacher encouraged the Giving Garden Ministry to connect with the local school system, which now gives healthy, tasty produce to families in need.
Inner-city children are rarely exposed to rural life. Offer them a healthy "taste" of country living by teaching them to grow their own vegetables. Imagine their pride in taking home food they've grown. It's also a practical way to help limited income families eat healthily.
Schools constantly try to come up with ways to increase open-house attendance. Seminars on topics such as navigating social media with children, bullying or parenting in the digital age can be perfect incentives to draw parents to a school event. Ask people in your congregation what they might be willing to lead.
Just say "no" to bullying
For some children, the beginning of the school year is "bullying season." Your church can help prevent the current epidemic of children picking on other children. Help children learn to protect themselves by providing mentors they can talk to when things get tough. Offer them tools for coping with unkind schoolmates and be sure they know that your church is a bully-free zone.
United Methodist Ann Brownell's daughter Amanda attempted suicide after harassing text messages. Now Ann has dedicated herself to the Amanda Network, a ministry of Cambrian Park United Methodist Church in partnership with PACT (People Acting in Community Together). The network's mission is simple: "People of faith and people of conscience protecting kids and teens against bullying, especially cyber-bullying."
The main message of all of these ideas is "be creative." Ask parents and teachers what they need — and what your church might offer. Now is the perfect time as school leaders plan and prepare for the coming school year.