When the school year ends, many students and teachers look forward to taking time off to go on vacation or just relax.
Parents of school-age children, especially those who struggle with finances, face the challenge of finding — and paying for — safe childcare while they work. Many United Methodist churches offer summer programs to ease working parents' minds and enrich the lives of children from kindergarten to high school.
In 1966, Nina Hale and Harriet Holloway, members of First-Centenary United Methodist Church in Chattanooga, Tenn., knocked on doors in their community to invite children to participate in summer programs. Today, Mary Grey Moses makes sure the summer programs at First-Centenary cater to all children, especially those from financially strapped families.
In addition to providing an after-school program for 83 children during the school year, in June and July, First-Centenary offers an all-day summer enrichment program Monday through Friday. Many church and community volunteers, including high school and college students and retirees, teach, cook, prepare art projects and supervise sports events.
Many of the more than 60 participants are from Sudan, Mexico, Liberia, Sierra Leone and other countries. They start the day with breakfast and then break into age-appropriate groups to focus on reading and math. They also read books on the summer reading lists from their schools. Dental hygienists clean the children's teeth.
"Every Friday," Moses says, "we go to the state park, and the kids can canoe, hike, fish, swim and play sports. We also have dance programs and ... someone who teaches them to sew." Moses said they collaborate with many community groups to enhance and sustain the programs.
She is grateful for the generous contributions of many First-Centenary members so many of the children can go to Camp Lookout, a United Methodist summer camp in Georgia. "This is a highlight for many kids as this is the only chance for them to see nature [and] horses and gaze at the stars," she said. Last year, 58 children went to camp.
Students work together and with tutors as they enhance their learning in reading, math and other subjects at Grace United Methodist Church's UZone in Paynesville, Minn.
COURTESY MARY JANE KANE
First-Centenary's proudest moment is seeing children improve and succeed. "Every child went up one reading level," she said. "If the children are reading on grade level by third grade, they have the same chance of graduating high school as anyone else." The program operates on a sliding fee. Some parents can only afford a couple of dollars a week, and if they cannot afford that, the program is free for their children.
'Kids love us, and we love them'
Darlene Runaldue, director of program and adult ministries at Grace United Methodist Church in Manassas, Va., was moved to act when now retired Bishop Joe Pennel urged clergy and laity to look in their neighborhoods and help those who are hurting.
In September 2012, Runaldue started an after-school tutoring program for the Georgetown South community across the street from Grace. It draws 45 to 50 students every Tuesday and Thursday night. Runaldue said that out of the 4,000 residents in the Georgetown community, 2,000 are children. Many of the parents do not speak English fluently and cannot help their children with homework.
In 2013, Grace formed a new partnership with Georgetown South to provide summer camps for Grace children and the community. During one week in June this year, Grace also offered a free math and reading camp for children of all ages. Youngsters honed their math and science skills and participated in a soccer camp during the same week. More than 100 children took advantage of the soccer camp last year. Throughout the summer, principals from area schools read books to the children.
The community also has a garden where children learn to grow vegetables for their families to enjoy. "Parents love it," said Runaldue. "The kids love us, and we love them. We are in a relationship with one another." She believes that building relationships is important in the community as everyone learns from one another.
A two-story house is home to Uzone, the summor enrichment program of Grace United Methodist Church in Paynesville, Minn. It serves third graders through rising seniors.
COURTESY MARY JANE KANE
A different kind of learning community sits on two acres of land where a two-story house built in the 1900s and owned by Grace United Methodist Church in Paynesville, Minn., becomes Uzone, a summer tutoring center for children in grades 3-12. Many committed volunteers help the children reach their highest academic potential by drilling them in reading, math and other subjects. The church also provides a basketball court, an area where the youngsters can play volleyball and a place to visit at picnic tables. Mary Jane Kane, director of youth and family ministries at Grace, said the free program began in 2007. Uzone also offers an after-school tutoring program during the school year.
Young adults minister to children and youth and connect churches to communities through Project Transformation, a United Methodist-related nonprofit organization serving communities in three annual conferences: North Texas, Oklahoma and Tennessee.
Project Transformation began in Dallas in 1998, sketched out on a napkin by two former leaders in the North Texas Conference, the Rev. Leighton K. Farrell, then superintendent of the Dallas South District, and Sarah Wilke, an urban strategist who is now publisher of The Upper Room. The two wanted to provide free summer programs for children who lived near urban United Methodist churches and connect interested college-age adults to these programs. Initially, 22 college students were engaged in the program.
Kristin Kelley, director of development for Project Transformation, said more than 100 college students currently help children, from grades one through 12 in literacy and holistic development.
Volunteers -- including elementary school principals from the area -- read to children participating in the Inner City Ministry of First-Centenary United Methodist Church in Chattanooga, Tenn.
COURTESY FIRST-CENTENARY UMC
The summer program engages the youngsters in various learning experiences. Elementary-age children read and do other enrichment activities. Middle-school children focus on team building, career exploration, life-skill development and physical activities and participate in a book club. High school students learn leadership, critical thinking and professional skills, explore colleges and careers, participate in writing workshops, study social justice issues and build life skills.
Since 1998, more than 6,800 children and youth have participated in Project Transformation. Each year, 1,200 volunteers from more than 200 churches and organizations serve more than 65,000 meals. In 16 years of operation, 15 participants as children and youth have become Project Transformation interns.
Kelley, a member of University Park United Methodist Church, Dallas, said more than 70 former interns have attended or graduated from seminary and 64 percent are serving in ministry. The Project Transformation staff affirms that the summer program inspires participants to attend college and, in turn, give back to their community as interns.
Christine Kumar is a freelance writer and administrator for the Baltimore Metropolitan District of the Baltimore-Washington Conference.