Waterford: Central’s partnership with a local elementary school has been a blessing for many.
REV. KATHY PITTENGER
Waterford: Central United Methodist Church
The bookcases in my children’s bedrooms and playroom are overflowing with books. From board books to chapter books, from silly books to non-fiction, my children have hundreds of books to choose from. Reading has always been an important part of my life. It is something that my husband and I have made a priority in the lives of our children since they were very young. But having a home library is not a given for many families, especially those facing poverty.
In 2011, several members of the Waterford: Central United Methodist Church learned about a local elementary school, Sandburg, with a significant number of children from economically disadvantaged homes. One member reached out and found a way to get involved and so began the relationship between the church, community and school through the Blessings in a Backpack program. Over 100 children in the school were provided easy to prepare food for the weekends.
At the same time, we started volunteering in classrooms by supporting and encouraging literacy. When Sandburg closed in 2014, CUMC began a new partnership with Riverside Elementary School, also in the Waterford School District. We continued the Blessings in a Backpack program and classroom volunteers at Riverside. CUMC volunteers worked at a Maker Faire during the school’s Meet and Greet to provide fun activities for families.
After a conversation with the principal, Mrs. Grambush, we learned that the school had not had a summer book exchange for students to swap out the “just-right” books they receive before the end of school with new ones. The members of CUMC stepped up and provided a summer Ice Cream Social and Book Exchange. Students and their families came to the school for ice cream, games, activities, and to exchange their summer books for new ones. The people at CUMC also held a book drive and donated over 1,000 books for children and adults to take for free. The Waterford Public Library hosted a table and several other local organizations participated.
“These opportunities represent what is on the cusp of education, and without the support of our Central United Methodist Church volunteers, it would not be possible.” ~ Principal Suzanne Grambush
Suzanne Grambush, principal of Riverside Elementary School, says of this relationship: “The partnership we have grown with Central United Methodist Church provides Riverside students with a variety of opportunities and resources that enrich and extend students’ elementary experience. We are so proud of what has become our Annual Maker Faire in conjunction with Meet & Greet. Our volunteer family from Central facilitates a festival of invention, creativity, and resourcefulness. These opportunities represent what is on the cusp of education, and without the support of our CUMC volunteers, it would not be possible. This year, our CUMC volunteers planned and organized a mid-summer book exchange and ice cream social. Students were excited to reconnect with friends and staff, and we were able to refresh children’s supply of just right books. Additionally, through the generous commitment of CUMC volunteer time, talent, and resources, each week our neediest families receive a backpack filled with food. The impact of the good work of Central United Methodist Church parishioners is beyond measure, and we are fortunate to benefit from their gracious support.”
The partnership between Riverside and Central UMC has fostered trust and relationship between the school and church. The church has supported the staff of the school with small tokens of appreciation and a staff breakfast. The school has appreciated those who volunteer with the Blessings in a Backpack program and classroom volunteers. The Ice Cream Social went so well last year that we have been asked to do it again this summer.
Our church has found joy in the relationships being built. One of my favorite stories about relationship building was last summer when a new child came to VBS. It was his first time in the church. But when he saw me and another VBS volunteer that he knew from the school, he immediately calmed down because he knew us and trusted us.
Engaging with a local elementary school has provided the school with volunteers and resources to support the children and staff. The partnership has provided the church with a connection into the community to build relationships and share the love of Jesus Christ.
If you would like to learn more about how you can partner with a local school, you may contact another church who is doing this ministry or you may contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Two great resources are the Lewis Center for Church Leadership and The Mission-Minded Guide to Church and School Partnerships by Jake McGlothin.
~Rev. Kathy Pittenger is the Pastor of Lifelong Faith Formation at Waterford: Central United Methodist Church.