Churches across the Great Plains Conference are exploring new dimensions of partnerships as a result of the Public Education Partnership resolution adopted at Annual Conference in June. A late spring survey indicated that more than 10 percent of churches were already engaged in work with a nearby public school and that others were considering such partnerships and just didn’t know how to move forward. Many more churches are now pursuing partnerships after receiving resources at one of the stops on the Great Big Hairy Audacious Public Education Caravan. Here are some things they have learned:
Ask what the school needs and listen deeply to the response. One western Kansas church reported that their leaders visited with school administrators the week after the Garden City event. “They were surprised and pleased that we asked what they needed,” said a member of the church. It is best not to assume that you already know what is needed. A Wichita area school principal recently remarked that, while he appreciated the donations of school supplies, the school actually receives more supplies than it can use.
Start small and grow the partnership. Churches like Reading, Kansas and Hoxie, Kansas didn’t start out with the goal of providing school supplies to every child in school. They started with gathering a few spiral notebooks, pencils and crayons. Over time, the project became larger and more organized. Now every elementary student in those two communities has school supplies provided by the United Methodist Church.
Look for a niche your church can fill. A member of the Elm Creek, Nebraska congregation was concerned about teenage drivers who were driving without the benefit of driver’s education. The cost was prohibitive for many families in the community. Now the church raises funds and provides scholarships for driver’s education.
Find people with a passion for the ministry who can champion the partnership. Longstanding partnerships like the ones between Lenexa UMC and Sunflower Elementary or Topeka First and State Street Elementary have been driven by the vision and commitment of volunteers like Bernie McNichols (Lenexa) and Dorothy Illiff (Topeka First). Their enthusiasm is contagious, and they take the time to build ongoing relationships with the school.
Don’t overlook middle and high school students. It’s easy to love a five-year-old. Seventh and eighth graders and older teens tend to get overlooked, yet lives are changed by programs like the Teen Center, sponsored by St. Luke UMC in Omaha. The weekly lunch provided to high school students by Cimarron UMC and their ecumenical partners nurtures both body and soul.