New Fellowship Hall Becomes Tutoring Center
No money? No problem. When First UMC, Madisonville discussed how to meet a community need, they created a special after-school program and God-inspired donations and volunteers followed.
A new playground, fellowship hall and a visioning workshop created the perfect mix to inspire the After School Kids (ASK) program that First UMC, Madisonville launched last fall. “As we discussed the long term plan for our church and new ideas for community involvement, my wife Ola and I shared an idea inspired by our oldest daughter – and the rest is history,” says Madisonville member David Stiver. “In years past, my daughter had shared stories of helping children in Chicago housing projects that had little chance in life without outside help. She worked with other volunteers to help feed and tutor these children, and give them hope for something better.” As other members began to see the potential for this type of ministry, they realized FUMC”s new facility upgrades provided two of the ideal ingredients for a similar outreach to area children. Lay and staff leaders began brainstorming and identifying current and former teachers within their congregation who could help provide this unique and much needed support.
According to David, one of the next steps involved a lengthy discussion with school personnel to select at-risk students who would most likely benefit the most from additional one-on-one help. The school identified 32 students in K-3rd grade that could be bussed over each Tuesday to First UMC’s Wesley Hall. “Oh we’ve had plenty of challenges,” he admits, “but Methodist volunteers are an amazing group of people.” Rallying and tracking about 25 volunteers, including retired teachers in the community and high school student helpers was time consuming, as was the necessary permission documentation process and booking guest speakers. “Dealing with 32 sets of parents, grandparents, aunts and big sisters was interesting-- and funding will always be a challenge,” he adds. “but this was and is a worthwhile project, so we all persevered.”
After snacks (provided by a reliable group of ladies) each Tuesday, the children met for a devotional, with several outstanding messages from guest speakers, including the school principals, superintendent, coaches, football players, the county sheriff and police chief, the warden at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Ferguson Unit, a local dentist, and FUMC’s pastor and youth director.
Notes David, “The Warden told of the sad consequences of making bad decisions and the sheriff and police chief stressed that they were the children's friends, not someone to be afraid of. The pastor told the real stories of Christmas and Easter with illustrations from church literature and we closed with a prayer and then spent 45 minutes to an hour working on homework and reading and math facts, and trying to address specific needs when we could see them.” The order of the day was important, he adds. “We tried to feed their bodies, feed their souls, and then work with their brains -- all before we went outside to play.”
The primary costs of the program were transportation from the school to the church at about $2000 for the year, plus snacks and school supplies.
Although the church budget is strained, funds were raised for this new program via a gala dinner and auction which funded half of the first-year costs. The rest of the budget was provided by designated giving.
Volunteer Sandra Standley sees the ASK program as an opportunity to continue using her teaching certificate from Sam Houston State University. “I think this first year has been wonderful for the kids. We greet them at the door and they all seem to be so happy to be there.” Adds David,“This is a great opportunity to share God's love. These children sometimes don't remember to say thanks, they are sometimes not on their best behavior, but they need help, so we help them. It is very humbling to watch all these volunteers give their time and talents and patience while working with these children. The school personnel were very helpful and fully endorsed the program and have given us good feedback.”
Jesus loves the little children, as do the members of First UMC Madisonville.