Bishop Announces Seven Innovative Methodist Children’s Centers
By Peyton Lindsay
The reason behind “We Love All God’s Children” is all in the name – it’s a call to help the youngest minds and bodies grow and develop in a nurturing, Christ-centered environment. At this year’s Annual Conference, Bishop Scott Jones gave an update on the initiative and shed light on plans for the future.
Jones said that each church in the conference is asked what is currently being done to reach children and how that can be enhanced.
“It’s about health, literacy and discipleship.”
Already, “We Love All God’s Children” has started to take shape across the Texas Conference. For example, Karnack UMC is providing food to families in Karnack ISD, where 100 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunches.
Jones also pointed to Blue Ridge UMC, which offers a “Freedom School,” or summer program to build literacy. Similar programs will be added at McCabe-Roberts, Beaumont, Hope UMC in Pearland, and Jones Memorial in Houston.
In addition, Jones highlighted Longview’s Asbury House, which celebrates its 50th year in ministry to the underserved and unchurched in the area.
“We Love All God’s Children” also includes building partnerships with existing programs, including the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, Loving Houston and Kompan Playgrounds, which recently honored the Texas Annual Conference with its Evergreen Grant.
Now, “We Love All God’s Children” is moving into a new chapter – the opening of innovative Methodist Children’s Centers that promote essential early education, health and discipleship.
Jones announced that centers will be added to the United Methodist Children’s Center, Kirbyville, St. Mary’s, Bear Creek Crossroads, Jones Memorial-Crestmont and Atlanta First UMC.
“In the years to come, there will be more,” Jones said.
He added that the centers will also provide other churches with an opportunity to see excellence in action.
The Rev. Jill Daniel is helping build this remarkable program from the ground up. She explained that it all began with another well-known Methodist institution – Houston Methodist Hospital. D
While visiting Houston a couple of years ago, Jones was impressed with all of the strides the hospital made over the years.
“He drove around and saw Houston Methodist everywhere,” Daniel explained. “He said that presence was a sign that some people really stepped up in the past. It’s a living legacy to their commitment to fill a gap in service. Then, he began to wonder, what could be the legacy of this generation?”
A cause soon presented itself soon enough to Jones.
“He was talking to people and continued to hear about a problem with children and literacy,” Daniel said.
Then the Bishop spoke to Dr. Stephen Klineberg from Rice’s Kinder Institute. “Dr. Klineberg told him that if you really want to change the face of Texas in the long-term, you have to find a way to get children reading on grade level by third grade,” Daniel said.
Literacy had so much power – from preventing addiction to ending the school-to-prison pipeline. “Early childhood education is key,” Daniel said. “You can’t start in third grade. You have to start early on.”
In the first couple of years of life, most of the synaptic development of the brain takes place, she added.
“If you’re living in poverty, you don’t have the stimulation that you need – and you may never catch up,” Daniel said.
When she came on staff in July, talks were already underway about how the Methodist church could make a major impact.
The proposed program, serving children from birth through age 11, would focus on the underserved and un-churched, Daniel explained. Education would be fullday, for the entire year.
Daniel’s background in education and childcare made joining in this effort for We Love All God Children centers her dream job.
“I could take everything I ever learned in my professional life and do it on an even larger scale,” she said.
Last March, she got a call and realized her dreams could come true. She signed on for the opportunity and went straight to work.
For this first year, “We Love All God’s Children” will open seven centers. Some will be expanded programs that already exist, while others are completely new.
Each center will be located in an area of great need, Daniel explained. “All of these places have been designated to be childcare deserts,” she said.
“Our goal is to change the trajectory of lives of children,” Daniel said. “We’re trying to break the cycle of poverty and hopelessness. This will make a huge difference. It will change lives forever.”
In addition to building playgrounds and laying the infrastructure for educating children, the church is partnering with Houston Methodist to provide community health care at each center.
“We want to light as many fires as we can,” she said. “This will be a game-changer for children and their families, which will in turn be a game-changer in our community, which will be, in turn, a game-changer for our state and country.”
Daniel can’t wait to watch “We Love All God’s Children” lift-off.
“Every teacher has a story about one kid whose life was changed in the classroom,” she said. “We have the ability now, through the power of the Holy Spirit and the foresight of our Bishop, to not just have one or two miracle stories. We have the ability to have a state full of miracles, and I’m so excited about that.”