Small Church Takes Bishop’s Challenge: Donates 776 Books to Local School
By Lindsay Peyton
Phelps UMC in Huntsville may be a small church – but members recently proved that the size of their hearts is what matters. The Rev.Aaron New, lay leader Allen Sapp and lifelong member Cindy Rohe recently gifted 700 books to the community, thanks to donations of church members. They hope their gift will inspire others to follow in their footsteps – and help send kids on a journey of learning and literacy.
Rohe and Sapp were both sitting together at the Annual Conference in 2018 when Bishop Scott Jones announced his “We Love All God’s Children” initiative.
“I was particularly struck by the presentation,” Sapp said. “Some of the statistics really grabbed me. It ignited a bit of thinking.”
Sapp learned that 61 percent of low-income families do not have books in their homes, a reality he found worrisome.
“Books were always part of my home life,” he said. “When I got back from conference, I felt a need to do something.”
Rohe agreed. As a teacher for 35 years, she knew from experience how important reading is to a child’s education and even life beyond school.
“We all understand literacy is the most important thing we could do for our kids,” she said. “This issue spoke to both of us.”
Sapp started brainstorming.
“Even though our little country church has a small congregation, there had to be a way we could contribute,” he said. “By providing books for kids to take home as their own, we could help establish an environment conducive to developing improved reading skills.”
Sapp spoke to his daughter Kimberly Machinski, a kindergarten teacher at Scott Johnson Elementary. “She mentioned that so many kids were coming into school, with no exposure to books and reading,” he recalled.
Sapp thought the church could adopt the school. He created a goal of providing three books for all of the 120 kindergarteners at Scott Johnson, which would be distributed throughout the year.
“We can’t help all the schools, but we could do one,” Rohe said. “We went before the church and asked for donations. Immediately, we got them.”
In fact, the congregation exceeded Sapp and Rohe’s expectations. Because the church joined with Scholastic Books through its Literacy Partnership Program, the congregation was able to purchase books in bulk and at discounted rates. In addition, the books were on grade level and many were in Spanish for bilingual students.
In August, Phelps gave teachers their first shipment, boxing the books up by classroom.
“We made it clear that these were books for children to take home so they could start their own library,” Sapp said. “They handed them out, and the kids were so excited to have them.”
The church repeated the process before Christmas and again at the end of the year. By the end of the semester, each student received four books, including one from the “Character Counts!” series.
In all, the church donated 776 books, including 110 that were bilingual.
To show their appreciation, teachers made a huge thank you card out of poster board, signed inside by the kindergarten students. There were also photos of children with their books.
“The smiles on the kids’ faces tells it all,” Sapp said.
Pastor New said he could not be more proud of Sapp and Rohe for organizing the program and of church members for stepping up to the challenge. He hopes to continue the book drive for years to come.
“The Texas Annual Conference did what it was designed to do – planted that seed in their hearts,” New said. “Those thank you cards made everyone’s hearts melt. It was priceless. To think that our little church made a difference with that school is wonderful.”
Rohe asks large churches to imagine what they can do, if even a small church can make a difference in so many lives. “I would tell anyone out there, that if they want to do this, it’s a worthwhile thing,” she said. “Let’s get those kids reading on grade level where they need to be.”