Blueridge UMC to Host "Freedom School" this Summer
Members are bridging to the community by hosting a learning enrichment program for elementary children this summer.
For six weeks of summer, 30 underserved elementary students will enjoy affirmation and attention while sharpening their reading skills at Blueridge UMC near downtown Houston. “In partnership with HYPE Freedom School and support from The Moody Methodist Permanent Fund, we will host the national Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) Freedom School™ for the first time,” explains Rev. Romonica Wardley, “This will allow us to offer 30 students from Reynold’s Elementary the opportunity to avoid the summer learning loss, and thus joining with the school in their goal of increasing and improving reading skills of their students.” It is also likely that the Blueridge UMC youth will be involved in various ways with students who visit their church campus.
This special opportunity started with a Vibrant Church Initiative (VCI) prescription encouraging church leaders to meet with community leaders and learn more about specific needs within their immediate community. “The goal was to help us refine our vision by connecting the needs of the community with the gifts, passions and skills of the congregation,” she shares, “and those meetings eventually led us to partner with Reynold’s Elementary School where I now serve on the Shared Decision Making Committee with Houston Area Urban League, and HYPE.” Though these conversations happened separately with no real agenda on the part of the church – other than listening, they led to a golden opportunity to be a blessing and accomplish the conference-wide goal to Invest in the Young. “What seemed like silo conversations converged as aligned opportunities to serve students in our area, all because we listened to discern where our church was called to assist.”
The CDF Freedom School program will be geared to not only K-5th graders in the Sunnyside community, but also those students who were chronically absent and tardy due to lack of adequate transportation. “When this concern was discussed in a community leadership meeting,” adds Romonica, “I took it as a signal that Blueridge UMC should volunteer our van and drivers to pick up four elementary students and two middle school students for the remainder of May to make sure they got there. We desire to keep these students engaged as the school year comes to a close, so offering these extended opportunities align well with our vision to share the love of Jesus within our community and beyond.”
HYPE provides parents and their children with access to educational enrichment activities outside normal school hours -- specifically including children who need summer literacy opportunities the most, but can afford it the least. The Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools provide summer enrichment that helps children fall in love with reading, increase their self-esteem, and will ideally generate more positive attitudes toward learning.
HYPE will offer the program in June and July at Blueridge UMC and four other locations throughout the city.
Members are ready and enthusiastic. New member Carolyn Richardson, serving as the school liaison. “I tutor children from all types of backgrounds and see firsthand the difference between the educational level of children based on their family income community,” notes Carolyn. “Continuing to engage students during the summer is vital if we are to bridge that gap and that is exactly what we are working together to do this summer.”
Arlinda Turner, who works with Christian Education and Family Ministries at Blueridge says, “I am so excited, about the Freedom School being hosted at my church! We have an opportunity to meet new youngsters and share the love of Christ with them as they have fun learning in this program. What better way to bless and be blessed?”
Chanica Brown, who also works at the church with the family ministry says, “One aspect of BUMC hosting the Freedom School that is great is the potential to make the connection between meeting an educational need in the community, as well as making it more comfortable and inviting for participants and their families to explore their spirituality and relationships with God. Freedom School can potentially help bridge that gap for some families.” Adds Arlinda, "Summer is a time of growing in many ways through fun activities, new adventure, learning, meeting new people, rest and relaxation. I pray this Freedom School provides our bright, lively and inquisitive young neighbors all of these opportunities!"
Member Stephanie Wilkins adds, “We look forward to being in partnership with everyone and thank God for an opportunity to serve."
“We are truly blessed to launch the CDF Freedom School program at BUMC,” shares Brandi Brown, executive director of HYPE Freedom School, Inc. “This experience gives the families a community of believers who also believe in children so they can believe in themselves.”