CyHope: Changing the Lives of Children
By: Sherri Gragg - En Español
While on sabbatical in 2010, the Rev. Dr. Godfrey Hubert, long-time pastor of The Foundry UMC, came across a question that changed the course of his church’s future- “If your church ceased to exist tomorrow, would your community miss you?” (McNeal, Reggie. The Present Future. (2003). John Wiley and Sons, San Francisco, California.)
Hubert knew his 5,000-member congregation would miss The Foundry, but he wasn’t at all sure the community would. It was a disconcerting notion that echoed the questions that had already been nagging at Hubert’s heart- Was the church really fulfilling the call of Christ? Was it building the Kingdom of God, or its own kingdom? Were they “going into all the world” as Christ commanded, or simply ministering to those who entered their doors?
Godfrey returned from his sabbatical determined to do things differently. Recently, we sat down with him to hear how The Foundry’s willingness to honestly face their ministry’s strengths and weaknesses led them to begin CyHope, an independent 5013c dedicated to reaching at-risk children in local schools.
Q: When you returned from sabbatical with the conviction that The Foundry had to change the way it did ministry, where did you begin?
A: Our first order of business was to get to know our community. We found that we are known for our school district. It is the largest suburban school district in the country, and although we are in an affluent community, there is also a lot of need. We discovered that half of our 116,000 students are classified as “at risk.” Half of them are on free lunch which means their family of four makes less than $40,000 per year. Those are the kids who are the most likely to drop out of school.
We decided to make the schools our mission. At the time, our church had 20 foreign missions and as many local missions. We were sprinkling influence so widely that we were not having an impact anywhere. We reduced our missions to three or four, adopted two elementary schools, and began to pour our energy and resources into them.
Q: Eventually, you created a non-profit to do the work in local schools. Why form a separate organization?
A: We realized a church by itself is not able to motivate a community. Sadly, businesses are not as likely to contribute to church work as they once were. It seems they have lost faith that the church will really do the work Jesus called us to do. We realized that if we launched a stand-alone mission, it would better be able to bring together all of the resources in the community and focus them behind one common goal. At the time, our church was in a capital campaign to build a second campus. We dedicated the first million raised to give CyHope traction.
Q: Today, CyHope has a wide range of programs to improve the lives of local children including music programs, sports, camps, and scholarships. Tell me about one of the organization’s first initiatives.
A: CyHope’s second program was a backpack feeding program. Originally, we expected to feed approximately 1,500 to 1,600 kids on the weekends by filling backpacks with non-perishable food items. We were very careful to place the food in generic black backpacks to protect the privacy of the students receiving the donations. One day a school counselor called me with a remarkable story. She had a 5th grade boy who had simply given up. His attitude was horrible. One day it occurred to her that he might be hungry. She called him to her office, told him about CyHope’s feeding program and gave him paperwork to take home. ‘What is this?’ he asked. ‘Why does anyone want to help me. No one has ever helped me before.’ She encouraged him to take the papers home anyway. He returned the next day and handed her the complete paperwork. ‘I still don’t think anyone is going to help me,’ he said.
The next Friday morning, she told him to go to the library and find the backpack with the number two. When he walked into the library and saw the backpacks lined up, a huge smile lit his face. The next Monday morning, he arrived at school wearing a white t-shirt. He had taken a marker and written a huge number two on both the front and back. His attitude has improved and he is participating in class. His life was changed because someone cared.