Houston church committed to community education

Date Posted: 3/24/2022

 
By Lindsay Peyton
 
It’s a match made in heaven – a new childcare center opening in one of the oldest churches in Houston. Trinity Preparatory Academy is launching at Trinity UMC, 2600 Holman Street. Already, 45 children have signed up, 40 percent of the program’s capacity. By creating the school, Senior Pastor Rev. Ed Jones explained, the congregation is paving the way for student success and discipleship in the community.
 
Trinity UMC has a rich, 157-year history, and much of which is closely tied with education. In fact, the church has produced numerous teachers and even a college president. “It’s in our DNA,” Jones said.
 
The congregation is also about a five-minute walk from Blackshear Elementary, and the two have been long-term partners. “We have mentors at the school,” Jones said. “We are like a right-arm to the school, whatever they need.”
 
When principal Alicia Lewis approached him about helping equip parents, who could then guide their children, the pastor had an ah-ha moment. “I realized that I did not have one parent from the school at our church,” Jones said.
 
That was a gap the pastor wanted to repair. In the past, he was a church planter, and a preschool was his former congregation’s first site. On Sundays, when the campus was closed, he started having services.
 
“As that ministry grew, we attracted families from the school,” Jones recalled. “We also hired people from the school for our children’s ministry.”
 
Child care centers are an important part of the community, he said. “If we partner, we can really make an impact,” he added.
 
During the pandemic, Jones made a shift to reach out to parents in the neighborhood more. When COVID forced Trinity to temporarily close its doors, the church transformed into a “Sanctuary of Learning,” one of 16 UMCs that accommodated children, while parents were at work.
 
HISD provided a WiFi signal, making it possible for students to watch their teachers online from the safety of the church. Members volunteered to serve as tutors, provide meals and offer enrichment activities until the end of the school day.
 
Participating schools identified students who are in need of the service, which was offered five days a week, at no cost.

“We were able to provide that space,” Jones said. And he noticed that through the program, the church and its neighbors were drawing closer together. Parents were getting to know the congregation members. Eventually, some of those parents were also joining Bible studies and discipleship.
 
Children eventually returned to their regular classrooms, but Jones explained their Sunday school remained online. “We were doing Zoom,” he said. “And our Sunday school classrooms, no one was using.”
 
At the same time, the pandemic forced several childcare facilities around town out of business. It didn’t take long for Jones to make a connection. He explained, “We looked at that and asked, ‘What if we utilize this space for the children in our community?”
 
Jones began meeting weekly with Rev. Jill Daniel, who serves as director of the We Love All God’s Children initiative, an effort to empower churches in Texas to provide literacy and early childhood education opportunities in the community.
 
The two had already worked together to build the Sanctuary of Learning at Trinity. Jones said that Daniel’s passion for early childhood education is contagious.
 
She explained that statistics show children who cannot read at the appropriate level by third grade are 80 percent more likely to drop out. “It sets them up for failure in life. We know that fostering a love of learning at an early age is so important,” she said.
 
Daniel is convinced that Trinity can make a difference, starting simply with the church’s location. Nearby Blackshear Elementary’s student population is 100 percent economically disadvantaged.
 
The church is committed to helping those children find successful futures. Camilla Anderson has been hired as director of Trinity Preparatory.

Daniel helped guide the church through a lengthy process of retrofitting the 70-year old facility to meet child care center guidelines. Jones said it included getting occupancy permits, adding doors, modifying the electric system and constructing a new roof. “We just did everything we possibly could,” he said.
 
Now, Trinity Preparatory Academy is accepting applications. In mid-March, the church hosted a grand opening and spring break summer camp.
Daniel explained that the session had a dual purpose – to allow the congregation to test drive the program and to build awareness of the offering for families in the community.
 
The spring break camp included breakfast, chapel in the sanctuary, guest visitors, health courses and a sports-filled afternoon. “Trinity UMC came alive this week,” Daniel said. “It was alive with laughter, running feet and the joy of the Lord.”
 
What Jones found most heartwarming is that families from the Sanctuary of Learning program showed up during the spring break camp and have already expressed an interest in Trinity Preparatory Academy.
 
“Some of those same parents walked in and said, ‘We’re so grateful that you’ve opened your doors,’” the pastor said. “That just lets us know that we’re meeting a need.”
 
Principal Lewis even led a group of students during the spring break camp. “It takes everyone working hand-in-hand to make sure our scholars overcome obstacles,” she said in a television news broadcast.
 
April will mark the official opening of the school, timed to coincide with celebrating the Resurrection. “If we’re going to make an impact in the trajectory of families in our community, then we have to find a way to draw near and disciple them,” Jones said. “We were trying to crack a code, and I believe we’re at the beginning of the journey.”
 
He added, “We really believe that if we allow the love of Christ to guide us, we will be able to reach the community members who need us the most, even all those households that don’t think they need us. We know they will feel this love.”
 
Trinity has a history of “firsts,” Jones said. There have been first African-American doctors, businesses and schools that trace their beginnings to the church. “We believe in the future of our community,” he said. “We aim to create more firsts in the future.”
 
Jones has a dream of a girl becoming valedictorian at his high school, who thanks her teachers at all levels of her education, all the way to early childhood at Trinity Preparatory Academy. “My hope is to do everything we can to make that a reality,” he said.