Knowledge is Power: Abundant Life UMC Lufkin
By: Sherri Gragg
In 2014, Abundant Life UMC Lufkin targeted literacy to make a difference in the lives of children. Four years later, they have fine-tuned their approach.
Four years ago, Abundant Life UMC began to dream. They dreamed of how they might get outside of their own walls to impact their community for Christ. They took stock of their resources, prayed and listened for God’s voice. And when He spoke, He led them to the same vision He would later sow Conference-wide through Bishop Scott Jones’ “We Love All God’s Children” initiative.
The hope of changing children’s lives through literacy.
How Can We Help?
In 2014, Abundant Life UMC approached local educators with a simple question- “How can we help?” Over and again, principals and teachers advised them to work with children to improve literacy and develop healthy homework habits while they were still young. Abundant Life founded the Helping Young People Excel (HYPE) afterschool program. Twice each week, volunteers pick up 20 children from school and bring them back to the church where the sanctuary has been transformed into a classroom. The children receive a nutritious snack, provided through a partnership with the local food bank, and then work with dedicated volunteers to improve their reading skills. Later in the evening, the church feeds them dinner and allows them to play outside before taking each of them home.
“These kids go home to empty houses afterschool because their parents are working multiple jobs,” said the Rev. David Briggs, pastor of Abundant Life. “They need the church to come alongside them and be the hands and feet of Jesus to help them be all they can be.”
Learning to Love Reading
In the early days of the program, volunteers from HYPE worked through reading packets with the children, which were provided by the local school. The children hated the packets and volunteers struggled to get them to complete them. The volunteers took a step back and sought out advice from educators and the staff of the local library and learned that the packets were part of an already flawed system in which teachers felt restricted to teach toward standardized test success. “It occurred to us,” Briggs said, “that we weren’t bound by that so why push the packets on kids?”
Today HYPE focuses on creating a learning environment that fosters a love of reading in children. They threw out the dreaded packets and filled their space with a wide variety of fun reading materials. “It was the best decision we ever made,” Briggs said, “Now we have kids fighting over books.”
Principal, Pastor, Parent
HYPE is founded on the philosophy that there are three vital components to every child’s success- School, Family, Church. They believe that if these three forces work together, each child, no matter his or her struggle, can find academic success. Just as HYPE volunteers partner with local schools to identify children’s needs and how best to help them, they also actively seek to include parents in their children’s education. Twice each year, families are invited to the HYPE banquet in which they share a meal with the volunteers and hear about their child’s progress. Volunteers stay in continued contact with parents throughout the year by phone, email, and direct mail. HYPE is, and always has been free of charge. The only requirement from parents is that they are required to answer the phone when HYPE calls.
Briggs is hard at work ensuring HYPE outlives his ministry at Abundant Life. He has secured 501c3 status to make the program eligible for essential funding. As he looks toward the future, he hopes to build on the church property so that the program will have a designated space it no longer has to share with the church. He continues to foster valuable partnerships within the community as well, like the one HYPE enjoys with Kurth Memorial Library.
Briggs is confident HYPE will continue to minister to children for many generations to come.
“I know for a fact that I wouldn’t be the pastor of such a great church if not for my education,” Briggs said. “Dr. Martin Luther King said education is the great equalizer. When our eyes are opened to how the world works, there is opportunity. Knowledge is power.”