Magnolia UMC Take School Partnerships to the Next Level

Date Posted: 3/9/2017

Members of Magnolia UMC have created the Homework Helpers program to connect even more adults and students in the neighboring community.
When it comes to “Investing in the Young” the members of Magnolia UMC (MUMC) are going “all in.” The church has been committed to supporting the local elementary schools in Magnolia with school supplies and tissues for many years. Their summer Mission Monday program is a shoe drive for the elementary school and members have also been volunteering in the local elementary schools for several years as tutors. “We started small by listening to the children read during the school day, but it has since grown into a larger program onsite at the church in the sanctuary,” shares Maggie Thompson, MUMC Director of Christian Education.  “On Tuesday afternoons, we usually have more than 15 adult volunteers and a growing number of children for a new program called Homework Helpers that offers more than just help with homework.” Elementary-aged children, kindergarten through 5th grade, come for help with their homework, but also for help with their reading and tutoring in other areas such as math and science.
The idea for Homework Helpers came alive when Brent Frenchak, SPR chair and now Homework Helper Coordinator, came by the church office after a morning of tutoring at Nichols Sawmill Elementary School. Brent was looking for ideas to help more children and to connect more adults to the existing tutoring program. There were a variety of reoccurring reasons people repeatedly declined invitations to tutor at the elementary school, which prompted Administrative Assistant Susan Rhodes to suggest having it at the church. Church leaders felt it was worth a try, considering church members might be more inclined to come to the church to volunteer once a week rather than alone in the school.
Leaders looked at the church calendar and set a goal to begin on February 7. Before launching, Brent approached each of the four elementary school principals to tell them about the upcoming tutoring program, get their feedback, and encourage them to share information about the program with their students and their families. Brent also agreed to seek out and organize volunteers for Homework Helpers. Meanwhile, Maggie was helping with the advertising, registration process, and assisting with volunteer training, which included Safe Sanctuary training and background checks on each of the volunteers.
According to Maggie, each of the four principals enthusiastically supported Homework Helpers and sent information home with students, including those with specific needs that could be helped through this program.
Principal Carrie J. Quinn shares, “Nichols Sawmill Elementary is extremely blessed to have volunteers from the Magnolia United Methodist Church spend quality time with the elementary students both at school and at a newly established tutoring program called Homework Helpers. Homework Helpers was started by volunteers at the UMC Magnolia with one purpose in mind:  to provide a safe environment for parents to bring their elementary students who might need help with their homework. Because of some terrific volunteers with a heart for helping, our students are getting help and support.”
Many faithful adult volunteers have joyfully stepped up to make this program happen each week. On Sunday, January 15, Brent announced the new program and called for volunteers. “By the end of worship,” reports Maggie, “we had 15 adults commit to volunteering for this new tutoring program. And, our outdoor sign brought two retired teachers in contact with the church to offer their assistance, including a former reading specialist.”
Armed with donated school supplies, books and prayer, the Homework Helpers program began in February.  The volunteers welcomed five children that first week, seven children the next week, nine the week after, and then 11. “It’s so wonderful to watch this program grow each week. It’s a privilege to get to work with each of these children and their families and to get to know them a little more each week,” adds Maggie.
Brent Frenchak believes “this new program brings a smile to our Lord as every Tuesday from 4-5:30 our sanctuary is converted to a learning/mentoring center. Children in grades kindergarten-5th grade come to work with a ‘church buddy’ on homework or just improve on their reading or math skills, while parents or guardians are free to stay or leave.” Students and buddies work on homework, reading, or whatever assistance is needed that day for 30 minutes before stopping to take a break. Participating in a large group game helps them get their wiggles out. Adds Brent, “We’ve had them spell out letters as a group while using only their bodies and we’ve played other good old fashioned games.”  To facilitate relationships, volunteers usually sit on the floor with students during snack time and ask them questions.
The adult volunteers are encouraged to work with the same children each week to offer consistency and build a relationship with that child. Notes Maggie, “We keep tutoring logs for each child to know what they have been working on and to see what progress they are making.” “I’ve never taught children before but thought I could do this and it would be a good thing to do for the community,” shares Holly Martin, Homework Helpers volunteer. “If I could just help one child, then that would be wonderful.”
“I enjoy working with the children because I do believe it is a way that our church can reach out to those who need help in our community,” Dr. Bruce Packard, Administrative Council Chair, and Homework Helper volunteer. “The Homework Helpers program is allowing our congregation to live into our mission statement of Worshipping God. Serving Community. We are guided by the proverb ‘Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.’ There’s no question in my mind that offering a program such as this is teaching these young people how to succeed in life overall.”
“The blessings the kids and parents receive is easily equaled by the joy our volunteers experience,” he adds. “Homework Helpers is like hitting a grand slam or winning the Triple Crown. The fellowship among the tutors and volunteers is helping us to become a tight-knit group. This new program offers us the opportunity and step up and utilize our gifts to honor God. Also, volunteering keeps us young at heart—we get to go back to elementary school! We hope word will get out to other children or parents that can benefit from Homework Helpers. More volunteers (servants) are always welcome as this program continues to grow.” Contact Brent Frenchak at 832-275-8240 for more information.