Moody, New Life Partnership Offers Education and Hope to Galveston Families
Moody UMC in Galveston has a long-held vision of ensuring every child on the island is equipped to learn. The church’s Moody Day School has worked toward that goal since it formed in the 1960s. When the program reached capacity, church staff reached outside its walls to another congregation to help lead the charge.
“It’s not about the denomination,” Rev. Dr. Jerry Neff, senior pastor at Moody, said. “It’s about the kids.”
He explained that the church’s day school has more than 50 years of experience in preparing students for academic achievement.
“When kids start learning prior to going to school, they have a much better chance of success,” he said. “We want to make sure there isn’t a child on this island who doesn’t have the opportunity to go to day school.”
When Moody found that there wasn’t enough room to accommodate the demand in its building, the church reached out to New Life Fellowship of Galveston and Pastor David Gomez, who has led the church for 29 years with his wife Josefina.
Gomez explained that he had served on the United Way board with Vivian Pinard, then executive director of Moody’s permanent Endowment Fund. They became long-time friends.
About five years ago, Pinard sent Gomez an email. “She said that she had a proposition for me,’ he recalled. “I didn’t know what it was.”
When they met, she explained that a recent study showed that the Hispanic population of Galveston was growing. At the same time, there were low income families in that demographic -- and children could enter school at a disadvantage.
“They weren’t ready socially or academically,” Gomez said.
Moody UMC hoped that New Life would bridge the gap. “They were looking for another church they could partner with, that could start a day school,” Gomez said.
He was intimidated by the notion – and busy with his own congregation. Still, he could not deny the timing. Josefina was a pre-kindergarten teacher, and she had just quit her job to start a master’s program.
“The timing was perfect,” Gomez said. “I told Vivian, ‘I think you’re talking to the wrong person. You need to talk to my wife.’”
They set up a meeting. “I was excited, but at the same time, I knew it would be a challenge,” Josefina said.
Still, the couple started filling out paperwork to start a day school in June 2014. “We also had to make some renovations and updates on the building,” Josefina said.
By September 2015, the school at New Life Fellowship was ready to open, and six children attended the first day.
“By the second day, we had 12, then 27,” Josefina said.
Before long, the church was working on a new building – that would accommodate more children. With the facility, they added five classrooms and two restrooms for students. While the school can now accommodate 90 children, enrollment is capped at 60.
Children from all backgrounds are welcome to attend. Currently, there are African-American, Latino, white and Indian children. They learn both English and Spanish throughout the day. “Most of them qualify as underserved, underprivileged,” Josefina said. “This makes a major difference.”
A grant from Moody allows New Life to give scholarships to most of the families, covering from 25 percent to 70 percent of the cost of childcare.
“These families would not be able to afford day care,” Josefina said. “Most lower income individuals look for family members to help them, and that’s not the same.”
The teachers at the day school are trained to provide quality care and instruction, she explained.
The new building, Gomez added, totals about 15,000-square feet. The church uses it for worship on Tuesday and Sunday. “The day school uses it about 90 percent of the time,” he said.
Parents are grateful for this option, Josefina said. “They tell us that they go to work with peace of mind,” she said. “Parents notice the language skills, the way their kids communicate.”
Gomez added that almost all of the children come from the community – not from the church membership. Some of their parents joined after they discovered the daycare.
“Without the help of Moody, it would be impossible for us to do this,” Josefina said. “It would have been a lot of financial risk for us.”
After the past five years of operation, New Life Fellowship of Galveston’s day school is going strong. Students are nourished academically – and even with breakfast and lunch each day. “We see the impact in the lives of the children,” Gomez said.
“We want to help them grow, not only physically and cognitively, but also spiritually,” Josefina added. “We want to provide the best care in a bilingual, Christian environment.”
Rev. Neff said that students learn more than their numbers and letters at day care. They benefit from the social interaction.
“We’ve committed our endowment fund to enrich the lives of children,” he said. “It allows us to support groups that are trying to make their lives better, regardless of affiliation. We’re committed to helping children. Period.”
In the past few years, the church’s Permanent Endowment Fund has awarded $2 million to New Life for its early education program.
“They can reach a part of the population we can’t,” Neff added. “Our children are our future. We have to invest in them.”
Eventually, he said that the day school at New Life Fellowship will be able to run independently without Moody’s help.
“We’d love to see, down the road, that there’s this amazing day care, that we had a small part in opening,” he said.
Neff hopes other churches are inspired to use their own resources – whether financial or volunteer hours to strengthen their community – even if that includes partnering with another denomination.
“Don’t get stuck on ownership,” he said. “Get stuck on the idea of making a difference in a child’s life.”