Trinity UMC: A Church Determined to Bridge the Privilege Gap for Kids
By: Sherri Gragg
The Reverend Jill Daniels, Associate Pastor of Trinity UMC Beaumont, can’t stop thinking about children in need. Children hiding from a gunman when they should be working on their geometry homework. Children terrorized by war and starvation. The children Jesus welcomed and blessed when all others turned them away.
Most of all, her heart is broken for needy children close to home. “In 2016, we began looking at the Mission Insight reports for Beaumont,” Daniels said. “We discovered that our neighborhood, was not what we thought it was.”
Beaumont, Texas is incredibly diverse both racially and economically. Some children come from families who have lived in Beaumont for generations and enjoy all of the stability those roots provide. Others live in a homeless camp down by the river. Those disparities alone are powerful influencers of educational success, but Daniels discovered there is also a tremendous gap in the services received by the different groups of children. As Trinity committed to investing their resources in Bishop Scott Jones’ “We Love All God’s Children” initiative, they knew God was calling them to bridge the gap. The church determined to impact early childhood education and early literacy.
A Day School Reimagined
The Trinity UMC day school, Weekday Ministries, has welcomed young children into a loving and safe pre-school environment since 1959. As Trinity studied the Mission Insight report, they realized that Weekday Ministries needed to change both curriculum and hours of operation to meet the needs of families in their community. “The culture was changing,” Daniels said, “There are more parents who work. We knew we needed to do something to help.” In an effort to love and serve these families, Weekday Ministries began offering extended care.
The restructuring of Weekday Ministries was not limited to the hours of operation. The ministry took concrete steps to help children build a solid foundation for future academic success by strengthening the ministry’s investment in early childhood literacy. The first move was to hire a full-time director with a background in education. When Weekday Ministries Director, Connie Herbert, came on board the first thing she did was to carefully assess the curriculum. “When she looked at what we are doing, she saw we needed to boost our literacy program,” Daniels said. “We responded by investing a significant funds in a new literacy curriculum.”
Bridging the Gap in Public Schools
Next, Trinity moved to impact kids in Beaumont’s lowest performing elementary school. The first step was to call teachers and administrators to find out how Trinity could help. Without fail, the educators said that what they needed most was assistance in boosting literacy. The church developed a reading program and Missions Pastor, David Johnson, began working with the school administrator to develop a mentoring program. Each volunteer from Trinity is matched with two children for the duration of the school year. The volunteer works with teachers to determine each child’s strengths and weakness, and then develop a tailor-made literacy program for that child.
Trinity UMC is heavily invested in childhood literacy, but they have embraced the other focuses of the Bishop’s initiatives as well. Recently, they overhauled the church’s much-loved annual Easter Eggstravaganza to include the entire community. In addition to the fun and games, Trinity intentionally shared the love of Christ, and offered a dental health giveaway. In preparation for the event, Daniels challenged her congregation to remember their calling to love all of God’s children. The church embraced the vision. The Eggstravaganza was blessed by a record number of volunteers who came with one goal and mind- To share the love of Christ with their neighbors.
As Daniels’ heart aches for needy children around the world, she is comforted that Trinity has answered the call to love the ones nearest to home. This past fall, when one of the literacy volunteers arrived to minister to children in the local elementary school, a child excitedly proclaimed, “She goes to my church!”
“The parents may never cross the threshold of our church, again but to this child Trinity is his church,” Daniels said. “He knows we love him and will take care of him.”