School & Church Partners, a Match Made in Heaven
Learning the Needs of Your Community
This Back to School season, many Minnesota churches are partnering with local school districts to meet the needs of their neighbors and show the love of Jesus.
Principal Becky Berkas at Central Park Elementary School in Roseville discovered the hunger struggles of students at her school, after a student who missed the bus found a granola bar in the backseat of her car. When the student got home, he split the granola bar into 7 sections for his siblings, alerting Principal Becky to a huge unmet need.
“There are great needs that we have no understanding of, until we are able to engage with families on a deeper level,” said Principal Becky.
That’s when help stepped in, in the form of The Sheridan Story, a non-profit organization that provides food bags to children living with food insecurity and Mission Point Church. Through the Sheridan Story’s introduction; Mission Point Church and Central Park Elementary School have formed a long-lasting partnership that has resulted in Mission Point Church volunteers redoing the teacher’s lounge, reading to students, and partnering with other churches to provide winter gear for kids.
Edison High School asked The Sheridan Story to recruit more of a community presence at their sporting events and theater performances. “A lot of the students’ parents are working two or more jobs, and the school activities weren’t well attended,” said Avivah Brown, Community Engagement Manager with The Sheridan Story.
So Mercy Vineyard Church sent small groups to regularly sit in the Northeast Minneapolis stands and auditorium, and cheered on student athletes and actors.
“These families know who is for them,” said Brown. “The biggest feedback we hear from churches is that they love getting involved in their community. It’s all about churches serving locally; loving their neighbor as themselves,” said Brown.
Letting Schools Dream Big
UpWorks launched a school and church partnership model with the Bloomington School District a year-and-a-half ago, earlier this month they held a district-wide school supply drive called Jumpstart 2 School. This 2018-2019 school year UpWorks plans to expand their “Engaging Schools” program across the Metro-area. UpWorks sees the mutually beneficial nature of these partnerships; connecting students in need of support and resources with churches seeking to serve beyond their four walls.
“Churches have a calling and desire to love their neighbors, but often don’t have the staffing, time, or knowledge as to where to start. UpWorks Engaging Schools provides the backbone and support; we build the bridge between the church and the school,” said Ken Norman, Director of UpWorks Engaging Schools.
Participating principals are asked to dream about the coolest things their school could do if they had additional volunteer support, then UpWorks brings these requests to partnering churches. As a result of this model: buildings have been cleaned, schools have received supplies, and students have been encouraged through mentors and weekly meals with their “breakfast buddies.”
“Our kiddos really enjoy the one on one attention and time they get with the volunteers, it makes them feel special. Students are requesting to be put on the waiting list for a breakfast buddy, which means the students are talking to their peers about this as a positive experience!” said one Valley View Elementary School teacher in Bloomington.
“It was gratifying to notice the nature of our conversations changing as time went on and greater trust was developed,” said Rev. Carol Zaagsma, a breakfast buddy volunteer, and pastor at Portland Avenue United Methodist Church in Bloomington. “My Breakfast Buddy moved beyond conversation about video games or TV shows and began talking about important events in his life, and hopes and dreams for his future.”
Asking About Unmet Needs
Hope Church in Richfield has spent years building trusted relationships with the Richfield School District simply by asking principals and teachers how their church can help, and then showing up.
“We ask the schools ‘how can we serve you?’ A huge part of building relationships is our willingness to be present: stepping into the lunch room once or twice a week, subbing for school security, going into classrooms and helping teachers, cheering athletes on at sporting games, and above all else just being present,” said BJ Skoog, Director of Student Ministries and Community Engagement.
Hope Church in Richfield is a great model of a church knitted into the fabric of their local school district for the past decade. Hope Church runs Richfield Young Life’s High School and Middle School programs, and hosts 100+ kids at their weekly club meetings held at the church building.
“A huge thing in Richfield is a need for space. A lot of kids don’t want to go home after school, but they don’t have any other place to go. Youth programming at Hope offers a safe space where kids can go, and hang out with supportive adults,” said Skoog.
But the church doesn’t seek to have students come to them, Skoog says they mostly go where the students are.
“We go on their turf and meet them where they are. We show up to their games, plays, homes, we get to know their families, and take them out for coffee and meals,” said Skoog.
A few years ago a Hope pastor noticed one kid was getting picked on for wearing the same shirt to school. The pastor got permission from Richfield Middle School to clean-out the school’s basement and create a school store where kids in need can shop the racks and pick out clothes for themselves.
“At Hope Church we are unashamed about Jesus or that we are a faith community. But we are also a place where students can come even if they don’t believe, and we want them to know we care about their day-to-day concerns,” said Skoog.
Schools at the Center of Every Community
The school is the hub of any community. If your church wants to know and experience the vibrant life, cultures and needs of its community, meet the people inside your local schools.
“For churches looking to make a sustainable, real difference in their communities, there’s no better way to do it than to step inside their schools,” said Norman with UpWorks.