Fifty Ways #14 — Organize a Yearly Back-to-School Fair

Many churches across Texas and elsewhere have been busy organizing back-to-school fairs for months in preparation for the upcoming school year. Clearly the need is overwhelming. Many children are dependent on the kindness of others for new uniforms, haircuts, backpacks and more to begin school. And yet I wonder what it would feel like if one of my children were in one of those lines. I’m sure I would be grateful. But I also wonder what it feels like to be in line.

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So, I’m curious about what churches and other groups are doing to help empower parents as they do the best they can for their children. Several years ago I observed a group of parents who had organized donated backpacks. When the children came for their backpacks, they received the gift from one of the parents – not one of the project sponsors though I’m sure everyone was aware of the source of the gifts.

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Thinking about what it feels like to receive such donations – especially in the context of school supplies or food items at a food pantry – moves us in the direction of cultural competency. Ministries that seek to be culturally competent in how they do what they do move beyond cultural awareness and cultural sensitivity to change their approach in serving. Something to think about…

Blessings to all who share resources – especially with children preparing for school this fall.

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Fifty Ways #38 — Honor, celebrate, and support teachers at a local school

My first thought on this way your church can bless your community through literacy:  “It takes one to know one.”  And not a playground retort.  Rather, it takes a retired educator (teacher) to know how to honor, celebrate and support teachers at a local school.

Case in point – Caroline Bell – retired three years ago after teaching for 36 years in Fort Worth and Crowley–mostly Kindergarten.  As you might guess, Books for the Border and Beyond is a special passion for Caroline.  But this week we’re taking a look at how your church can make a difference in the lives of teachers at a local school:  Put a smile on their faces.  Help them know that they are not alone.  Assure them that their work is appreciated.

Caroline Bell

In the past two years Caroline has led her church, Western Hills Baptist of Fort Worth, to celebrate the teachers of their adopted public school on special occasions like Valentine’s Day.  She has made sure that teachers have special food items on teacher workdays, and has brightened their faces with encouraging notes.  Next week, New Year’s resolutions will be severely tested by the arrival of cinnamon rolls from a famous local bakery.

Caroline has also lightened the load for teachers by encouraging her church to devote funds to special projects chosen by the principal.  She has been reading to first graders on a weekly basis through the Fort Worth ISD’s Read 2 Win program.  Working with a local food pantry, Caroline helps prepare  “snack packs” for children who lack food at home.  Her compassion for the children is evidenced by what she does—and leads others to do—as well as how she blesses the teachers and administration in this adopted school.

Caroline reading to girl

The principal put it like this, “The amount of support that Western Hills Baptist provides to our campus is so meaningful and makes such a huge impact.”

Literacy Connexus seeks to be a catalyst for change in communities.  As a board member, Caroline Bell sets a great example by leading her church to honor, celebrate, and support teachers.

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Guest Blogger: Charles Foster Johnson

In our list of 50 Ways Churches Can Bless Communities Through Literacy, #37 encourages “Partner with schools by asking ‘How may we help?’ Participate in local Adopt a School programs.”  Rev. Charlie Johnson has further guidance on this.
 
(NOTE: The author is pastor of Bread Fellowship of Fort Worth, executive director of Pastors for Texas Children, and a member of the Texas Baptists Committed Board of Directors.)

Pastors for Texas Children (PTC) is a new organization that mobilizes local churches to provide both wrap-around care for local schools and advocacy for adequate funding to support those schools.

Launched in October 2012 by the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission, we already have over 500 community faith leaders from all denominations recruited, with dozens more signing up each week. We now have a statewide organization with PTC directors in all 20 education service regions. Many county directors in those regions are already positioned. We have conducted meetings in dozens of local communities already, and intend to have a PTC chapter in every Texas county. Our web address is www.pastorsfortexaschildren.com.
The close partnerships that we forge between local congregations and local schools will help provide both the resources that our children need to receive quality public education and the support that our teachers deserve. We are asking pastors to make an appointment with their local school principal and/or superintendent to offer prayer and encouragement, as well as to host a teacher appreciation event in their congregation, recognizing the dedicated teachers, coaches, and staff who shape our children’s lives. Furthermore, we are challenging churches to provide tangible support for those schools and children in the form of after-school mentoring, school supplies, food security, etc.
After this partnership is formed, we ask pastors to contact their legislator and inform him or her about the needs of their schools and to join together in arranging a meeting with that legislator in their own community to discuss the imperative for adequate funding for their community and neighborhood schools. Lastly, we ask that our pastors and faith leaders be willing to make at least one trip to Austin during the legislative session to advocate face-to-face for public education.
The local church and the local school are two significant institutions in every community and neighborhood advocating for the public good. Our goal, quite simply, is to help cultivate a strong bond between those two institutions and to bring that partnership to bear on education policy in Texas government.
Charles Foster Johnson, Pastor
Bread Fellowship of Fort Worth
210-379-1066

www.charlesfosterjohnson.com

What do church-and-school partnerships look like?

“The way to start,” suggests Literacy Connexus Executive Director, Lester Meriwether, “is to ask the school principal, ‘How may we help you?’” This approach demonstrates a servant’s heart and shows a willingness to be practical and cooperative. He adds, “There is a disconnection if churches don’t start in the local school. It’s not about coming up with programs to offer but a willingness to be used as needed.”

Learn more about the how and why of serving in our public schools. Visit the Serving the Schools Opening Doors project and click on our article, “Will You Cross the Street?”