At Flatiron we have also worked with the elementary school to establish a strong relationship with another organization that our church partners with, the Sister Carmen Community Center. We will begin to work on more projects together next year, as many of the families already use the services or are in need of what the center has to offer. From the Sister Carmen website, “Our services include assistance with food, rent, utilities, transportation, medical care and other basic needs. We also work one on one with individuals and families to assist them in their efforts to reach self sufficiency.” Right now, we are all partnering together to provide snacks for the kindergarten classes on a weekly basis. We are working on ideas to have “weekend food backpacks” as well for next year, where kids can take home food for the weekend, and in return the families can commit to the “Time and Talent” program.
A deeper commitment that some people on our team have made revolves around teaching and helping out with the after school programs. We have had people volunteer and teach English to Spanish speaking parents, and this is a huge time commitment. It is an amazing way to get to know parents and people within the community. We also have a few people that volunteer with the after school program that runs every day. They are working directly for the coordinator of the program, and volunteer on a weekly or monthly basis. The school would love to have some consistent adults that could come every afternoon, but we have not been able to find anyone yet who can do that. We are hoping to get more of our team and church involved with this as it is really open to whatever time people can give, as long as it is on a consistent basis.
We look for people who can teach art, music, homework help, dance, etc. and ask them to just commit to a 4-6 week class period. We have had a couple of people do this, and this is an area we hope to develop much more next year. The coordinator left mid-year and was not in good contact with our volunteers, so we have had to re-start our efforts here. The new director of the program is great and we think that things will go really smoothly next year as we set up some after school classes and more tutoring programs.
We have several other programs/projects that we work on together, and one last project that I would like to share is a unique opportunity for our team. It is the college t-shirt drive. Most of these kids never think about the possibility of attending college. Since one of the most defining statistics for college is that children develop habits of attending school daily; we are trying to encourage them to start thinking about college as a possibility.
It has been an amazing year, with at least 60-70% of the children receiving the school award at least once. We are giving every student in the school a college t-shirt with a diploma type document encouraging them to dream about college based on the success they have had this year.
Our NT team (which is now about 30+ people strong) is collecting t-shirts from friends, community groups, second hand stores and purchasing them for this to happen. We need 385 shirts by May, and we already have over 250. With God’s provision, we are on our way for this to happen at the last assembly of the year.
We continue to move forward and look to the next steps that we can take regarding the Neighborhood Transformation plan. After talking with Stan last month, I believe our next step will start in the fall of 2011. We will work with the staff and determine if we can progress to individual/family asset mapping. This will be our first step in moving from the school out into the community.
The idea is that we can send home questionnaires with the kids to get information from the parents on what is working and not working in their community, and how their assets can contribute to a better community. Stan gave me some ideas on how to approach this and how to get a good response from families. I plan to work through this with our community pastor, NT co-leader, principal and family resource coordinator. From there, we hope to create some neighborhood meetings to move forward.
It has been such a blessing to be welcomed into this school. There is so much more that I could share – especially about how much this school has impacted me personally and changed my life. I am learning so much about serving in my own backyard, but in a completely different setting. There are so many life situations that we do not even think about that affect families in poverty so severely.
One example that comes to mind is that the school has a very hard time with behavioral issues the week before any vacation. This is because school vacations for many of these kids are full of uncertainty, parents working instead of being home, and not enough food to eat because they are usually fed two meals a day at school. While in my home we look forward to these breaks from school to have fun together as family; I had never considered what it was like for children in poverty over the school breaks. I feel that I am a very compassionate person and that I understand a lot about poverty, but there is so much I have not yet learned from books, seminars and even world travel.
These things can only be learned by serving Christ in our own communities and learning about people in different circumstances – and loving all people the way that Jesus would. I still have so much to learn from these amazing children and their families and I am looking forward to what God has in store for these relationships that have been built between our church and community.