Name Each Child program targets educational needs, planning
The Rev. Faith FerrZ, minister of discipleship at Plymouth Congregational UCC in Des Moines, Iowa, says that, just as the gospel calls all Christians, her congregation is defined by its strong commitment to social action. For that reason, FerrZ says, she couldn't imagine not being involved in public education.
The Plymouth church family takes its commitment seriously. Through the "Name Each Child" program, based in Des Moines, Plymouth partners with a long list of organizations—including United Way of Central Iowa, Des Moines Public Schools, the Iowa Department of Human Services and the Annie E. Casey Foundation—to identify and help at-risk families move out of poverty into self-sufficiency.
Margaret Jensen Connet, a member of Plymouth Congregational UCC and an ally with the Name That Child program in Des Moines, Iowa, hugs one of the children in her circle of support. Scott Miller photo.
FerrZ, who serves as one of 30 allies from her church, says the program works. Her involvement with an Ethiopian mother and her three elementary school-aged children already has resulted in the family moving to a safer neighborhood and the mother securing a better job. Now the mother is saving for a car and FerrZ is doing what she can to get the family in line for a Habitat for Humanity home.
But "Name Each Child" is just one way the Plymouth congregation stays active in the public schools. FerrZ says a group of church members mentor children at a nearby elementary school. Another group teaches English as a second language to parents of Latino school children. Yet another group tutors first and second graders in reading. "There are lots of ways of being involved with the public schools, and there really are things we can do as middle class people with connections," says FerrZ. "It helps to have advocates."
Tutoring program shows big 'heart'
ConnectiKids blends community resources, 'neighborliness'
Asylum Hill Congregational UCC in Hartford, Conn., reached out to elementary school students more than 25 years ago by offering after-school tutoring. The grassroots effort of a handful of church people has resulted in something much bigger. Today, ConnectiKids is a working partnership between local schools and parents, nonprofit organizations, state agencies and businesses to provide after-school tutoring two days a week to kindergarten through 6th-grade students using school curriculum. Additional leadership programs for children continue for grades 7-12.
With a yearly operating budget of nearly $400,000, ConnectiKids offers tutoring at six different sites, free of charge to 200 at-risk children in Hartford. Sandra Sydlo, executive director of ConnectiKids, says that, while a majority of the fi nancial backing comes from large corporations, United Way and state funding, Asylum Hill's undying support of the program—through in-kind donations, constant volunteer presence and a generous $40,000 per year grant—lie at the heart of the program.
"The church basically gave birth to [ConnectiKids]," says Sydlo. Before the agency was incorporated, she says, they made sure it could continue, even through rough times. Frankly," Sydlo says, "the organization wouldn't exist without the church's support."
Fred Ward, minister of outreach at Asylum Hill, says the church's tagline reads, "A church in the heart of the city, with a heart for the city."
"That stands for so much of what we do and why we do it," says Ward. Besides ConnectiKids, Ward and other church members keep abreast of the needs in the local public schools by attending meetings of a School Improvement Team at a nearby middle school. At one point, Asylum Hill provided food and child care at PTO meetings to encourage attendance. Other church members recently were involved in the school's accreditation process. "We just engage in good neighborliness," says Ward.
Small church builds big character in students
Fairmount Congregational UCC, situated in the near northeast neighborhood of Wichita, Kan., is in the poorest and most crime-ridden section of Wichita's metro population of a half a million people. Last year, there were twice as many drive-by shootings in Wichita as there were in San Diego.
The Rev. Michael Poage, pastor of Fairmount, knew the church could be a small but mighty force in a community that so needed its help. Partnering with the local Inter-Faith Ministries group, Fairmount UCC became involved in GoZones!, an AmeriCorp program that provides after-school tutoring and character building activities.
Five days a week, Fairmount UCC serves as one of six sites where students can go after school, from 4-6:30 p.m., to work on homework, get individual tutoring and stay off the street. Poage says that after a nutritious snack, students know they are expected to do their homework first.
"The emphasis is on academic improvement as well as individual mentoring and character education, self-respect, respect for others," says Poage, who notes that his church also offers a computer lab for the students to work in. When the work is done, there is time for fun. Since Fairmount doesn't have a gymnasium, the church cooperates with nearby Wichita State University for use of their gym.
GoZones! primarily is funded by an AmeriCorp grant, but each site is responsible for coming up with matching funds. Last year, half of Fairmount UCC's matching funds came from a UCC Neighbors in Need grant.
Santa Cruz, CA
"My wife, Hope, our daughter, Anna, and I have enjoyed the powerful sermons, beautiful music and warm fellowship of First Community UCC for more than 10 years. Our church is an open, dynamic and vibrant community which welcomes all as equals—even governors—without regard to poll numbers or public approval ratings."
Gov. Bob Taft (R-Ohio)
Member, First Community UCC in Columbus, Ohio