Ohio churches support local elementary school though Adopt-a-School program
Written by Emily Schappacher
September 20, 2013

Volunteers from First Congregational Church in Hudson, Ohio, sort and label donated clothing at Findley Elementary School in Akron. (Photo: Beacon Journal)

Two Ohio United Church of Christ congregations are forging ahead with a new initiative that partners churches with schools that need a little extra tender loving care. First Congregational UCC in Hudson and its sister church, Trinity UCC in Akron, are the first churches volunteering assistance with funding, staff and support to schools taking part in the Love Akron Network's Adopt-a-School program, which aims to positively impact communities by transforming the lives of its children. While the initiative is in its infancy, Sue Wimer says this long-term partnership with Akron's Findley Elementary School is what being a church is all about.

"Churches give back," said Wimer, director of stewardship and development for First Congregational UCC. "There are many places to engage, but children need support, and in order for children and communities to become and stay healthy, you need to make each child feel worthwhile and establish the sense that someone cares about them. I think churches have the ability to do that because it is the core of who we are."

Findley Elementary School has 550 students. About half of them are refugees from more than 10 different countries who speak at least seven different languages, and the rest are primarily African American children from Akron's underprivileged neighborhoods. As part of the Adopt-a-School pilot program, First Congregational UCC and Trinity UCC are actively engaged with the school and will set the framework for future congregations. This summer, First Congregational UCC supplied volunteers to the school to help with administrative and secretarial work. Last week during First Congregational UCC's annual day of service, about 80 volunteers went to Findley Elementary to clean bathrooms and cafeterias and establish a clothing room to provide shoes, winter coats and uniforms for students who need them.

Volunteers from First Congregational Church of Hudson and Love Akron cut out name tags at Findley Elementary School in Akron. (Photo: Beacon Journal)

"Some of these kids have never worn shoes – they come directly from a refugee camp to Akron," Wimer said, adding that the area's refugee population is so high because of the city's international academy that provides English lessons, job training, and housing assistance to adult refugees.

Later this month, First Congregational UCC will assist with the school's international food festival, which celebrates the students' different cultures through traditional food. The church also hopes to establish a volunteer network for teachers, which would provide each of them a list of members they could reach out to for help with upcoming projects or activities, or if they are in need of supplies. For example, Wimer says, the school currently has no budget or volunteers to coordinate birthday and holiday celebrations, so First Congregational may be able to fill that gap.

Trinity UCC is in the planning stages of developing an afterschool program, and is also working toward creating a community garden that the Rev. Carl Wallace, senior pastor of Trinity UCC, hopes will teach Findley Elementary School students about the environment and sustainability. He adds that all of Trinity and First Congregational UCC's initiatives have come from suggestions made by the school's leadership as ways the churches can fulfill the greatest need and offer the most assistance.

"Most importantly we are listening to the school leadership and finding out what their needs are," Wallace said. "It's different from a missionary approach in which we decide what is best for them. We are listening."

Wimer agrees. "We are trying to slowly establish a relationship," she said. "We don't want to come in there and do things because we think they need to be done, but as needs arise and as we fit in, we want to provide support."

The Love Akron Network's Adopt-a-School program was inspired by Be Undivided, a film documenting a similar program that has been successful in Portland, Ore. Wimer thinks a program like this could work anywhere, and could help ease the burden public schools face with budget restrictions and staff reductions. Wimer and Wallace agree that members of both churches are excited to offer support to students and teachers and to fulfill what is a very obvious need.

"The bottom line is it's been enlightening because we have been working cooperatively to meet the needs of the school and the children," Wallace said. "What an innovative idea to take our ministry beyond our four walls and work with another church with a single mind and with a single purpose."

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