Churches should not let the separation of church and state dissuade them from being in ministry with their local schools. Often by simply approaching the school and asking what can be done to help, a church can become a meaningful presence in the lives of children and youth who have never experienced church in any form.
Rev. Kevin Shelton taught a workshop about how Harrisonville UMC has formed an engaging relationship with the local school through the Bright Futures program.
The church approached the school district about adopting a single school, to maximize their impact. The only school that hadn’t already been adopted by an organization was the alternative school, a charter school for at-risk students.
“Adopting the alternative school has been a real blessing,” Shelton said. “It means we have one place to focus our energy in ministry.”
The school was very receptive to their church connecting to them through the Bright Futures program, an initiative that started at Joplin and is now at many schools around the state.
Bright Futures Harrisonville strives to help students achieve success by matching student needs with resources through partnerships between the schools and the community. Those partnership areas include faith-based, social/human services, businesses, and parents and volunteers will be asked to give of their "time, talent, and treasure" to help children.
The Bright Futures initiative goals are to build relationships, provide for individual needs, and ensure every child has the tools they need to be successful students who in turn become productive and self-sustaining citizens, loving parents, responsible neighbors, and outstanding employees. Through its organizational structure, Bright Futures provides a framework for expanding current programs such as the Food 4 Thought backpack program, Stuff the Bus school supply drive, and Cats Closet, as well as initiating new programs to support students.
Bright Futures Councils at each school include representatives from each of the partnership areas and will meet regularly with school personnel to assess and develop plans to meet the needs of the school and its students.
One of the Harrisonville members who was at the workshop said her favorite part of the ministry has been getting to know the students.
“Some of them are living in an apartment on their own and working fulltime while they finish high school. They have so much more too handle than I did when I was 17,” she said.
“It’s great to just run into them at Wal-Mart, and ask them how they are doing.”
The alternative school has had a record number of graduates the last few years.
“We’re sharing the love of God, and we’re having a ball doing it,” one of the volunteers said. “We are blessed by them (the students).”
The church hosted a graduation celebration for the students, and hosted a career day, in which students had an opportunity to participate in mock interviews. The church worked with the Cat’s Closet thrift store to provide the students with interview clothes. The school awarded credit to students who participated in the career day at the church, and some of the mock interviews led to real jobs.