Two years ago, God began speaking to members of College Wesleyan Church in Marion, Indiana, about his command in Matthew 22:39: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The bridge of love between church and community needed to be strengthened.
So, they set to work. In August 2010, staff members Amy Alcock and Vickie Conrad led the initiative to expand their “Kids Hope” program. Kids Hope USA is a national program that mobilizes churches to form one-to-one mentorship programs, something College Wesleyan had been doing for more than a decade. But the idea emerged to work through schools.
The duo spearheaded a program with a public school, Frances Slocum Elementary, located a mile from the church. The school was selected partly because there were clear needs. 92 percent of students received free lunches and 62 percent failed ISTEP (achievement) tests. Only 54 percent passed reading assessment tests for the state of Indiana. An opportunity to work together with the school developed through the two organizations’ mutual desire to see students mentored. Twelve volunteers from College Wesleyan began mentoring students at Frances Slocum after school.
The volunteers assist the school in several additional ways: strengthening the school’s voice in the community, empowering what is happening at the school, and helping to resource some of the needs. There are numerous “success stories” of how lives are being impacted at this multi-cultural school. Already, measurable improvements are being seen.
The school statistics alone are motivation for College Wesleyan Church volunteers to continue mentoring Frances Slocum students. Amy and Vickie have observed that their strong partnership with Frances Slocum has become a model for other Marion churches to adopt other local schools.
The gospel is being communicated and physical needs are being met, as well. One example: a widowed mother and her four kids were living in extreme poverty in a home with no proper plumbing or heating, a roof with holes, and bug-infestation. Now, with the involvement of the volunteers, the children and mother are safe in another home, all are being mentored, school success has improved, and the mother is learning budgeting skills.
Some school staff members and parents have befriended church members through the mentorship program and have even begun attending College Wesleyan Church.
The church volunteers have mainly helped at Frances Slocum elementary, but they also operate an after-school program two days a week at a local middle school. Amy, Vickie, and the College Wesleyan team are encouraging other churches in Marion to step forward in similar ways.
“Our dream is that other churches would pour into their neighborhood schools,” said Amy. “Change takes place one relationship at a time, and the mentors in these relationships are being Jesus ‘with skin on.’”