Over the years South Joplin Christian Church has taken a vested interest in meeting the needs of children in the Joplin community. Becoming more aware of the opportunities within the Joplin Public School system, the Outreach Committee encouraged the congregation to participate in the Adopt-a-Classroom program and became actively involved a year or two prior to the Joplin tornado. The congregation adopted Mrs. Shelby Frakes’ second grade class. Mrs. Frakes was a first year teacher and the assistance with much needed items for her students and other teaching supplies was a great support. Then came the tornado and much more was needed as Emerson Elementary School was one of the schools that was severely damaged in the tornado. The congregation found itself doing even more to meet the needs of the students and their teacher on a greater level.
With the addition of a Minister of Mission and Outreach in 2012, the congregation was encouraged to take things a step further and officially signed the agreement to become a Bright Futures Joplin Faith-Based partner with Emerson Elementary. Bright Futures is a grass roots, community based program that creates partnerships and utilizes community resources for the common goal of helping kids and strengthening families and community. The organization has created a system of support for the children within its schools that educators can utilize. The organization further provides the opportunity for business, faith-based and social agencies/organizations to partner to work together within an assigned school. In 2014 the new Irving Elementary School opened its doors as a merger of Emerson and Irving, two of the schools that were destroyed in the tornado. South Joplin has continued to this day its commitment as a Bright Futures partner which began at Emerson.
With the guidance and encouragement of Bright Futures representatives and staff over these four years, the congregation has become genuinely committed to the principles and goals of bringing about cultural change and building a community where education is important and valued. Believing that each and every student is priceless, South Joplin realizes its responsibility to help them succeed. Because of the congregation’s evolving understanding of risk-taking mission and service and the relationship forged with Irving Elementary, the school principal, counselor and teachers have called upon South Joplin at various times to help meet specific needs for both students and teachers that were not able to be met directly by Bright Futures or the school.
As the partnership with Irving has continued to strengthen, so has the dedication of the congregation. One indicator has been the increase in congregational members becoming involved in various ways to meet the needs at the school; assembling weekly Snack Packs, becoming Lunch PALs, purchasing shoes, medication, 2015 Christmas gifts for two families, etc. South Joplin has taken a leadership role among Irving’s partners being an active part of the Site Council which oversees the implementation of the Bright Futures program within the school. The Site Council works along-side the principle and, for the past two years, the Irving Student Council. In 2013 South Joplin presented a proposal to organize an Annual Art Fair to showcase the talent of the students and local artists in the community, an event that now funds the Irving College Bound Program. These funds provide financial support for the annual college visits for each grade level. With the desire to help students increase reading levels, a proposal was presented to the principal to start a reading club or something similar to engage those students who were below grade level. In January a pilot Wednesday Morning Tutoring Program was unveiled which proved successful and hopefully will continue in the new school year. Reading with a student at 7:15 a.m. is pretty early especially when you are not a morning person but South Joplin provided four of the eight volunteers. For years South Joplin has participated in the national Souper Bowl of Caring. In 2015 and 2016 Irving Elementary and the other partners joined in this effort, learning the importance of community outreach.
During the latter part of the 2014-15 school year the Site Council launched First Friday Reading Day, a program that has become a real hit with the students and teachers. This school year South Joplin had thirteen members volunteer throughout the school year for this program. Each reader was assigned to read to one or two classes with many of the volunteers taking time to choose books and teach lessons from the stories’ themes. Now it is not unusual to be greeted at the mall or somewhere in town by a student who, with a huge smile says to a parent, “That’s the lady that reads to our class.” Volunteers can hardly find the words to express how their lives have been touched by this experience and are looking forward to the next school year.
South Joplin has chosen not to hesitate to step up when student needs are made known and some needs fall outside the norm of expectation. This past year one student and her family found themselves facing the terminal illness and subsequent death of her mother. The school counselor made one simple request to the Site Council. “Is it possible for members of your congregations to provide meals throughout the week for this family?” When the plea was made to the congregation there was an overwhelming response. Meals were provided for a couple of months until the mother’s death. At that time the father found himself in a situation of wanting to have a memorial service for his wife but having no affiliation with any church or congregation. Not knowing what to do he confided in one of SJCC’s elders who immediately informed him that he was sure the pastors and congregation would offer their services. And yes, South Joplin embraced the family and hosted/officiated a memorial service for that family helping bring closure in their time of grief.
The Bright Futures platform has provided an avenue of mission and service that has provided South Joplin with many opportunities to engage its members in ways that this congregation would never have imagined. “Mission in action” is not just a motto for South Joplin but how they have come to be an integral part in the lives of the students at Irving Elementary.
Story and photos courtesy of Rev. Kathryn Wilson, South Joplin CC Minister of Mission & Outreach.