In 2014 Webster Groves Christian Church (WGCC) began to work with HOPE Partnership, of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), to prayerfully discern the ways we could most faithfully understand and respond to God’s call to us as we continued to minister in the name of Jesus Christ in our western suburb of St. Louis. Through the process with HOPE Partnership, which involved retreats, learning, discovery, and community engagement, we affirmed our commitment to serve our local community, and began to take steps to address the opportunity gap between white and African American students in our local school district. We learned that our local school district had one of the largest achievement gaps in the nation, and we began to explore ways that we could partner with our neighbors to help address this problem.
As we studied the issues and listened to community members, we saw that one important area for work and concern was early childhood. When children and their families have access to important community resources like nutrition, health care, and high quality early childhood education, they are better prepared to begin to learn and thrive in school and beyond. We began to meet and work with partner organizations, and initiated Project N.O.W. (Nutrition on Weekends) in coordination with a local Head Start preschool center, providing nutritious weekend meals and snacks for children and their families. Members of WGCC also began reading in Head Start classrooms and providing once per month coffee for parents and grandparents as they dropped off their children at the center.
We also worked with community and school district leaders to form the Kirkwood Area Every Child Promise (KAEChP), a community-wide commitment to increasing access to nutrition, physical and mental health, high quality early childhood education, and general family wellbeing.
Through our participation in the National Benevolent Association’s (NBA) SENT Seminar and additional help from NBA, we formed this new not-for-profit community agency and began to use our building and grounds to better partner with and serve the needs of the people in our community with the fewest resources. Through this effort and with multiple community partners we have continued and strengthened Project N.O.W., and created “Promise Place,” a resource center where parents can find new infant and toddler clothes, diapers, and safety items like cribs and infant and toddler car seats. KAEChP is now partnering with the Kirkwood School District and several area preschools to provide sliding-scale scholarships for children to attend high quality programs. KAEChP partner schools have also agreed to participate in ongoing evaluation, professional development, and continuing focus on KAEChP’s family wellbeing goals. KAEChP and its community partners have provided free dental screenings for the entire school district and community preschool families; begun multi-cultural book and reading programs; helped to strengthen connections between families and the Parents as Teachers program (Parents as Teachers is now using space at WGCC for developmental screenings, meetings, and programs); and established a growing network of concerned parents and community members who are committed to the wellbeing and success of every child in the area served by the Kirkwood School District. WGCC has dedicated additional space for future low cost, high quality day care and preschool classrooms.
KAEChP has raised $75,000.00 in its first few months, and continues to reach out to community members and businesses to build support for its mission:
The Promise: Every child and family are prepared for success as they enter kindergarten.
Our community will…
- Foster quality early childhood experiences for all children and families by providing supportive partnerships and financial resources.
- Ensure the health and mental health of all children and families by addressing barriers to access.
- Create systems to support the basic needs of children and families.
- Engage in activities, practices, and networks to promote the efforts of KAEChP.
We are excited about the possibilities and partnerships we have been encountering as we have worked to answer God’s call to serve our community, and we look forward to building and strengthening new relationships and programs to equip our families with young children for wellbeing.
Story by WGCC pastor Rev. Dr. Jeff Moore.
Editor's note: The NBA Mission & Ministry Grant Program
is currently accepting grant applications
to support programs for at-risk children.