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Church’s neighborly outreach to school builds relationships and community

Posted: August 15 2018 at 12:07 PM
Author: Anne Marie Gerhardt


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When the nearly 300 elementary students go back to the classroom at Rochelle’s Central School this fall, their next door neighbor will be by their side.

Through their “Love Thy Neighbor” ministry, Rochelle United Methodist church, which sits across the street from the school, has been reaching out to Central School through a variety of neighborly gestures.

“Our vision team kept praying about how do we take our love outside the walls of the church and how do we bring Jesus into the community,” said Mary Ellen Taylor, a lay member at Rochelle UMC. “We started with greeting teachers as they came to the first day of school with coffee and muffins and there it began.”

Taylor says as the teachers and church members got to know each other, a trust and relationship began to build. The church started by taking “baby steps” to grow their outreach ministry with the school.

Following what became quarterly coffee breaks, the church placed English and Spanish friendly messages, “love notes”, in their large windows facing the school. Soon after, teachers and students responded with their own greetings in their classroom windows facing the church. A connection was made. 

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The Rev. Rob Hamilton says when he was first appointed to Rochelle UMC he looked at the school across the street and felt that God was calling the church to be there. 

“We have this command to love thy neighbor that is central to our Christian faith,” said Hamilton. “We believe this ministry fits perfectly with our mission statement to ‘connect, grow and serve’. We are connecting with a more diverse community, growing in faith as we learn to love outside our walls, and serving our neighbors.”

Hamilton says the K-5th grade school’s population lives mostly outside of town, is about 80% Hispanic and more than 85% of the students qualify for the free or reduced lunch program. He says even though the students and the congregation share different cultural and economic backgrounds, it’s an opportunity to learn from one another.

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“Being in ministry with the school is a great way for us to learn how to be multi-cultural. That’s one of the gifts we receive back,” said Hamilton. “We get to learn to be more like our neighborhood, which I think is call for all churches in the 21st century and also one of the biggest challenges.”

Thinking what more the church could do for the students, the congregation asked the teachers what supplies they needed for their classrooms, knowing many have to pay for them out of their own pockets. The teachers provided lists and the church responded with $2,500 worth of supplies and books.

At the end of the school year in May, the church hosted their 2nd annual Block Party. Students enjoyed a bounce house, face painting, a piñata, games and an assembly in the school gym with special entertainment, Matt Wilhelm, BMX Flatland rider and motivational speaker jumping over the principal and Pastor Hamilton. Volunteers also handmade more than 260 colorful pillowcases for each student with notes inside reminding each of them they're beloved children of God.
 

The school’s principal says they wouldn’t be able to provide this big of a celebration without the church’s help.

“Everything they’ve done for us the last few years has been awesome,” said Justin Adolph, Central School Principal. “It’s just been such a model of being a neighbor and serving others to our kids and staff and it’s been inspiring all the way through.”

The School Superintendent stopped by the block party and expressed his appreciation, too. 

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“This church has been great for the students to feel the community support and for being loved and cared for. The relationship with the teachers has also been beneficial in this partnership,” said Todd Prusator, Rochelle School District #231 Superintendent. “This whole relationship with the (United) Methodist church has been great and we’re extremely grateful for them adopting and taking care of us.”

Luisa Nambo is a member of the school's Parent Teacher Organization and has a daughter going into second grade. She says she has no reservations about a church helping a school and says the block party was a hit.

“As a community, we do need to come together because that's how we going to keep our community safer. For the students here it helps them branch out to see what the community offers,” said Nambo. “This a great event to bring more focus on good, healthier things in our community and gives these kids who don’t necessarily have these opportunities an opportunity to have fun.”

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What’s next for this ministry? “Whatever God has planned we will follow through,” said Taylor. “We will see where that wind is blowing and let Him lead us. We couldn’t do this on our own and I’m excited to what happens next year. This is a God thing!”

The church has received Keagy, United Methodist Foundation, and community grants to help support this ministry. Rochelle UMC is located at 709 4th Ave, Rochelle, IL. For worship times and more information visit their website at www.rochelleumc.com. 

Watch a video of this ministry click here.

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