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C4C: How the United Methodist Church supports our students

Nobody knows what a child is worth
And the world must wait and see
For every person in an honored place
Is a child who used to be. — Mabel (Muh) Brown

Hope Morgan Ward, bishop of the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church (NCCUMC), opened the Congregations 4 Children (C4C) Summit with this poem. She used to work with Mabel (Muh) Brown at the Methodist Home for Children and reflected on her experience there. Ward believes “people of faith are called and energized to create more just and caring communities for all people,” particularly for the most vulnerable, which includes students. 

C4C began six years ago, in large part thanks to Ward. She says we see the “impact poverty [has] on the learning lives of our children,” and are called by the Weslyan philosophy to do something about it. That “something” for her — and the participants in attendance on Saturday, Aug. 10 at Edenton Street UMC — is to get involved with public education. 

What are the three focus areas of C4C?

1. Helping to improve K-3 literacy rates (volunteer tutors, collecting/donating books, summer reading programs, etc.)
2. Helping to meet the basic needs of students (food, clothing, supplies, etc.)
3. Helping to increase parental involvement (and interactions with positive adult role models — i.e., lunch buddies, morning greeters, Watch DOGS, etc.)

How do churches accomplish these things? The first step is asking the school system what they need and really listening. Patrick Litzinger, C4C point person for the NCCUMC who led this summit, hosted a special workshop in the afternoon where he gave direct steps congregations can take to cultivate a relationship with their respective community schools. Currently, over 80% of the more than 800 United Methodist Churches in the North Carolina conference are participating in some form of C4C.

C4C Summit, August 10, 2019. Caroline Parker/EducationNC

This year’s summit focused on toxic stress and the adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) concept. There was a showing of the documentary “Resilience: The Biology of Stress & the Science of Hope,” followed by discussion. Groups contemplated how adults can disrupt the toxic stress felt by children at risk and support families in crisis.  

The CDC defines ACEs as a “term used to describe all types of abuse, neglect, and other potentially traumatic experiences that occur to people under the age of 18.”  Traumatic events that occur in childhood directly increase the chances of future problems for those traumatized. The ACEs assessment, a 10 question survey, helps to assess the level of risk that exists for children who have experienced trauma. C4C is interested in exploring how adult interaction can help mitigate and even prevent the impact of such experiences for children.

The infographic below illustrates how multiple traumas pile up. The CDC says, “as the number of ACEs increases, so does the risk for these outcomes.”

Adverse Childhood Experiences infographic. Courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

After viewing “Resilience,” Dr. Alice Forrester, executive director of Clifford Beers, which was featured in the film, presented and guided a reflective activity for the audience. Clifford Beers is a children’s mental health outpatient clinic focusing on trauma-informed care with a whole-family approach. Forrester said that ACE scores are a “public health problem” and sees opportunity for faith-based organizations to jump in. 

See the slideshow from Forrestor here.  

The crowd then heard from two successful C4C programs — one literacy camp in Ellerbe, North Carolina and another school support program in Wilson, North Carolina. Winstead UMC, the church in Wilson that started Hand in Hand, began their outreach for Vick Elementary School in 2001. From a back-to-school breakfast for staff to tutors and a classroom buddy program, the church has been working in schools for 18 years. Over time, efforts expanded and Winstead UMC occupied a new space to create the Seeds of Hope house. Seeds of Hope focuses on student achievement and well-being which, in turn, they believe will have lasting positive impact for the area. 

Ellerbe First UMC is described as “small in number, mighty in spirit” by Reverend Elizabeth Polk. The congregation’s official membership is 125, but averages about 25 for Sunday worship. With support from community members, they hosted their sixth year of the R.O.C.K (Reading Outreach Children of the King). 

Ellerbe First United Methodist Church literacy camp. Courtesy of Ellerbe First UMC

R.O.C.K is a three-day, five-week summer literacy camp. Taking students from kindergarten to seventh grade, retired educators and community members volunteer their time to teach, lead field trips, and more. Some students have aged out of the camp and now return to participate and help in the classroom. Local farmers donate food for the mid-day healthy snack. Local law enforcement, volunteer firemen, and others from the town come in for special show-and-tell activities. It is truly a community-wide effort.

What Polk wants people to know is that it is possible to do no matter your size.

I’ve seen it make a difference in the lives of children and the lives of their families,” she said.

“We are realizing that we are more the church out in the community, with the school and with our community partners, than we are perhaps here in the sanctuary in an hour on Sunday.”

Caroline Parker

Caroline Parker is a multimedia storyteller for EducationNC. She covers the stories of rural North Carolina, the arts, and STEM education.