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Faith in Focus: What does it mean to be a champion for children?

“What does J.O.Y. stand for?” asked Jon David, district attorney of Brunswick County.

“Jesus first, others second, yourself third.”

It seemed as though everyone in Edenton Street United Methodist Church last Saturday believed the same sentiment. Volunteers from across North Carolina gathered for the fourth annual Congregations for Children (C4C) summit to learn from experts in childhood development and hear about successful programs already at work.

Current and retired educators from Ellerbe to Lake Gaston gathered to discuss how to do more for their communities. Patrick Litzinger kicked off the convening by giving an overview of the origins of Congregations for Children and the evolution of its focus areas. 

“Congregations for Children (C4C) is a statewide initiative of the United Methodist Church focused on addressing child poverty in North Carolina through the development (or expansion) of partnerships between United Methodist churches and public schools in their local communities.” – Congregations for Children

Narrowing down areas to make the most impact, C4C focuses on K-3 literacy, basic needs (food, clothing, supplies), and parental involvement. The largest driver of success in any of these areas is developing trust and cultivating relationships. Litzinger urged participants to increase “collective impact,” explaining that the silo effect of nonprofits and volunteers can sometimes work against the greater good. 


Mandy Ableidinger of the NC Early Childhood Foundation took the stage to address K-3 literacy efforts. She emphasized the importance of reading proficiently by third grade and the impact it has on future success.  

“Children who are not reading proficiently at the end of the third grade are four times more likely not to graduate, and for children of color that rate doubles.” – NC Early Childhood Foundation 


Tackling parental involvement, Jon David joined the conversation, explaining the development of Watch D.O.G.S and BEST (Brunswick Early Success Team) for Kids. As district attorney, he felt the responsibility to find connections between people he sees in court and the children they leave at home.

“If we want to truly change the arch of the future, we have to start with the earliest days.” -Jon David, Brunswick county district attorney

Watch D.O.G.S looks to cultivate positive interactions between students and male role models, and BEST for Kids is working to strengthen literacy efforts before third grade. 


Leslie Boney of the Institute for Emerging Issues was the last presenter. He spoke about his organization’s research on children and public policy, the epidemic of loneliness, and how “we’re disconnecting from our neighbors” but are more connected than ever virtually. He asked the crowd, “How can churches bridge the social divide?”

The Institute for Emerging Issues has many initiatives addressing these topics, such as Thriving Rural Communities and KidsReadyNC, both designed to strengthen connections and leadership in their areas of focus. 

Leslie Boney of the Institute for Emerging Issues at the 2018 C4C. Courtesy of the NC Conference of The United Methodist Church Summit.

Steve Taylor, the NCC Director of Connectional Ministries, closed the day. Summing up the day and the feeling of the room, one participant said, “We honor our faith by being engaged in the lives of children.”

Caroline Parker

Caroline Parker is the director of rural storytelling and strategy for EducationNC. She covers the stories of rural North Carolina, the arts, STEM education and nutrition.