Light Years Away
1.5 Miles = 10 Light Years
For the past four school years, I’ve volunteered on a weekly basis at Hedrick Elementary. To be honest with you, if I were a teacher, I would not teach elementary school. It would be my last choice of all the schools. God bless elementary school teachers, but I just know that job would not be for me. Despite my feelings about not wanting to be an elementary school teacher, this is the only place that I volunteer weekly. As I transition to the role of Senior Pastor, I plan to maintain this practice. It’s crucial that I am there, mentoring a student week after week. It’s important for the child, for the teachers, and for me.
To begin with, I am grateful for our public schools. I often take for granted that any child in the United States has the opportunity to receive a free education. This is not the case for many children around the world. (Go ahead, say a quick prayer of thanksgiving to God for a blessing we too often ignore). Any child, regardless of income, can go to school. Hedrick (which recently closed its doors) was a Title I school and most of their kids were on free or reduced lunch. In other countries, their families might not be able to afford uniforms or extra schooling, but every child at Hedrick was welcome to learn.
That being said, the challenges that the children faced at Hedrick and do face at Rockbrook (where Vista Ridge UMC partners) are drastically different than the challenges my own elementary school children face each day. I live 1.5 miles from Hedrick and 4 miles from Rockbrook and yet their world and my world feel 10 light years apart.
The parent support at my children’s school feels about 100 percent greater than at Hedrick. This was not because Hedrick parents didn’t care. They do care greatly. But the jobs of the parents at my children’s school are often flexible and there are a number of parents who are stay-at-home parents. Many Hedrick parents worked jobs that pay less and often required long hours. Their schedules often weren’t flexible, and they didn’t have vacation days. Many times they didn’t have money for special tutors or extracurricular activities. Some of the parents didn’t have the education to tutor their own kids. My children are isolated from that world and we were less than 2 miles from Hedrick.
At Hedrick, I discovered that the teachers and administrators had to focus on the whole child—their home life, their clothes, their food, etc. All the basic needs must be met before they can teach a child to read. Meeting basic needs is not one of the tasks that consume my own children’s teachers and therefore they get to dive right into academics. Once again, it feels like the classrooms are miles apart, but in reality, they were less than two.
I’ve found that volunteering at Hedrick helped reduce my own isolationism and connected me to a different world. In this world, I was an extra support person in a child’s life. I was not the savior, but I was a support. In our weekly mentoring sessions, we read, played games, and built a relationship. The kids I’ve worked with will have to overcome many more obstacles than my own kids just to arrive at the same place. They need all the help and encouragement they can get. My children have a huge safety net if something somehow goes awry in their very stable world. Many of the children at Hedrick often didn’t have much of a safety net at all and their worlds were much more fragile.
Jesus cares about the children who come to school hungry. Jesus cares about the kids who must grow up quickly because their world doesn’t have time or space for a carefree childhood. Jesus cares deeply for the kids who live so close to me and yet seem to live in a different world.
I also know that the members of Vista Ridge UMC care deeply for these children as well. About five years ago, I attended a conference training where I met Bill Burden and other members of Vista Ridge. At this event, they shared about the strong partnership between Rockbrook Elementary and the church. When I found out I was being appointed to serve at VRUMC, Rockbrook was one of the first ministries that popped into my mind.
I won’t ever be an elementary school teacher. However, I know that there is a child waiting for me this year. I’m following my child from Hedrick to his new school. I’ll also spend some time at Rockbrook. I plan to show up, give high fives, ask about their schoolwork and their families, and simply build relationships. The director of the mentoring program at Hedrick told us about the impact it makes on the children’s lives. The teachers told us about the progress the children make because of volunteers. The mentors later told me about the impact it had on them, emotionally and spiritually.
God is at work at Rockbrook, helping us all grow in some way or another. Whether you are an expert with kids or simply have a willing heart to put yourself in a new situation, we could use your help. I look forward to seeing you at Rockbrook this year.
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