Salem-in-Ladue United Methodist Church has been a faith-partner with Saint Louis Public Schools for nine years. I will forever be grateful to SLPS for reaching out to churches all over the St. Louis area and asking for the community support they need. I am extremely pleased my church said yes.
I vividly remember our Senior Minister, David Kerr, sharing his agreement to adopt an SLPS elementary and middle school in the city. He asked us to consider this opportunity to get involved by making a commitment to tutor a child for just one hour a week. I signed up, showed up for training, and have remained there ever since.
My experience tutoring children in the SLPS has truly opened my eyes to the needs so close to home. I have seen a glimpse of what it is like to walk in their shoes. Some things I take for granted, they cannot.
I recall sitting with a student as snow began to fall one winter afternoon. I commented that he might get a day off from school. I know my children would have jumped for joy with the possibility. He replied, “I hope not; I would rather be at school.”
Or, I asked an 8th grader what his favorite outside activity was, and he replied, “I do not go outside. I have to go home from school, go inside my house and lock the door.”
I also became aware of how many of these children do not live with a parent. Sometimes they have food to eat, and sometimes they do not. They might or might not have someone who is willing or able to help them with their homework each night. All of these realizations keep me moving forward and doing all that I can to reach out to increase the volunteers in our church to help make a difference. As I have been able to bond with the children and understand more about their lives, my judgment has melted away and compassion has taken over.
Our program at Salem-in-Ladue UMC has grown and changed over the years to fit the needs of the children we support. We return to the schools each fall to a warm welcome from the students and staff. We feel appreciated for all we do.
This year we have 23 volunteers tutoring more than 50 students each week. Of the 23 tutors, 16 are returning from last year. In fact, some of our volunteers have even asked to extend their one hour of tutoring to two hours of tutoring. They feel the need, they have the time, and they choose to stay a little longer.
There are many ways we have been able to help throughout the years. We have collected hundreds of backpacks, full of supplies, and handed them out while greeting the children on the first day of school. We donate additional supplies as needed throughout the school year. We have donated new and gently used books to students.
Twice a year, we host a Serve Day, where we go into the community and serve in multiple ways. We have painted, cleaned out closets, organized level reading libraries, and various other projects at our adopted schools over the years. We have also provided volunteers for school open houses, luncheons, and special events.
My hope is that more St. Louis churches will get involved and see what a difference community support for education makes for all St. Louisans. Members of my congregation and I are committed to doing all we can. When we come together, for one another, the tide can change. Poverty can be greatly reduced through educating our children.
If we, as the faith-based community, can give each child we work with the awareness that their life matters, leave them feeling loved, encouraged, with the desire to read and to learn, we will be contributing to their future in a powerful way and making a significant difference in the lives of St. Louis students.
To get your congregation involved in Saint Louis Public Schools, contact Karen Hylton at Karen.Hylton@slps.orgor 314-345-4689.
Mary Jarvis, a member of Salem in Ladue United Methodist Church, oversees volunteers for her congregation.