I am loving the Solve7 Summer of Love and I am so grateful to have the opportunity to share with you today one of my favorite things about being connected to this church body. If you are new around here, I hope this shows you some of Whitewater's heartbeat. I found it to be contagious!
A little history about me will show you a bit more of my heart. This month, six years ago, I joined this crazy, awesome team. Before my time here began, I worked in an inner-city school in Cincinnati. A job that I NEVER saw coming. Well, the teaching part, yes, the environment and neighborhood, no. I grew up in Indiana, so the inner city thing was different for me. It wasn’t a shock, and it didn’t scare me, it was just different. I remember saying “I will never work in the city.” Ha! That inner-city school though is one of, if not THE reason, I am in ministry today.
Oyler School or Oyler Community Learning Center, the hatmakers, is where I spent five years teaching preschool. Oyler School serves students in grades preschool through grade 12. They are the region’s largest Community Learning Center (CLC). They are known for being the neighborhood anchor. I love that. Where they strive to go beyond just academic needs and focus on the needs of the whole child. They are able to do this by offering a variety of services, like a dental and vision clinic and an Early Learning Center.
It was my time at Oyler that opened my eyes to kids and families who struggled differently than I did. A large piece of the difference was their lack of education mainly due to the lack of relational connection, guidance, and a lack of resources. Parents out of the picture, parents in the picture but without the tools and resources needed (like transportation, internet, clothing, food, lots of barriers), families relying on the school system and its people to fully educate their kids. My role as a “teacher” quickly turned into a parental role. The sweet preschoolers who were supposed to be learning colors, shapes, and how to be a kind friend, were also learning how to take care of themselves, the importance of healthy meals, and much more.
No shoes, parents not showing up for pick up. Early mornings, late nights. Meals on meals on meals. Parents hung up, down on hope. Counseling families. CPS. And let me tell you. We had a few families who attended the school who “had it all together” and still had needs that needed to be met. Emotional and social needs. Heartbreaking realities.
Rubbing shoulders with other teachers in that building opened my eyes to the needs they had as well. The physical, emotional/mental drain that serving these kids had on the teachers. Again, because of that parental role taken on, the physical needs of the students/families, all of it. Building relationships with some of those teachers was such a gift to me.
I eventually left that school to come here… to serve here full-time. That was not an easy move for me. I loved, really loved the work going on in Lower Price Hill at that school. I felt like I was making a difference. And why would I leave the inner city, where the needs were so prevalent, to come to a church “where they had it all together?" I felt like I was making a safe, more comfortable move. It was hard. I had some guilt. It didn’t take me long to realize that Cleves, and the schools in our surrounding area, have similar needs as those in the school I left and that Whitewater was doing that same work I fell in love with. Really, I realized that Whiterwater's heart broke in the same way that my heart broke... for little ones.
Many of you, here long before me, have been doing that work. That hard, beautiful, heartbreaking, rewarding Jesus work. You all had and have a desire to help those who are down on their hope. You have a desire to support and resource children and their families so they can have a better life, which is why you are involved in our area schools and why you believe in the mission we have, to be For Our Schools.
This is why I love y’all. I love that your actions reflect that of Jesus because kids are really important to Jesus. And if we are daily choosing to follow Him, we become more like Him and less like us, which we should all want to do, then kids will matter to us. Meeting the needs of children matters.
Let’s read a bit about what He says about kids.
Matthew 18: 3-4
So what does being For Our Schools have to do with it? Well, what we are talking about today as we continue our Summer of Love is our Solve7 charge to Educate the Student. To Care For the Student. To care for:
The Highlanders at OakHills. Taylor students and all of those at Three Rivers. To care for our students in Lawrenceburg, Colerain, and Harrison. Or wherever you are…
We also need to acknowledge the fact that a lack of resources and care hinder an education, and a lack of education hinders the potential success of a child, and as followers of Jesus, we can’t be okay with this.
And I’m not just talking about “those” kids. Maybe you’re already thinking about a specific child or neighborhood, that maybe you already “helped." Sure, some kids have really visible, physical needs that need to be met. But I’m not talking about just those kids. We will, with Jesus’ help, meet those needs but we have “normal” kids who need cared for, too. Kids who “have it all together”, who live in the nice neighborhood…. Who. Still. Have. Needs. To be met. Emotional needs. Social needs. Physical needs. The reality is that kids who are comfortably resourced just have learned how to hide their needs a little better than those who don’t have that privilege.
Honestly, I was that kid. Lived in a great neighborhood, had a great support system in my family, attended a nice school - East Central, where you at? There was a time I needed support and care. "Normal preacher's kid” needed cared for. I am partially the girl I am today because someone stepped in around the time I was 16.
So it’s not just “those kids." Sorry - passionate about that.
I know schools are important to y’all. I know. I don’t need to convince anyone of that. Some of you graduated years and years ago, and still go to your high school football games. Raise your hand? You bleed your school colors. Your kids go where you went. You live vicariously through your child as they play football or cheer on a Friday night.
We all spend a lot of time, I mean a lot of time, within our schools. And I love that. I love school pride, too, I think it’s so fun. I think I have a shirt for every district represented in this church. If you have a kid or a student in school you most likely have them involved in other things. Sports, clubs, committees, all the things on every night of the week. Right?
Which is why we came up with the slogan “For our schools” because we knew y’all could get behind that. You already are! And in all seriousness, we knew you would believe in it, not to mention that school is THE place where a lot of you spend a lot of your time.
So when we say, we are For Our Schools, that just means love on those you are around, be FOR them. To support, pray for, encourage. To meet Jesus where He is already at work. Jesus is already with our students, in our schools, and is waiting for us to join Him on mission. We are For Our Schools because:
Students need to be empowered, teachers need to be equipped, families need encouragement. At the end of the day, students, teachers, and families need hope, they need Jesus. With Jesus at work in YOU, you have Hope and Help to offer.
So - it’s the most wonderful time of the year if you ask me, school is just around the corner! We are days away for some districts and just a few weeks away for others. We have the perfect opportunity right at our fingertips to love one another radically this school year. To come alongside educators and leaders in our schools to equip, encourage, and empower the students - of all ages.
The school year is approaching quickly and I want us to enjoy the hopeful feeling of a fresh start and look forward to all of the wonderful opportunities ahead. With that though, comes reality. This is not the case for all.
For some, the season ahead is not one they are looking forward to. The start of a new school year is a burden. They aren’t prepared to purchase those new Nikes and the trendy new clothes. They aren’t ready to take on that new grade level or join that new team.
A year ahead is a burden because they aren’t educationally ready. A burden because they don’t have the needed tools to succeed. A burden because they don’t have a support system to carry them through. A burden because of the stress of starting a new year.
Parents or grandparents, do you know that your kids want to please you? They desperately want to get it right for you. They want to excel. They want to start on the team… they have a lot of pressure to please you… sometimes that adds a lot of stress. Some kids are dreading going back to school because that means they are back in the grind.
Kids/students listening - sometimes going back to school is a stressor for the parents! If I’m honest, this fall is one that I’m a bit hesitant about.
If you know me at all, you know my mini-me, right? If not, let me introduce to you the 3-year-old version of me. My daughter, Navy. She is starting preschool this year. So you know I am now that parent…. making this such a huge deal. Special hair cut for school. It will be a national Holiday August 17th when she goes to school, you know for two hours. Big deal right.
I was pumped for this… thought about this day when she was just a tiny babe. Until my husband passed away. I dreamed about this day with him. WE were going to take her on the first day. WE were going to laugh about how silly we were being about this. WE. And now it’s just me.
Filling out paperwork for school, reliving the pain of losing him as I wrote down details of the Navy's life. Putting down pick-up names that weren’t her dad... I was dreading that… you know though, I’d be lying if I didn’t share the little bit of light I had in that moment. Putting down friends who were allowed to pick her up, some of you, and sharing that Navy has an army of loving people around her, that gave me some hope. You all gave me some hope.
So just know that with the start of a new school year comes a lot of stress for students and families. Not to mention the fact that we are now living in a post-covid or just a covid-world. All of these BURDENS got heavier after the past year or so, too.
I have a friend who leads in a local school, wrote to me:
We have many students walking into our building that haven't walked into a building in a year and a half. They were sitting at home "learning from home" and you can imagine the quality of that. Teachers matter and teachers are needed. Quality instruction comes from a teacher. Not a computer screen. So....we always do, but this year we will have SIGNIFICANT academic AND social gaps! Those very same students that were home learning were also not engaging with other humans and there is as much a social curriculum as there is an academic one in schools.
Mental health concerns have increased with covid as well. Depression, anxiety---you name it. Covid brought along financial stress for many families and sending them back to school is overwhelming because that means school fees, school supplies, etc.
So we can help alleviate some of that weight. We, those who believe in our command to love our neighbors, can make the school year ahead more bearable.
We, as the body of Christ, are called to carry each other's burdens. Galatians 6:2 “Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law.” The Law being Matthew 22:37 when Jesus says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.”
I’m encouraging you and reminding you to love those you are constantly around. To be FOR them.
What does this look like? How do we do this?
We equip students. This looks like providing them with the tools needed to succeed. What do they need to succeed? Clothing/shoes, supplies, food, how about adults.... who are there for them?
As a body, we have rallied to equip students this Summer of Love, with school supplies and shoes for their school year ahead. And with your generosity, we will be able to equip teachers as well. We equip the teachers so they can then resource the child.
This summer many of you participated in MeetUp, Eat Up, Read Up - a summer program where we partnered with Southwest Local School District to come alongside children by providing a fun and safe learning environment. Many of you spent every Wednesday on this campus feeding students at our Picnic in the Parking Lot.
It doesn’t end here… it doesn’t end with the Summer of Love.
We equip students, and we encourage them.
This looks like showing up for your own kids, or another child. Paying attention to the needs of students living in your home or those students that you rub shoulders with at ball games.
Cheering them on as they start a new year. Walking through the season they are in, with them. Sharing with them hope.
Maybe your days involved with school have passed and you find yourself with time on your hands and a heart to make a difference. We have so many opportunities… you know why?
This church body, Whitewater, has UNREAL favor with surrounding schools/districts like I’ve never seen before. I mean some folks are a part of this church because they love the involvement we have in schools. Some people are a part of this church BECAUSE we were involved in their school. Let me give you a couple of examples;
We have been trusted to take a quality experience TO Harrison schools. Kids can participate in this program after school - hear about Jesus and spend time with loving adults who will be there for them. YOU can be involved - it’s called Lightning Squad. This afterschool program is designed to equip children to know the Light of Jesus and Be the Light in their schools.
Our friends at Three Rivers spent some time here this summer, hosting a Leadership retreat for young ladies called Brave Girl. An event led by counselors at Three Rivers, on our campus, empowering girls.
We have personal relationships with school leaders, superintendents, and teachers like I’ve never seen. You have been the hands and feet of Jesus in our area schools and God has blessed that. Don’t lose sight of that y’all. It’s so unique. It’s so encouraging. And you know, it’s time we double down on that.
Equipping and encouraging the student is important, but we need to remember to encourage the teachers, too. Encouragement for those in the trenches every day.
My friend continued to write:
Pray for us----yes! Educators are NOT just educating students anymore. They are now some of the first responders to student's mental health struggles (which are way more common than not). And quite honestly, there is NO TRAINING FOR ANY OF THAT! On top of that, some of these folks have their own mental health issues. So you are trying to be what someone else needs when their trauma is very real to you as well.....or perhaps even a trigger for you.
Support! The amount of money that teachers and admins have to spend out of pocket for students is asinine! Not just supplies, but incentives for students, awards, breakfasts for those that come and haven't had it, and the amount of money that is dished out to students for lunch in the middle school is crazy!
If students don't have money on their account, they don't eat. They don't get to "charge their account" like they can in the elementary levels. Therefore, my secretaries and I dish out LOTS AND LOTS of lunch money or items that we piecemeal together for them because I REFUSE for the students to not eat!!!!
They can’t do this alone… It can be so devastating, difficult, and lonely, I KNOW, to try and handle these situations on your own. We can help...
We want to equip and encourage, so that we will have empowered students. That’s what we want. That’s what our youth ministry is striving for.
Those of you who have an empty nest or maybe those of you with littles, I have some friends that I want to introduce you to. We have this incredible Youth Ministry team that I, personally, am learning from weekly, and many of them are in the thick of it with our students weekly. Check out this video, recapping some past events this year, and see what a difference “ showing up” can make.
“Show up,” Jon said. God could be using you to change lives. “Walk through life with our students, walk through the messiness,” Reed said. Can you equip and encourage your students? In the schools and spheres of influence you have? Can we be for the one, what we needed when we were students?
Today. Today we will have the chance to equip and encourage those in our schools. I’m asking that after our time here you leave this room if you are on campus, and spend some time packing gifts for students and teachers.
One option: We are going to pack toiletries for kids who are in the Backpack Club program. A program for kids who receive free and reduced lunches. Typically, if they are short on food at home, they are short on essentials, too. We also want our school nurses to feel equipped, so we will be packing bags for their offices as well.
A second option: Northwest Back to School Snack pack. Kids need snacks, am I right? This is an easy way to show a school district the love of Jesus.
The last option: Teacher Gifts. We need to rally around our lovely teachers and let them know that we are cheering them on!
All of this y’all is how we can lean in, be like Jesus, and help educate the student. Educate and remind the student that they MATTER. Teachers, MATTER. Parents, you MATTER. Students, teachers, and families all have real struggles. We know this. So, by removing some of the physical barriers, by alleviating the burden, and setting them up for success, their minds and hearts can open up to new possibilities, they will see the true potential that can be unleashed.
I want to take just a moment, before we go and serve together, to pray for a few different individuals. I know this may be a bit uncomfortable...sorry.
If you are a kid or student - you are going to school this month, would you stand? We, as your church family, have your back. Declaring this over you. “Be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9
Parents or Guardians who are sending their children to school. Would you stand with me? As we lead and love our “student” no matter the age, I ask that we be gracious… patient…and loving, you know the same things that we need from our Heavenly Father. “Don’t be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Philippians 4:6
School staff, teachers, leaders would you stand. We are with you, we have your back. We will help ease your burden. We ask God for great wisdom.
Pray - Lord We Love You.