As the beginning of the school year approaches—too quickly for students, perhaps not quick enough for parents—UBA churches will also be preparing to help schools in need through an organization called Loving Houston. Founded on the idea that Christians should serve their communities and love others as God first loved us, Loving Houston believes that investing in children has the greatest potential for long-term community transformation. Though many challenges exist among students in these schools, there is also much hope. Education provides opportunities for children to break free from their challenges and live up to their God-given potential. These same convictions drove Marilyn Lee to become involved with Loving Houston in 2014, and she now serves as the Executive Director. Marilyn got an MBA with the goal of helping churches address challenges like poverty. Loving Houston is doing just that through school partnerships.
Connecting Churches, Impacting Communities
Loving Houston mobilizes local churches to partner with their neighborhood schools. Through church networks like Union Baptist Association, Houston Church Planting Network, Catholic Charities, and others, churches are made aware of how each congregation might partner with a nearby school to meet needs. Loving Houston also spreads the word via social media and email, and they also host workshops for school representatives to teach them how to reach out to local churches as well.
Loving Houston has started over forty church-school partnerships, resulting in hundreds of volunteers serving schools and sharing Jesus' love in a tangible way. One church—Second Baptist Church— became involved with Loving Houston in 2015 because their pastor had a vision for inner-city ministry in the Acres Homes area of Houston. Second Baptist sponsors five schools and has completed over 14,000 hours of volunteer work for these schools over the past two years, including mentoring, tutoring, periodic service projects, and collecting school supplies and equipment. Visit Loving Houston’s website to find more stories of church-school partnerships.
Once Loving Houston facilitates a church and school partnership, they let the church take the reigns. The church and school are then able to build a mutually beneficial relationship tailored to goals, size, needs, volunteer giftings, etc. Most churches maintain a one-to-one partnership with a school, so they are able to learn about and meet unique needs—whether it's being a reading buddy in a classroom, coaching job skills or financial training, providing basic needs for a homeless student, etc. Then, Loving Houston brings church and school leaders together for Leader Luncheons where leaders of existing church-school partnerships can come together to share ideas, network, and support each other.
A particularly challenging time occurred last year in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. However, according to Marilyn Lee, because many churches already had established school partnerships, they were able to jump right into relief efforts. In addition, many nonprofits donated gift cards and school supplies to Loving Houston, who in turn distributed them to churches to give to affected families within their partner schools.
Apart from that, Hurricane Harvey really slowed things down on both the church and school sides, and consequently with Loving Houston. Both school districts and churches were trying to figure things out and get back to speed. However, it turned into a blessing in disguise for Loving Houston, who had gone through a staff change just before Hurricane Harvey happened. The slowdown gave Loving Houston time to get organized. There was time to get HR, Finance, database, communications, and workshops logistics more formalized and structured this past year, which has also allowed them to see where the needs and gaps are in their ministry. Even though Hurricane Harvey may have slowed the impact for the 2017-2018 school year, it set up the potential for much greater impact going forward. Loving Houston has deeper relationships with the school districts and churches now as a result of their interactions this past year, and they have had time to create more organized and intentional plans for the 2018-2019 school year and beyond.
How it Works
In the time leading up to the start of school, churches help clean up the schools, set up classrooms, or collect school supplies to help students who cannot afford them. Churches can also utilize any medical professionals within their congregations to host health fairs and provide necessary immunizations to students who may not get them otherwise. Other churches provide volunteers to ride on buses for the first few days to help young and/or new students get acquainted with timing, routes, and simply make things more comfortable in an otherwise intimidating environment. Schools appreciate volunteers that help direct traffic and welcome students during the first days back.
Loving Houston hosts regular workshops where leaders from both schools and churches can learn more. If your church is interested in learning about how to partner with a school in your neighborhood, plan to attend a workshop. Pray for the schools in your neighborhood, that God might give you an opportunity to share his love with students, teachers, and administrators.