On United Methodist Student Day Sunday, churches are asked to take up a Special Offering to support scholarships nationally, and to assist four area campus ministries. Half of the amount collected will go to scholarships and the other half to BWC campus ministry needs not supported by our mission share giving.
An example of what your donation might do locally comes from Frostburg University.
Starting college can be a stressful time in any young person's life, but for a selection of students at Frostburg University, the fall of this year took on new challenges, which they were able to meet only with the assistance of the Campus Ministry there.
These students, explained the Rev. Cynthia Zirlott, are the ones aging out of foster care. She cannot share the numbers or names of these students. However, national statistics show that each year, more than 23,000 children in the United States age out of the foster care system; 20 percent of them are instantly homeless.
Only six percent of the children who age out of foster care attend institutions of high learning; only 50 percent of those will graduate with a degree.
These stark statistics make the students at Frostburg rare and prized, Zirlott said.
But when they arrived on campus last fall, the checks that they would receive for work study didn't start for a month. So they, and others, were forced to figure out how to get money to eat and for other expenses.
Zirlott has a student fund, which she tries to keep at $300, and churches and individuals give her $25 gift cards to share with the students.
"But this semester has been more urgent," she said. "I had five students come to me this semester. They don't have enough food. Some are eating only one meal a day. This is unusual, I rarely have more than one or two."
Zirlott is depending on churches to help her assist the students, and so far, they have. But the need is always there.
"When you're hungry, you can't make the best grades," she said. "I'm having to take students to the doctors. They're not feeding themselves. They're getting sicker quicker. College campuses can be germ factories."
Frostburg has a lot of students in poverty, Zirlott said. "Some students in my ministry grew up in-and-out of homeless shelters. Social workers steer these students to Frostburg because their financial aid will go further."
Zirlott and the Campus Ministry offer all the "normal things," one would expect: Bible study groups, a dance ministry, chapel services on Sunday nights, service Saturdays, mission trips, leadership training and more. Last year, 147 students participated.
But it is often the students with pressing needs that most touch Zirlott's heart.
"I'm not surprised by anything anymore," she said. "I've been dealing with this for 11 years. It can be heartbreaking."
But, she said, she would never stop. "I was one of those students," Zirlott said. "I'm a product of extreme poverty, too. I put myself through school, too. I kind of know where they're coming from."
She remembers learning to live on $25 a week for food, spending just $2 on a meal, and working four jobs to put herself through college. "I had to sacrifice. I had to choose between making good grades and making okay grades to work more hours," she said.
Zirlott is hopeful local churches will remember these students who live so close to them and give to the student emergency fund, to campus ministries, or to the annual Student Day offering.
"People helped me along the way, too," Zirlott said. "I want to help as many students as I can."
Melissa Lauber, Baltimore-Washington AC website
One of six churchwide Special Sundays with offerings of The United Methodist Church, United Methodist Student Day calls the church to support students as they prepare for life in uniting faith with knowledge. The special offering provides scholarships for qualified United Methodist applicants.