Taking time to change young lives

At North Belt Elementary in Humble, Texas, nearly 90 percent of the students live at or below the poverty line, says Principal Macaire McDonough-Davies.

"Our pre-K through fifth-grade students face daily struggles at home and many live in chronic stress. Many of our students help to raise their younger siblings. Our parents often work several jobs to make ends meet and are unable to help with homework or provide school supplies and other essentials that lead to school success," she says.

That's why the school's partnership with Journey of Faith United Methodist Church in Humble has been such a blessing to students and staff.

Through the church's Redeeming Our Community project, a Human Relations Day Sunday Grant recipient, students are paired with adult mentors who "help with school assignments, homework, or just play a board game and talk," McDonough-Davies says. "Our students cherish the time with their mentors. For them, it's a time to just be a kid and let an adult care for them."

In addition to the elementary school, the church collaborates with local assistance ministries, a family shelter and the area's Head Start program.

"The project addresses the needs of poor students and families. (It) is multifaceted and contributes to the development of the total family and community," says Stevelyn Levigne, community director for the Community Developer's Program. "The Human Relations Day apportionment allows our ministry to thrive in places that we would not otherwise be available to impact."

Situated north of Houston, Humble has a "high level of poverty and a low level of education," Levigne says, "which makes this project ideal."

The work that Journey of Faith church members are doing is leaving a lasting impression on the community they have set out to serve.

At North Belt, fifth graders at the school join community leaders each year for a formal Manner's Banquet, where the students can show off the etiquette lessons they have learned and polish their conversation skills.

However, many of the school's students don't own formal clothing and don't have the money to purchase something new for the special occasion.

"For the last three years, Journey of Faith members have created a Manners Banquet Boutique, where they collect and donate suits, ties, dresses, shoes and accessories that literally transform our fifth graders," says McDonough-Davies. "The men and women at Journey of Faith act as personal shoppers to our students. The men help our boys learn to tie their ties while the women help our girls pick the perfect accessory to go with their new dress."

Church volunteers also decorate the school cafeteria for the event.

"All 750 of our students are in awe by the transformation, and our fifth graders feel extra special because it has been done for them. Journey of Faith volunteers serve our students and take pride in watching our students blossom due to their efforts."

Contributions to the Human Relations Day Special Sunday offering help churches like JOF "provide educational, spiritual and physical support to children, youth and families in our community," Levigne says.

And that support translates into long-term improvements.

"Research suggests that adverse childhood experiences can lead to poor mental and physical health, less success at school and lower socioeconomic status in adulthood. Fortunately, safe, nurturing relationships and communities can help break the cycle and produce long-term improvements in children's outcomes," says McDonough-Davies. "We are thrilled that Journey of Faith has committed to make a difference in the lives of our students."

Julie Dwyer, general church content editor, United Methodist Communications

One of six churchwide Special Sundays with offerings of The United Methodist Church, Human Relations Day calls United Methodists to recognize the right of all God's children in realizing their potential as human beings in relationship with one another. The special offering benefits neighborhood ministries through Community Developers, community advocacy through United Methodist Voluntary Services and work with at-risk teens through the Youth Offender Rehabilitation Program.

When you give generously on Human Relations Day, you encourage ordinary people to have a voice in changing the world. Give now.