Lifting up stories from across the state is critical to building connections, forging a stronger congregational community, and helping others grow. Has Center for Congregations helped you navigate a challenge or opportunity? Please share your story with us.
First Presbyterian Church of Muncie, Indiana, began their Community Ministry Grant with the Center for Congregations in the fall of 2019, focusing their efforts upon supporting the staff and students at Southview Elementary School. Read to learn more about First Presbyterian Church and South View Elementary School’s journey from community partners to everlasting friends.
First Presbyterian Church of Muncie, Indiana, is a congregation full of warm and wonderful people dedicated to demonstrating God’s grace and love. Searching for new opportunities to bond with their beloved Muncie community, First Presbyterian Church connected with the Center for Congregations.
“I had first heard of the Community Ministry Grant in February of 2018,” says Jan McCune, grant team leader at First Presbyterian Church. “You had to come up with a project that would help someone by listening to your church and the community around you.”
After Jan wrote a proposal alongside Cathy Alexander, Marty Kendrick, and Myron Earhart, First Presbyterian was notified it has received a Community Ministry Grant in April 2019.
“Along with receiving the grant, our congregation got an education package, with all sorts of information about workshops to help us determine the target of our project,” says Marty. “Our grant team attended classes that helped us learn about the grant process and figure out what direction God was leading us.”
With guidance from the Center for Congregations, First Presbyterian Church set out to determine a neighbor of their community who could benefit from their love and care. After considering several different options, including Ball State University and surrounding neighborhoods, First Presbyterian Church felt called to the south side of Muncie.
“We started thinking about South View Elementary School and how drawn to that community all of us were,” says Marty. “We had done an after-school mentorship program with South View Elementary before, and we felt we could continue to make a difference within the school.”
After narrowing down their efforts to focus on South View Elementary, First Presbyterian Church had to decide whom they would provide support for within the school. Upon discussing the needs of staff, students, parents, and teachers, First Presbyterian chose teachers.
“We have so many retired teachers in our congregation,” says Jan. “We understand teachers. They are the ones who tend to have the greatest impact on the kids. So, we thought if we could make their lives easier, we could make their jobs easier, too.”
In the fall of 2019, members of First Presbyterian Church met with the principal of South View Elementary to discuss the congregation’s desire to help and to inquire about the school’s needs. At this point in time, teachers within the Muncie school district had not received a pay raise in several years. Thus, teacher turnover rates were high, and the stress was felt by everyone.
“The principal said they desperately needed boots on the ground,” says Jan. “The school was not necessarily interested in money, they just really needed someone to step in and help.”
And that’s exactly what First Presbyterian Church did. Even before the official start of their grant project, First Presbyterian Church began volunteering at South View Elementary on a daily basis, greeting students as they entered the building in the morning, working with them in the classrooms, helping office staff, aiding the school nurse, and much more.
“Our church is made up of a lot of retired people with plenty of time on their hands,” says Jan. “A handful of our members were hesitant to volunteer at first, but once we got people into the school, everything changed. Pretty soon, we had around 50 volunteers helping everywhere within South View Elementary.”
As First Presbyterian Church continued to volunteer at the school, Jan and the CMG team drafted the congregation’s plan for aiding South View Elementary through the Community Ministry Grant. The congregation established a hospitality committee, providing snacks for faculty meetings, hosting monthly “Stress Buster” activities, and creating handmade birthday cards for the teachers, each complete with a gift certificate.
“I always say it’s like the teachers hit the lottery with First Presbyterian,” says Kristie Houston, Assistant Principal of South View Elementary. “Having their constant support and encouragement has been priceless. Our teachers know they have a friend in the community, and that’s made all the difference.”
First Presbyterian Church continued to support South View Elementary staff by collaborating with them to remodel the teachers’ lounge and workroom. What once were drab rooms with old furniture, are now comfortable spaces for teachers to prepare materials, to relax, and to re-center.
“The teachers knew exactly what they wanted,” says Jan, “and the new space is gorgeous. They have all new furniture, equipment, supplies, and even a brand-new teacher’s encouragement library.”
The support from First Presbyterian Church and the Community Ministry Grant did not stop there. With the remaining funds, the congregation invested in updated ceiling tiles for the cafeteria, new playground equipment for the fourth and fifth graders, and invited the Indy Air Bears jump rope team to host gym class lessons.
Not even COVID-19 could slow First Presbyterian Church down. Despite volunteers not being able to enter the school, members of the congregation dedicated their time to making hundreds of masks for students and teachers, while providing clothing, toys, and food baskets during the holiday seasons to families in need. Anthony says the school really missed having First Presbyterian Church visit them in-person during the pandemic, and they are excited for the future to come.
“First Presbyterian Church recently partnered with Muncie’s United Way to start a reading program for our school,” says Anthony Williams, Principal of South View Elementary. “We are excited for that to begin this school year and we look forward to having our volunteers back in-person soon.”
What started as a simple community connection has now evolved into an everlasting friendship. For Southview Elementary, First Presbyterian is not just a church,it’s family.
As First Presbyterian Church continues to serve South View Elementary this upcoming school year, the congregation is excited to partner also with churches and community organizations within the south side of Muncie to continue making a difference within their town.
“This process was not easy, but there is this satisfaction of staying with it, doing what you can, and bringing some peace to the community,” says Marty. “It’s heartwarming and we feel it’s exactly what we should be doing as a congregation.”