Oshtemo Area Churches: One is as big as it gets

(From left) Carolyn H. Williams, Tony McDonnell, and representatives of OAC, Simon Tuin and Eli Bast.
(From left) CIS Board Member Carolyn H. Williams, Chief Development Officer of Borgess Foundation Tony McDonnell, and representatives of OAC, Simon Tuin and Eliza Bast.

Today we highlight Oshtemo Area Churches, one of seven school and community partners honored with a 2016 Champ Award.  Their award was sponsored by Borgess and CIS Board member Carolyn H. Williams presented the award.

_MG_4541Imagine, a number of churches individually supporting one school, independent of each other. Good things are getting done. The support is greatly appreciated. But now, picture this: six churches of various denominations coming together as one in partnership with Communities In Schools to serve the students, families, faculty, and staff of Prairie Ridge Elementary School. That’s exactly what happened and that decision was a game changer.

As Principal Karen Spencer puts it, “When these six churches: Heritage Christian, Centerpointe, Lifespring, Voyage, Lighthouse, and Oshtemo United Methodist chose to work together, to create a team, on behalf of our children—that support multiplied exponentially.

These six churches, known together as the Oshtemo Area Churches, meet monthly with CIS Site Coordinator Carly Denny and CIS After School Coordinator Alexis Arocho to discuss both academic and nonacademic barriers to student success. “OAC,” they say, “is sensitive to the needs of the entire school family and works closely with CIS to align and integrate a student support strategy. Even outside of these meetings,” say Carly and Alexis, “OAC can be counted on to communicate, brainstorm, and troubleshoot, as necessary.”

In various combinations and forms, these six churches have become part of the fabric of the school. We’ve found that six equals one and one is as big as it gets. What does the power of one look like? Here’s a glimpse:

_MG_4520– Nearly one half of all our CIS volunteers at Prairie Ridge found out about how they could help through Oshtemo Area Churches. OAC has recruited and funneled through CIS, committed and caring adults to tutor students on a daily basis.

-OAC reinforces the importance of literacy through tutoring support and supporting the school’s “Books to Bikes” reading initiative—providing new bicycles raffled off to students who read the most in February.

-More students are ready to learn so they can receive the full benefit of the excellent teachers at Prairie Ridge Elementary School. Students, who once arrived late to school or not at all, arrive on time because they have the winter apparel they need. On Mondays, students arrive focused and ready to learn because members from the churches took time to distribute Friday Foodpacks. And they work with our 2008 Champ, Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes, to purchase enough food for more than 75 Prairie Ridge families, providing 4 days of food on a monthly basis.

-Family involvement is nurtured. Students celebrate with their home and school families during Thanksgiving Family Night and Back to School Bashes, organized, run, and led by the OAC.

-From one, an “Impact Group” was born. Composed of CIS and Kids Hope volunteers working within the school, the group meets weekly to encourage each other and plan events, such as this year’s “Harvest Party” and last year’s CIS after school “End of the Year Picnic.”

_MG_4530-Six as one can wrap their arms around an entire school. Each grade level within the school has been adopted by one of the churches, encouraging the classes with small notes and gifts. That reach can extend beyond the school and into the home. So, for instance, children, who might otherwise have had nothing to open for Christmas, had a present to open that morning.

-Teachers are provided with needed school supplies. Teachers and staff within the school feel appreciated and cared for in small and big ways. The OAC pooled together their money and catered lunch from Taco Bob’s!

While it can be tempting to go it alone, OAC sets a shining example for us all:  when grownups set aside differences—denominational or otherwise—and literally come together as one through CIS, it’s the students who benefit.

As Principal Karen Spencer says, “Every day—every hour—I turn around and see the evidence of the care and concern OAC has shared with our children…OAC is now a part of our culture and part of who we are. We are eternally grateful.”

Oshtemo Area Churches, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.

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