Church: Oakwood UMC
District: Southern Prairie
Submitted by: Kathy Austinson, evangelism chair
Many grade school students have obstacles to overcome before they can focus on learning. Some come to school without basic supplies. Others arrive without the proper clothing. And a number of students’ families live in shared housing due to economic hardship, which may mean they sleep on the floor.
Pastor Richard “Ric” Jacobsen and members of Oakwood United Methodist Church in New Ulm have taken these students into their hearts. They are sharing the love of Christ and fulfilling God’s call to heal a broken world—and the church was recently recognized by the New Ulm school district.
Three years ago, Oakwood UMC adopted Jefferson Elementary School. The church collects and distributes: emergency clothing for kids who don’t have appropriate clothes or who have “accidents”; emergency school supplies at the beginning of the year and later when crayons, pencils, and paper run out; warm outer clothes; and self-care items such as toothpaste, toothbrushes, combs, and hair ties.
Teachers have recounted the joy on their students’ faces after the kids have received a warm hat or needed school supplies. One little boy was given a pair of mittens and would proudly wave in the hallway, telling his teacher he hadn’t lost them.
But church members don’t stop there: They also thank, pray for, and encourage the school staff members who shape the lives of the students.
Teaching can be tough some days. But Jefferson Elementary staff often find apples, pens, and pencils with a note that says, “Thanks for loving the kids!” On one occasion, they found individual soup cups in the lounge that said, “We think you’re souper!”
“All of this puts a smile on our face and helps us realize that we are appreciated,” says Jefferson School Reading Specialist Beth Sletta.
Oakwood UMC doesn’t work directly with the students and instead provides support through a partnership with the school. Both students and staff know that they are in the thoughts and prayers of church members. Each time gifts are gathered for the school, they are placed by the altar and the congregation asks God to bless those who will receive them.
Throughout the year, the Oakwood outreach team inquires at the school office or the nurses’ station to find out if there is anything the kids need. The church’s support makes students feel better about themselves so they have less to worry about and can concentrate on learning.
At the appreciation event at which Oakwood UMC was recognized by the New Ulm school district, Pastor Ric told 150 educators in the room: “We really feel that the neediest kids are the kids that are the least nurtured, the least loved. You are our heroes because you’re the ones that work with them each day and truly nurture them and care for them. We thank you very much.”
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church