Church: Grace UMC - Paynesville
District: North Star
Submitted by: Rev. Ric Koehn
A sixth-grade boy walks into the middle of the living room and calls out, “All sixth grade boys: bring your math books and meet me in the living room.” Quickly five or six boys come into the room with their math books in tow. “My mom says we have to do our math homework before we do anything else,” the boy continues, and all lie down on the floor and begin to work together.
This is just another day at the UZone, the after-school tutoring/drop-in center operated by Grace United Methodist Church, Paynesville.
Started in spring 2007, the UZone occupies a house immediately next to the Paynesville Middle and High School building and is open to all sixth through twelfth graders who simply need a place to go after school. The center is open every day that school is in session until 5:30 p.m.
On evenings when there is a school sports event, the center stays open until the first game begins. About 25 to 40 young people spend time at the center on any given afternoon. The UZone was the vision of Linda Jensen, Grace Church’s director of youth and family ministries. She saw the need for a safe place where youth could hang out or do homework after school. The church’s missions team approved use of an estate gift to help support the center that Jensen proposed.
Location was key. The center had to be within safe walking distance from the school, and it needed to be a neutral site (not a church building). The school district and the city of Paynesville helped Grace identify a house being used by the Nature Conservancy. The Conservancy gladly sublet a portion of the house to the church and work began. The church obtained computers and furnishings. The UZone Advisory Board formed, made up of church members from each grade at the school as well as adults. A year-round gift to the community While the center provides a Christian atmosphere, it is not an overt tool of evangelism.
The center is Grace Church’s gift to the community. During the summer when school is not in session, the center runs a tutoring program for elementary and high-school students. Adults and high-school students help children with reading and math skills. Several teachers have told the UZone how much they appreciate the fact that the summer tutoring program has enabled students to start school on the right foot.
In the future, the UZone may offer some evening gatherings for senior-high students, where they can discuss movies or topics of relevance to them. These groups would be open and nonjudgmental, perhaps breaking down negative stereotypes that young people might have about church. The center is also considering offering Bible study groups that would meet before school. As more young people make use of the center, its needs grow—needs for more space, more tutors, and more supervisors. It demonstrates that the UZone is successfully meeting the needs of one portion of the Paynesville community that was waiting for someone to notice and step forward with a solution.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church