The old proverb “Mighty oaks from little acorns grow” comes to mind as the Florida United Methodist Foundation’s Lockmiller grant application deadline approaches.
The program, which provides cash awards up to $2,000, fosters church initiatives aimed at helping children and families, with an emphasis on eradicating hunger. Last year, 21 churches of all sizes in the Florida Conference received grants.
|Alice W. Lockmiller|
As in previous years, a total of $25,000 will be awarded before the summer. The grant program is made possible through a trust that draws on the legacy of the late Alice W. Lockmiller, a successful businesswoman and lifelong Methodist who died in 2007.
The Global Missions and Justice Committee will review the applications. Those with more than one emphasis in the areas of hunger reduction, educational enrichment, parenting skills education and physical recreation generally receive high marks in the review process.
Lockmiller grants are not intended to provide seed money for startup ministries but to give supplemental funding that complements other resources to sustain an ongoing ministry.
Applications should be sent to Rev. Clarke Campbell-Evans, director of Missional Engagement, at email@example.com by April 1. The awards will be announced May 5. To see guidelines and the application, click here.
Last year, the grant program funded food-related ministries -- including weekly dinners for families, food packs and school snacks – and educational outreach, such as gardening and reading camps, after-school programs and mentoring.
At Estero UMC in southwest Florida, a $2,000 Lockmiller grant helped kick off another session of the Super Kids Club Intensive Reading Camp. The four-week summer program is part of the church’s Hispanic Ministry strategic outreach and is specifically designed to build reading skills, said Missions Committee chairperson Debra Haley. Estero, which has an average Sunday attendance of about 600, also received a Lockmiller grant in 2012 for the camp.
Through previous outreach efforts, the church knew of families living below the poverty level in a nearby, primarily Hispanic, community called Covered Wagon.
|Volunteers at the 2013 Estero UMC summer camp work with Hispanic neighborhood children to help them build reading skills. The camp received a boost from the Lockmiller grant program. Photo from New Horizons.|
“The program is specifically tailored to children that are at risk in school and, really, in society.” Haley said.
“We have a 40 percent average improvement in their reading skills over the course of the summer,” she reported, adding that the gain is particularly significant because teachers say children tend to backslide in reading skills during the summer break. For children living in homes where Spanish is the primary language spoken, the risk of reading loss increases.
“The feedback we get from parents and kids is just wonderful,” she said. “The parents feel their children are better prepared and better behaved, and the kids say they feel much better about going back to school.”
The Lockmiller funds were used for educational material, snacks, staff and transporting the children to and from the camp each day, she said.
The church partnered with New Horizons of Southwest Florida, a faith-based nonprofit organization that Haley guides as executive director. New Horizons managed the camp for 45 children in kindergarten through fifth grade. Six certified staff and about 20 volunteers worked with the children in a three-part plan that focused on education, mentoring and faith.
The program also partnered with the Lee County school system for breakfasts and lunches, the local YMCA for Friday afternoon swim sessions and Laces of Love for back-to-school tennis shoes.
“The benefits of this reach way beyond the Hispanic families. It is engaging our congregation in serving and engaging the community, as well, in serving at our church,” Haley said.
“The church’s commitment is whole-hearted and goes along with the mission and vision of the church ... to be a center of Christian influence in the community.”
On the opposite coast of Florida, Palm Bay UMC – a small church of about 100 in average Sunday worship -- received $1,600 for its burgeoning food ministry, said Kaye Leslie, who coordinates the effort and is the wife of the pastor, Rev. Dr. Errol E. Leslie.
|"We're small, but we're mighty through God."
-- Kaye Leslie, Palm Bay UMC food ministry coordinator
“We started very small in 2012 with 10 meals,” Kaye Leslie said. “We went from 35 to 75, then to 100. We stopped putting out flyers over a year ago, but the numbers keep growing. Last year, I know we were averaging 400 (meals). When we hit the summer, it all went up because kids were out of school.”
Leslie estimates Palm Bay now serves about 500 cooked meals each week to individuals and families in an area hard hit by the recent recession.
Most Thursday dinners are take-out affairs because the church has no space to feed so many people. One person registers and picks up meals for the entire family. Meals are cooked, prepackaged and frozen on Mondays and Wednesdays.
“Most people have a stove or microwave,” Leslie said. “If they do not, they get fresh, hot (food) out of the kitchen.”
Not only is the church small, but many members are aging. So Palm Bay reached out to the community for help.
“Volunteers come from other places, and some of the recipients come and help, too. We have restaurants that help us cook the food, and we also cook on site to make up the difference,” Leslie said.
Palm Bay has two certified food managers and partners with Second Harvest Food Bank, where it can obtain food at a lower cost. Leslie said the church is committed to continuing the food ministry through donations and fundraising.
“The community knows the church is not just a church but is fulfilling the mandate of Christ…to look after the widows, the elderly, the children, just the people that are out there on their own. We are the hands and feet of Jesus to them.”
“We’re small, but we’re mighty through God.”