Registration open for 'Our Kids Training Plus'




In Port St. Lucie, a church donated more than 1,000 books to a local K-8 school. A church in Lakeland is providing food to children on weekends.

In Kissimmee, a church is building a school-church partnership rooted in the All Pro Dad program founded with help from former NFL player and coach Tony Dungy.

"Our Kids Training Plus" is scheduled Oct. 7, 2017 at St. Luke's UMC in Orlando. Author Robert Putnam's reference to the "opportunity gap" will be the guiding principle for the task force and training workshop that invites pastors, church staff and laity.

Florida Conference Bishop Ken Carter likely had projects such as these in mind when he advocated school-church partnerships as one of several key initiatives for the Conference.

He established a conference-level task force of pastors, other church staff members and laity from congregations that already have school-church partnerships. That group has been meeting for several months and will be providing training events, said Pastor Lisa Degrenia of Trinity United Methodist Church in Sarasota.

The first training event—Our Kids Training Plus!—is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 7, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., at St. Luke's United Methodist Church, 4851 S. Apopka Vineland Road, in Orlando.

While First United Methodist Church in Port St. Lucie is not officially on the task force, Degrenia said that church's book drive and school volunteer work are “the kind of initiative that the bishop is wanting to promote throughout the Conference. “They're a great role model.”

Organizers are encouraging churches to send teams to the first training session. Admission is $25 per person, $75 maximum per church. Equitable compensation congregations may pay $25 for an unlimited number of attendees. Child care costs $10 per training participant.

Organizers are calling it “Training Plus” because they are encouraging participating congregations to do some pre-training work together to better understand what author Robert Putnam calls the “opportunity gap.”

The opportunity gap refers to the gap between a child who comes from a well-resourced household and a child from an under-resourced household. Specifically, Lynette Fields, executive director of missions at St. Luke's United Methodist Church in Orlando, says the opportunity gap affects areas such as the academics of children in low-income families and their access to art, field trips and edifying summer experiences.

The opportunity gap is a guiding principle for the task force and training. Pre-conference work might include team-building exercises such as watching a recommended movie or TED Talk or reading a book together “in order to better understand the opportunity gap, and to begin to pray together and to set some goals for what they hope to get out of the training,” Degrenia said.

During training, teams will worship together.

Bishop Carter will kick off the session. Participants will then hear testimonies from representatives from small, medium and large congregations that already have pioneered school-church relationships.

After lunch, there will be workshops on “simple, practical and effective ideas to implement,” Degrenia said, such as how to start a partnership and what a church might offer to a school.

Workshops will focus on three areas: relief—including areas such as nutrition, school supplies, books and teacher appreciation; betterment—mentoring, reading and tutoring programs, parenting classes and skill building, and development—looking at “the bigger, systemic pictures of education policy and collaborating with community partners,” Degrenia said.

The opportunity gap has been growing since the 1970s.

“There are a lot of different angles and complexities to the opportunity gap,” Degrenia said. “It's going to take a long, sustained effort to address it and it's going to require addressing it from many different angles.”

After the workshops, participants will develop action plans to take back to their respective churches. In upcoming months, church teams and the conference task force will meet again.

“The folks who are already doing school-church partnerships, there is an excitement in the congregation to have a very practical community focus and how this relationship can be a mutual blessing,” Degrenia said.

To register, go to www.flumc.org/ourkids.

--Ed Scott is a freelance writer based in Venice.


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