First United Methodist Church of Seffner has, for a long time, donated food and clothing to the area’s needy. What it did not have was a strong school-church partnership like those Bishop Ken Carter has called on churches to plant.
Pastor Kathi Sheehan, who arrived in Seffner in July, said the church could do more to nourish emotional, intellectual and spiritual needs.
Times have changed. The church joined with Colson Elementary, a Title 1 school outside of Tampa, to start a band for fifth-graders.
The church has also partnered with Instruments of Change, which successfully started four other school bands in Hillsborough County. The program focuses on Title 1 elementary schools where most of the students get free or reduced lunches. It is designed to teach students more than just how to play a musical instrument.
The fifth graders sign a contract and commit to a set of standards and accomplishments throughout the school year. Those who uphold their part of the contract earn a new instrument for middle school band.
During the school year, the students are taught life skills like responsibility (for their instruments); accountability (to their section), goal-setting (to prepare for performance opportunities) and hard work (by having the opportunity to earn a new instrument for their efforts).
The thought is that investing in these programs takes the students well beyond fifth grade. The goal is to make it a path to higher grades, more school involvement, then high school graduation and college.
Sheehan has started a Facebook fundraiser called Making Memories and Melodies. People in the wider community can click here to donate online.
Already, some of the school family has donated used instruments for the children. Many more are needed.
“I’ve only been here a couple of months. When I had my first meeting with Sid Fortner, the worship director, he mentioned that the principal at Colson was looking to start a band program,” Sheehan said.
They are both passionate about music, as is Sheehan.
“This church does food backpacks, shoe drives, canned food drives, so they already had a relationship with Colson through those avenues,” she said.
Her aim was to expand the church’s mission outreach.
“To me, it seemed like a perfect fit,” she said. “The idea was affirmed when I met with (the principal). I approached a few people in the leadership of my church and they were all about it.”
People can sponsor a child for $18 a month. Sheehan also is asking members of her congregation to ask their employers to sponsor some of the children.
The hope is that once the band gets up and running, church members will walk alongside the children as mentors, encouraging them and holding them accountable at rehearsals and performances.
“It’s a totally different way of offering the love of Christ to folks,” Sheehan said. “In Seffner, there is a great amount of generational poverty, and one of our goals is to equip and empower people to identify the gifts God has given them and how they can use them for the betterment of God’s kingdom and for the betterment in their own lives.
“One way to do that is by helping kids break that string of poverty.”
For more information, contact Sheehan directly at 813-787-6198.
--Yvette C. Hammett is a freelance writer based in Valrico.