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Computer lab takes Orlando church's outreach ministries to new level (Aug. 6, 2004)

Computer lab takes Orlando church's outreach ministries to new level (Aug. 6, 2004)

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Computer lab takes Orlando church's outreach ministries to new level

Aug. 6, 2004    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
407-897-1140     Orlando  {0132}

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

ORLANDO — The Rev. Margaret Kartwe-Bradley said a church can't really be a church unless it's reaching out to the community, and that's what she intends to help members of Ebenezer United Methodist Church here do.

Kartwe-Bradley arrived at the church in June 2003, and earlier this year the church moved to a new location. Once in their new home, Kartwe-Bradley said she found the surrounding neighborhood rich in African-Americans, Haitians and Hispanics who were unattached to church homes. Those strong demographics were absent at the previous location and were a primary reason, along with the opportunity for more space, the congregation decided to relocate.

ORLANDO — Children paricipate in Ebenezer United Methodist Church's summer program here, which included a first-ever computer lab the neighborhood's children used to play games and practice taking the Florida Comprehensive Aptitude Test (FCAT). The church hopes to continue offering the computer lab throughout the year if volunteers are found to staff the room. Photo by Margaret Kartwe-Bradley, Photo #04-0056.

As a way of reaching out to children in the neighborhood, the church opened a computer lab this summer after the Sumter County Correctional Facility donated 15 computers to the church. The lab opened in early June to an enthusiastic group of 15 to 17 children who used it daily for fun, as well as academic purposes, such as working on Florida Comprehensive Aptitude Test (FCAT) simulations.

The church also became a site for a federally funded summer feeding program, providing breakfast and lunch to the children who came to the computer lab.

Earlier this year Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker, Representative Ron Greenstein (D-Ft. Lauderdale), Senator Steve Wise (R-Jacksonville) and Bishop Larry M. Goodpaster of the Alabama-West Florida Conference, held a joint news conference to highlight the Children's Summer Nutrition bill, a program that could potentially bring millions of federal dollars to Florida and local economies to feed more than one million children in the summer months when school is out, according to a release from Florida Impact, a supporter of the bill.

Kartwe-Bradley said the attendance was low for the summer feeding program, but it was a good start for a first-time effort. She hopes the church will be a site next year and, with more publicity, more children and their parents will discover the church really cares about their physical and spiritual well-being.

"We want people to know we're not just here for them on Sunday," she said. "I want people to know we're a giving people."

Marie Willner, a member of St. Luke's United Methodist Church, Orlando, was part of that giving. She voluntarily tutored children in the summer program and said it would be good if the room could remain active throughout the year.

Now that children are back in school, Kartwe-Bradley would like to continue using the computer room, but lacks a core group of volunteers to operate it. The room was open during the summer, but there wasn't anyone to staff it, and that's what Kartwe-Bradley says she desires more than anything for the church and the community.

Willner said the program would serve the community well.

"It was a wonderful program," she said. "It would be great if the program could stay active throughout the year. It would provide a lot of enrichment to the children who may not have access to computers. I think even if they played games that would be good because children can learn from games."

Kartwe-Bradley said the room could also be used for more serious efforts, such as offering General Equivalency Diploma classes. She has visions of children receiving help with homework in the room and it becoming a research/help center for community residents. Those plans may be halted if she can't find a volunteer.

"I'm looking for someone to fully take charge of it," she said. "We'd like to have a resource table in there with information on it."

Even if the church isn't able to maintain the computer room, Kartwe-Bradley said the church will continue to reach out to the community in other ways. It held a back-to-school party last month and gave 105 backpacks to children in the church and community who attended the summer computer lab. The backpacks were provided by the conference's Children's Harvest ministry, which obtained enough supplies for 5,000 school kits and backpacks that will be given to children reached by the Council of Bishops' Initiative on Children and Poverty and Florida Conference outreach ministries. Volunteers assembled some of the school kits at the 2004 Florida Annual Conference Event.

The church also plans to have a music minister/youth intern focus on youth to help young people in the church feel more included and attract young people in the community.

The church will reach its goals with help from Holy Spirit and area churches, Kartwe-Bradley said, adding the church has already received support and donations from Orlando's First, Oviedo and St. Luke's United Methodist churches.

"If a church is to fulfill its mission, they can't do it alone," she said. "It has to have partnerships. Larger churches with more resources should reach out to smaller churches. I approached these two churches, and they volunteered to help us. It wasn't anything about competition, which I don't think United Methodist churches should do. It was about working together. And together look what we accomplished for a first year."


This article relates to Missions and Outreach.

*Wacht is director of Florida United Methodist Communications and managing editor
of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.