One Church, Two Partnerships
During our trip to General Convention we met many people who supported our work. One of the most memorable of these new connections was Vicki Zust, the rector of St. Paul’s Church in Williamsville NY. We met Vicki serendipitously at the legislative committee considering our resolution. We were excited to see Vicki, someone we hadn’t yet met, signed up first to testify in support of the resolution! We quickly introduced ourselves before the hearing began, but it was her beautiful testimony later in the afternoon that let us know this was a very special connection. Today, we’re thrilled to introduce St. Paul’s and their partnerships with School 6 in Buffalo and Harris Hill Elementary in Williamsville as one of our newest members.
AOC: What motivated your congregation to launch your partnership?
VZ: We began a partnership with the elementary school directly across the street from our suburban church (Harris Hill Elementary) 6 years ago. That partnership began with me, as rector, meeting with the principal and attending PTO meetings and helping with their fundraisers. At the beginning of the second year of that partnership we had a group of 12 people begin tutoring in classrooms at Harris Hill. We collected school supplies and ended up with far more than were needed at Harris Hill. One of my parishioners mentioned that she was the school social worker at School 6 in Buffalo and asked if she could take the supplies to her school for her students. We said yes and she came back to us with a thank you note from one of her students thanking us for the supplies and saying that she had never had a new box of crayons before. The vestry directed me to meet with the principal of School 6 and see if there was anything that we could do to be in partnership with them too.
AOC: What needs are you meeting in your partner school?
VZ: We provide school supplies before the school begins each year. We also provide a small gift to each of the teachers at the beginning of school. For the last three years we have provided every child in the school with a new, age appropriate, book and will do so again this year. We also provide gloves, mittens, hats, and scarfs for the children. We have written grants and supplemented them to provide the classrooms with over $5,000 worth of books for classroom libraries. 10 members of the congregation provide one on one or small group tutoring in the school. We are working this summer to create ways for the school to connect more with the parents and the community surrounding the school.
AOC: What is your partnership’s biggest on-going challenge?
VZ: School 6/B.E.S.T. is a poster child for the problems of an urban school. They have students who speak 18 different languages.Nearly 100% of the children receive free or reduced price lunch. There is a great deal of turn over in the student population over the course of a school year. All of this combines to mean that the teachers and administrators are extremely busy and often overwhelmed. This means that we have to not expect or require a lot of their time, while at the same time making sure not to assume that we know what they need without asking them. That balance is hard to get just right, and things often take more time then we would like.
AOC: What positive impact have you seen in both your congregation and your partner school so far?
VZ: In the congregation – our partnership with the Harris Hill Elementary School has made the church a fuller part of our local neighborhood. I get several calls a year for pastoral care from families who say that they don’t have a church, but think of St. Paul’s as their church. The positive impact of the parallel school relationships is that it makes economic inequality and systemic & generational poverty real things – we can see the differences between the two schools and that the little that we can do will not overcome the systemic issues.
In School 6/B.E.S.T., the fact that there are people who care about them and their students and who are willing to offer their help in any way they can supports and encourages the administrators and the teachers. Making sure that they have supplies for school and books in their homes communicates to the children that their education is important. Many of the children are from refugee families who are unfamiliar with snow, so gloves, hats & scarfs are things that they truly need in Buffalo. I only wish that we could do more.