As AOC continues to invite more people, congregations, groups, and partnerships to join us, we’re happy to feature the Read-to-Grow partnership in Louisville Kentucky as one of our newest members. This partnership between St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church and the Zachary Taylor Elementary School is now going into its fifth year and supports their school both during the year and over the summer. We were happy to be in touch with their coordinator Carolyn Warnick to talk more about their mission, their school, and their church.
AOC: What motivated your congregation to launch your partnership?
CW: Our parish had a desire to become more “outward facing” and when we looked out beyond our property, there sat a school. Our priest at the time was a former teacher as I am. We’d heard of programs that provided help to schools in the community through reading camps so we decided that would be a way for us to reach our to our neighbor school. We knew from news reports that this neighborhood school struggled to help their students meet state standards. It was just a natural thing for us to reach out to them.
AOC: What needs are you meeting in your partner school?
CW: There are a number of aspects to our partnership. During the school year we provide tutoring. We have several church volunteers in the school working with students that the staff feels need extra help. With the help of the school staff, we also select up to 18 students to attend a free week long Read to Grow summer camp to help boost the students’ skills and give them a positive attitude about the coming school year. We also provide Thanksgiving baskets at holiday time and donate school supplies for the resource teacher at the school to distribute to students who need them throughout the year.
AOC: What is your partnership’s biggest on-going challenge?
CW: Our biggest challenge is fundraising. We do not charge the students for camp or tutoring, so all the money needed is raised by our steering committee or by congregation donations. Keeping people motivated and willing to give the time is also a challenge. Many of us on the committee are older so it is difficult to continue at times.
AOC: What positive impact have you seen in both your congregation and your partner school so far?
The school staff is very appreciative of our efforts. I think at first, they did not expect much from us… just nice old church ladies. After a while they realized we were serious about being involved in the school, and that we really cared about them. At first parents were a bit reluctant to accept our offer of a free camp because we were a church, but after the first year they realized we had a good thing going for the kids (and they weren’t expected to come to our church!) Even members of our church who cannot tutor or work at camp are supportive in many other ways and are delighted to see photos of all the great things the children do during the week of camp. I think it has helped many of our members see what can happen outside of the walls of the church!
I also want to add that our first year of camp, we were connected to a group in Diocese of Lexington (KY) that has a large Reading Camp network. They have many camps across the state, U.S., and in other countries. We soon realized that our membership cost was mostly for access to a web site that was used to promote our camp to parents and volunteers. We did not need that since we are totally focused on just the one school next-door to our church. We withdrew and formed our own program, Read to Grow, that also includes the tutoring element. Our inspiration for the title comes from our community garden. Also, our priest who was so supportive has now left our parish to pursue another type of ministry that involves children, families, and Christian formation. I know during times of transition things can change within a congregation, but I am hopeful we can keep our focus on this outreach.