by Michael J. Banks
Teachers in Fort Myers, Florida, are thankful for the gifts of school supplies, encouragement, and prayer. This practical and thoughtful support is the result of my church’s desire to intentionally connect with its community.
In past ministries in Michigan I had recognized the new school year by offering a prayer of dedication for our church’s students and recognizing members who were teachers. I had always thought it be a good idea to turn that into a bigger event, where we could invite teachers from the local schools and honor them in some way, but I wasn’t sure how to go about it, so I never did. Now I serve at a church in Fort Myers, Florida.
About a year and a half ago our young adult Sunday School class began discussing ways that they could be more intentional about outreach into the church’s community. Having educators in that class, a class member raised the idea of working with a local school—helping out in any ways possible. I learned of this idea, and a week or so later Van Davis, the teacher of that class, and I were sitting down with the principal of the local elementary school, asking him, “What are some ways we could help?”
Honestly, I didn’t expect the reaction we received. The principal shared a number of things we as a church could do: sending some of our senior saints for grandparents’ day to serve as fill-in grandmas and grandpas for kids whose grandparents could not attend, helping with after-school programs, reading to kids once a week.
“We had an Educator Appreciation Day at our church in August, just before the school year began,” I told the principal. “Could we invite the teachers here to attend?”
“Absolutely,” he replied. “Just send me an email, and I’ll pass it on to the teachers.”
We left that meeting energized and ready to get to work.
I can’t promise that every church will find a principal as willing to work with a church as this principal was, but clearly the Lord had gone ahead of us and prepared the way for what was about to unfold.
“The Lord had gone ahead of us and prepared the way for what was about to unfold.”
Over the next couple of months the ideas for this Educator Appreciation Day began to emerge. We would include a prayer of dedication for students and teachers, host a lunch in honor of the teachers after the service, and offer school and classroom supplies, donated by members of the church. School districts are often underfunded, so if children cannot provide their own supplies, teachers often purchase those things out of their own pockets. We figured that we could at least help to defray some of that cost for teachers, knowing that receiving free supplies would be an incentive for teachers to join us for this special day. Finally, and most importantly, we would launch an “adopt-a-teacher” program, where members of our church would agree to pray daily for a teacher and his or her classroom, email that teacher occasionally to express love and support, and perhaps send a restaurant gift card at Christmastime. I had no idea what a hit that “adopt-a-teacher” idea would be for the teachers, but they really seem to appreciate it.
On Aug. 5, 2018, we had our first Educator Appreciation Day. Nine teachers from the local elementary school showed up. We had five 8-foot tables loaded with school supplies for the teachers to take with them when they left that day. Things went really well! As a result, we sent several of our folks to the school for grandparents’ day, and a few church members committed to read to kids at school weekly. In addition, I was invited to judge a pumpkin decorating contest on Oct. 31 of that year for students who had each decorated a pumpkin to resemble a literary character. (I’ve already been invited back for this coming year.) In May of this year—on the last day of school—we took 18 dozen doughnuts to the school for the teachers, along with invitations to this year’s Educator Appreciation Day. The RSVPs began to roll into my email inbox.
On Aug. 11 of this year, we hosted our Second Annual Educator Appreciation Day, with 18 teachers from the local elementary school. Clearly, word had spread! This year we planned to at least double the amount of school supplies (which is a good thing, since we had double the number of teachers). Teachers also wanted to meet those who would be praying for them. When one lady who is adopting a teacher was unable to attend Aug. 11, the teacher planned to return the next week to meet her. I am very excited to see where these introductions are going to lead!
I’d encourage you and your church to give this a try. I’d advise that you begin with one school—for us that meant the elementary school closest to our church—and seek to forge a relationship with that school. (Doughnuts help!) May God bless you as you seek to be intentional in reaching out to your community.