By Jessica Connor
With intentional focus on moving from books to true relationship, the S.C. Conference’s Children in Poverty Task Force now has a new vision statement and a new thrust to its ministry.
At its meeting Sept. 8, the task force committed to “engage and empower South Carolina’s children, families, congregations and communities through Christian relationships addressing literacy and education.”
Task Force Chair Martha Thompson said this new vision is designed to guide members of the team as they struggle to bring new awareness to the plight of children in poverty in this state—and one day perhaps stamp out the problem altogether.
To do this, it’s going to take United Methodists in every district who are willing and able to jump into direct connection with the children and families themselves, Thompson said.
“It’s more than handing a child a book, more than going to a school and reading; it’s really about being available,” explained the Rev. James Friday, Greenwood District superintendent and Cabinet representative on the task force.
And Friday noted all of this is far more than simply “outreach.”
“‘Outreach’ implies pulling back at the end,” Friday said. “Instead, we want engagement, which implies more. … It’s about building strong relationships.”
With the culmination of the conference’s massive book drive to fight illiteracy, the Million Book Effort, at Annual Conference in June, the task force had been charged with taking the reins on the effort and helping to move it to the next phase.
Part of that phase is continuing successful book distribution statewide. While many of the books collected through MBE have been distributed in certain districts, several districts still have books left, said the Rev. Kathy James, the conference’s Connectional Ministries director. Her team is continuing to fill requests. James said the response has been huge.
“Over 165 agencies have requested books, not counting what’s already been done in the districts, so it’s exciting,” James said.
In addition, last month the task force released a new tool for those passionate about education and literacy for children in need: Education Partners Resources, a comprehensive county-by-county list of education programs and organizations across the state. The list is available on the conference’s website, www.umcsc.org, and leaders hope it will enable individuals and churches to partner with existing groups, all to help the children. It includes everything from tutors and mentors to afterschool programs, backpack ministries and more.
James told the Advocate last month that the resources list, as well as other recent steps in the aftermath of MBE, signify that the conference is following the books to the children, not just giving them out: “It’s about real relationship.”
Now that its new vision statement has been adopted, task force members are taking their work back to their various districts, seeking partnership efforts and other ways to engage local families in need.
If you would like to be involved with the effort, or to share resources of your own, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 803-786-9486.
“God has given the South Carolina Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church great potential to impact the lives of children, families, congregations, schools and our communities through the Million Book Effort, and God is blessing our work,” Thompson said.