Concern for community means care for schools, churches learn

Children from Woodlake Elementary School in northeastern San Antonio receive tutoring at Woodlake Baptist Church. (Photo courtesy of Jack Hulsey)

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When leaders of Roca Viva Church in Fort Worth and Woodlake Baptist Church in San Antonio looked at their communities, they not only saw educational needs, but also recognized positive ways they could respond.

Lorenzo Perez, pastor of Roca Viva Church in Fort Worth, and his wife, Bertha

Roca Viva Church is located in North Fort Worth’s Diamond Hill neighborhood, an area where “people say you should not be out at night,” Pastor Lorenzo Perez said.

That warning has not prevented the church from seeking to connect with its community.

“We want to show that we are here to serve,” Perez said.

Raising Highly Capable Kids

Parents of students at Diamond Hill Elementary School graduate from the Raising Highly Capable Kids program, initiated by Roca Viva Church. (Photo courtesy of Lorenzo Perez)

Among other ministries, Roca Viva has implemented Raising Highly Capable Kids in a neighborhood elementary school. Roca Viva launched the parenting education program of Texas Baptists’ Hispanic Education Initiative in Diamond Hill Elementary, a World Language Institute of the Fort Worth Independent School District.

Like Roca Viva, Woodlake Baptist Church also facilitates Raising Highly Capable Kids in a neighborhood school—Woodlake Elementary, in Northeast San Antonio’s Judson Independent School District.

The 13-week program guides parents to learn about 40 developmental assets for children to grow up healthy, caring and responsible.

Jack Hulsey, pastor of Woodlake Baptist Church in San Antonio

When Woodlake Baptist began exploring how the church could interact most effectively with its surrounding community, Pastor Jack Hulsey remembers the advice he received: “Walk out the door and look around you.”

When he did, he saw an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of families. He also realized Woodlake Baptist had both the facilities and the obligation to get involved.

Hispanic Education Initiative

Roca Viva and Woodlake Baptist responded to a need Texas Baptists identified in 2005. At that time, Albert Reyes, then president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, led the convention to create a task force to address educational needs of the Hispanics in Texas.

The Hispanic Education Initiative—initially led by Gus Reyes, now directed by Gabriel Cortes—grew out of that task force. The initiative’s goals include keeping students in school through high school graduation and on to college, reclaiming students who left school and helping preschoolers prepare for kindergarten.

“Churches realize it is a huge need,” Cortes said. “If they are going to help children reach their potential, they need to invest in education.”

Hispanics—the fastest-growing segment of the Texas population—have represented the majority of students enrolled in the state’s public schools since 2013, he noted.

Some churches—such as Roca Viva and Woodlake Baptist—are taking education seriously, he added.

Expanding ministry to students and families

Through Raising Highly Capable Kids, Roca Viva has worked with more than 25 families since last year, and the church plans to taking the program to other schools.

Involvement in that program also led Roca Viva to start other ministries focused on education and families.

Neighborhood children and their families enjoy the Sunday Funday activities at Roca Viva Church in Fort Worth.

“Caring about education and what is spiritual is not to care about two different things,” Perez said.

Before the beginning of school, Roca Viva, provides school supplies to families, including some from areas outside the church’s neighborhood.

The congregation also sponsors ongoing activities, such as the weekly Sunday Funday, where families bring children for an afternoon of games and snacks.

Through those activities, Roca Viva wants to share a message of excellence, Perez said.

“We think that whatever you do, you have to do it for the Lord,” he said. “That does not mean you have to be perfect, but it does mean that you do it with all your might.”

That message applies to the church and in school, Perez stressed.

‘Boots on the ground’

At Woodlake Baptist, concern for the community extends not only to the students and their families, but also to teachers and the faculty of those schools, Hulsey said.

“Our schools are hurting,” he said. “Staff is overworked and lack proper funding.”

Like Roca Viva, involvement with Reaching Highly Capable Kids spurred on Woodlake Baptist to do more for its surrounding community.

Children from Woodlake Elementary School in San Antonio enjoy after-school recreational activities at Woodlake Baptist Church. (Photo courtesy of Jack Hulsey)

The congregation started its Woodlake Kids recreation program, which meets Monday through Thursday after school. Volunteers from the church walk children from the elementary school to the church, where they receive tutoring and also enjoy recreation and a healthy snack.

Through service, church members see firsthand the truth of what they have heard in sermons, Hulsey said.

“This is about putting the boots on the ground,” Hulsey said. “It is practicing what they have heard in the pews for years.”

Since last year, Woodlake Baptist has worked with about 70 families. Now the church needs more indoor space for activities when the weather is bad and transportation to drive children to the church.

“This is a very holistic work,” Cortes said. “It helps churches develop a culture of education.”

Education contributes to the service and the leadership found in the church, he added.

“If you have parents who value education, you are going to have a better church,” Cortes said. “These churches are developing their people.”

This article is the first in a series about how churches can support public schools and the families those schools serve. Substantive coverage of significant issues facing Texas Baptists is made possible in part by a grant from the Prichard Family Foundation.

 

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